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Last Updated: Friday, 17 February 2006, 10:33 GMT
German citizenship test causes uproar

David Sells
By David Sells
BBC Newsnight

The state of Baden-Wuerttemberg has stolen a march on the rest of Germany by introducing a special test for foreigners seeking German citizenship.

The German city of Stuttgart

The test is clearly aimed at Muslims and this caused such a rumpus that the state has had to tone it down. Muslims who are potential applicants are still not amused, but the criticism has been quite widespread, given the bizarre nature of the questions.

There are 30 of them all told and they do make you blink.

"What do you say to the statement that a woman must obey her husband and, if she disobeys, he is allowed to beat her?"

Then there is "what is your view of a man in Germany who has two wives at the same time?"

Correct answers, please, and you can become a German.

No 'right' or 'wrong' answers

There's a question on so-called "honour killings" and (though the questionnaire doesn't identify it) a slightly reworked quote from Winston Churchill, asking what you make of the statement that "democracy is the worst form of government that we have, but it's the best there is".

A graphic that reads 'How do you view criticism of a religion? Is it permissible?'
Uproar over the test has caused the interview process to be modified
Question 29, asking for the applicant's reaction, says "just imagine that your grown-up son tells you that he is homosexual and would like to live with another man".

This test is the brainchild of the Baden-Wuerttemberg state's Minister of the Interior, Heribert Rech.

He told me that there are no "right" or "wrong" answers. The applicant doesn't have to sit in front of the questionnaire and answer all 30 questions. The questions are designed, he said, as a conversation guide for the German naturalisation official and they are not specifically designed for Muslims.


Minister of the Interior, Heribert Rech
[It's] imperative for our naturalisation official to be particularly vigilant when dealing with Muslims who wish to become German citizens
Heribert Rech
Minister of the Interior
The aim of the interrogation, the minister added, was for the applicant to "demonstrate clearly and convincingly" that he (or she) identifies themselves with the Federal Republic's laws and constitution.

However, he also volunteered the point that more than half of those seeking naturalisation in his state every year are from Muslim lands, so it was possible Muslims could feel they were being targeted.

What's more, 21% of all Muslims living in Germany say that its Basic Law cannot be reconciled with the Koran, Mr Rech told me, so "this makes it imperative for our naturalisation official to be particularly vigilant when dealing with Muslims who wish to become German citizens".


The test was introduced at the beginning of the year and there was such an uproar over the questions that Mr Rech modified the interview process.

Professor Ernst Mahrenholz
This catalogue of questions is absolutely useless
Professor Ernst Mahrenholz
Now, Muslims are only to be quizzed if there are doubts about them, and not all the questions have to be put, and they can be put to non-Muslims as well. Everybody happy? Not at all.

A former judge of federal Germany's Constitutional Court, Professor Ernst Mahrenholz, was blunt:

"This catalogue of questions is absolutely useless. None of the German states, even though the Christian Democratic Union rules in most of them, will use this questionnaire.

"If I may speak honestly, I have the impression this has something to do with the electoral fight that takes place in Baden-Wuerrtemberg at the moment. This is an appeal to the German citizens to vote CDU because of their critical stance towards Muslims."


Playing the Muslim card in advance of next month's Baden-Wuerttemberg state election in other words.

Well, perhaps. No other German state has followed suit. A highly articulate MEP of the opposition Greens Party, Cem Oezdemir, of Turkish origin, was as blunt as the judge:

"Mr Rech, unfortunately, is making the fundamentalists strong," he told me, "and weakening the position of moderate Muslims."

However you interpret the average German's worries about Muslim migrants, the Badem-Wuerttemberg approach is clearly clumsy.

David Sells' report was shown on Newsnight on Wednesday, 15 February, 2006.


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