BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - Percy MacLean can call on 250 years of experience to weigh up how immigrants integrate in Germany. Since his Scottish ancestor arrived in 1753, the family has produced mayors, members of parliament and even a Nazi.
Today, the 63-year-old MacLean, a chief judge in Berlin’s administrative court, says Germany risks losing the openness that allowed his family to flourish for generations because of a divisive national debate over the integration of Muslims.
In an interview with Reuters, MacLean said tendentious arguments now being aired publicly contained the seeds of what could spawn the kind of right-wing populism and xenophobia Germany witnessed in the run-up to the Holocaust.
Muslims have been in the media spotlight since central banker Thilo Sarrazin stirred up a row this autumn by asserting Turkish and Arab families were dumbing down Germany, swamping it with a higher birth rate and threatening the indigenous culture.
“Things can get very explosive once you start mentioning genes and intelligence,” MacLean said. “Talking down to them is totally wrong. We are the ones who invited them over here.”
“Sarrazin has opened fire on these people in a way that marginalizes them, fuels prejudice, and worst of all, gets into genetics which creates people of first, second and third class.”
Sarrazin later lost his job at the Bundesbank, but the book he wrote at the center of the row, “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (Germany does away with itself), became a record-breaking bestseller.
“That just goes to show how dangerous the subject has already become,” said MacLean, who between 2002-2003 served as the inaugural director of the German Institute for Human Rights.
Sarrazin, who like MacLean belongs to the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), was instantly hailed by far-right groups like the National Democratic Party (NPD) as a bold breaker of taboos.
Although condemned by the main parties and religious lobbies, Sarrazin also won supporters in respected media outlets who argue his most provocative statements foster debate and do not cloud the public’s perception of Muslims in Germany.
“The line of argument you only used to get with the NPD has suddenly acquired a larger breeding ground,” said MacLean. “I hope we can turn this into something positive. Otherwise we might end up with something like we saw in the Third Reich.”
Tall, wiry and with deep lines on his face, the father of two is no stranger to the plight of minorities under fire.
Long dedicated to the cause of refugees, MacLean oversaw research into the fate the Nazis meted out to Jewish members of the Club of Berlin, a top gentlemen’s club in Imperial Germany that his forebear Lauchlan was founding chairman of in 1864.
“My ancestor was an unaccompanied minor when he was sent out to make his way in a foreign land. Perhaps it’s because we were strangers in Germany and were granted good opportunities here that I felt refugees should have the same chance,” he said.
According to academic research, tens of thousands of Scots left their homeland to settle in modern Germany, Poland and the Baltic region in the centuries after the Reformation.
At the age of 16, MacLean’s ancestor Archibald left the Hebridean island of Coll for Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland) during the crackdown on Highland clans that followed the failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite Rebellion in 1745-6.
Archibald’s grandson Richard later became mayor of the Prussian port of Memel -- now Klaipeda in Lithuania -- and three MacLeans went on to sit in Prussia’s state parliament.
The family continued to thrive after Germany united in 1871, all the while maintaining its ties with Scotland. Percy’s uncle Curt Hugo MacLean served as a major in the Wehrmacht in World War II, while another, Donald, joined the Nazi party.
“All my forebears went back to Scotland to keep up with things,” said MacLean, who first went at 16. “Obviously I don’t have citizenship but I‘m still very attached to the country.”
Born in Thuringia in the east, raised in Berlin and Aachen, MacLean said German identity was often defined too narrowly.
“Integration isn’t about giving up your old identity. You can combine several. Thuringia is partly my home, it’s one of my roots,” he said. “So too Berlin, Aachen, and Scotland. Why not?”
Editing by Paul Casciato