Germany: your citizenship test is just fine

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The German coat of arms, known as the Bundesadler. Prospective citizens might get a question on the symbol in the 33-question test they now take.

There's an article here on BBC about Germany's citizenship test it has been enacting for a while to make sure that those applying for citizenship know about the country and its language. Some people have been complaining that the test is too hard, but a cursive glance at the test shows it to be just right. It's actually a bit mystifying that anyone would be offended by the idea of taking a test in order to get citizenship for a country they were not born in, since citizenship lasts for life, and thus is no small reward. The article says:
A German flag hangs on the wall, and a teacher has written some of the questions on the blackboard: Who was the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany? What is the German constitution called? What is the emblem of Germany? What kind of a state is Germany? When were the Nazis and Hitler in power? When did the Second World War end?

The immigrants - who have come to Germany from Chechnya, Pakistan and Turkey - would all like to get a German passport, but first they have to do their homework and learn as much as they can about German politics, history and culture.

In all, there are 33 questions which will be chosen from a catalogue of 310. Ten questions are related specifically to the region where the applicant is currently living. Would-be citizens have to answer 17 questions correctly.
17 out of 33? That's just barely over 50%; assuming a 1-in-4 chance of randomly getting an answer right, that means that the applicant doesn't even need to know half.

Some more on the test:
"I think the test is difficult for many immigrants, especially those who have a poor education," says Sengul Dogan, who grew up in Turkey.
"The questions are tough. As an immigrant, it's hard enough qualifying for citizenship, getting a job and learning the language. Now there is this test, it's even harder. I think it's also unfair for many women who often have to stay at home and they don't have the chance to go to school," she added.
Some questions are fairly straightforward, testing an applicant's knowledge of German history and government.
For example, what is Germany's population, or how many federal states does Germany have? But other questions are tricky, like who pays social insurance, and why did the former Chancellor Willy Brandt kneel down in the former Warsaw Ghetto in 1970?
Or, here's another challenging question - who is entitled to become a lay judge?
"I have to do a lot of work and study hard," said Adlan, who is from Chechnya. "I want to get a German passport so I have to do the test. I have seen the 300 questions and there's no way I can answer them yet, they are really difficult."
Sure, some of them are, but that's the fun of a test, and being a bit more knowledgable about a country than the people that were born there is also quite a bit of fun. There's a big difference between becoming German because you lived there for long enough and met the basic requirements, and becoming German because you've mastered the language and know a huge amount about how the country works. With a real test there's a definite deserved pride that comes afterwards, that not only do you have citizenship, but you deserve it. And then you can test your German friends that were born there to see how much they know as well.

And besides, giving citizenship too easily can lower the value of a passport, which doesn't benefit new citizens either. Case in point: Russia gives passports to just about any South Ossetian that asks, and is now demanding that Georgians in South Ossetia register Russian passports:
Passports are a vital plank in Russia's strategy of securing a toehold in democratic Georgia. By issuing citizenship to South Ossetians, Russia gained a pretext to invade in early August, claiming to be defending its own from Georgian attacks.
Since signing a ceasefire agreement with Georgia two weeks ago, the Russian military and its local allies have carved a substantial buffer zone around the tiny enclave. To consolidate its latest conquests, Moscow has shipped in what Georgian officials describe as "industrial batches" of passports.
"The Russians are telling everyone in the town they must take a Russian passport," said Akhalgori shopowner Guram Chkhvidze. "One came to me and explained that if I did not take it, my safety could not be certain. I was scared, so I am leaving."
All well and good when looking for a pretext to take a piece of land and destabilize a region, but not so good when bargaining with a country or group of countries for looser visa regulations:

(From the joint statement issued by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland)
- It is pointless to continue a “visa facilitation” program with a country that does not meet even the minimal requirements set by the EU and which uses visa facilitation to issue Russian Federation passports to foreigners and then abuses this EU given privilege to claim intervention rights such as "we are protecting Russian citizens" in South Ossetia.
It's simple logic that giving passports to so many people with no conditions will cheapen the value of the passport; thanks to this, those that were born and bred in Russia are going to have a harder time at immigration when entering other countries, because the passport they hold by being born and bred in their home country is also being held by thousands of people that got it one afternoon, and the country that they are trying to get into has no idea (besides outside appearance) whether this person is a rich Moscow businessman or some guy from South Ossetia that might never even have set foot in Russia before.

Back to the broader issue: giving citizenship is like hiring staff: the higher the quality of staff required the harder it'll be to get in, but the better the position afterwards. As long as Germany isn't doing anything beyond the call of duty to obtain citizenship (for example something silly like must never go abroad for a period of ten full years) that is obviously just a ruse to keep people from even trying, then the policy is a good one.

The article also gives an example of what the 33 questions could look like. Some are hard but remember these are all to be answered by a person that has been living in said country for the past number of years. And some are ridiculously easy.
Questions from Germany’s new citizenship test:

  • Who was the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany? 
  • What is the German constitution called? 
  • What is the emblem of Germany? 
  • What kind of a state is Germany? 
  • When were the Nazis and Hitler in power? 
  • When did Hitler become Reichschancellor? 
  • What was the Third Reich? 
  • What happened on November 9th 1938 in Germany? 
  • When did the Second World War end? 
  • What happened on the 8th May 1945? 
  • The 27th of January is an official memorial day. Why? 
  • Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg became famous because of... 
  • In which year did the Nazis destroy synagogues and Jewish businesses in Germany? 
  • What is the population of Germany? 
  • How many federal states does Germany have? 
  • Who pays social insurance? 
  • Why did the former Chancellor Willy Brandt kneel down in the former Warsaw Ghetto in 1970? 
  • When was the GDR founded? 
  • When was the Berlin Wall built? 
  • What does Stasi stand for? 
  • What was the economic system of the GDR called? 
  • What was the “Monday demonstration” in 1989? 
  • What is banned in German schools? 
  • Who is entitled to become a lay judge? 
  • You want to give a dog to your child as a present… What are you legally obliged to do…? 
  • What is the 5% hurdle in Germany? 
  • What is the beginning of the national anthem ? 
  • Who wrote the text of the national anthem? 
  • Which countries are neighbours of Germany? 
  • How many members does the EU have? 
  • A married couple would like to open a restaurant in Germany - what kind of permission do they need? 

The quote from Berlin's interior senator is right on the money and I think sums up the test quite well.
If you want to become a German citizen then I think you need to know something about this country," Ehrhart Koerting, Berlin's interior senator told the BBC.
"You are not a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of Germany. For example, if you're living in Berlin, and you see a bear on a flag, it's not a movie or a sign for the zoo, it's the symbol of Berlin.
"If you want to live here forever, you should know something about the country, about democracy, how MPs are elected," he added.

Ehrhart Koerting says the exam is not too difficult. "You don't need to be a professor, you should just have the general knowledge of the man on the street. Some of the questions are a little too complex, but most of them are easy.
"There are 33 questions and it's a multiple-choice test after all. You only have to answer 17 correctly. You can get all the questions and answers before the test so you can prepare and study.


Unknown said...

You've got very good arguments. You have managed well to convince me that such tests are an example of effective policy for conceding citizenship for foreign people.

BentoBoxUK said...

I would like to know the answers to the questions about the dog and the restaurant. All the other answers seem easy enough to google.

Bento Box / Asfora said...

I would like to know the answers to the questions about the dog and the restaurant. All the other answers seem easy enough to google.

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