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Wolfgang G Müller
Mayor of Lahr, Germany
Winner of the World Mayor Commendation for services to integration

14 February 2017: Dr Wolfgang G Müller, Mayor of Lahr (population 45,000), Germany has been awarded the World Mayor Commendation for services to integration. Lahr may be a small city, often overlooked by travellers to Karlsruhe, Freiburg or Strasbourg, but since Wolfgang Müller became Mayor in 1997, the city has won national and international recognition for the often challenging but ultimately successful integration of German-Russian immigrants (Spätaussiedler). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Germany allowed Soviet citizens with German ancestry to settle in the country. Lahr, which in the early 1990s only had a population of 35,000, accepted some 9,000 immigrants from Russia and other Soviet republics. The initial strain on municipal resources was tremendous but Lahr managed and became a role model for integration.

Dr Wolfgang G Müller has been Mayor of Lahr since 1997. He was re-elected in 2005, with 76 per cent of the vote and again in 2013 in an uncontested election. He has been a member of the Social Democratic Party since 1971. After his studies at the University of Konstanz (Constance), Wolfgang Müller worked for a number of research and economic institutes. He spent many years in Central and South America, working for the
Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (Society for international co-operation) in El Salvador and as economic attaché at the German embassy in Brasilia before returning to Germany to advise the German Economic Ministry on international affairs. Mayor Müller still maintains an active interest in German-Brazilian affairs through his leading position at the German-Brazilian Association (Deutsch-Brasilianische Gesellschaft).

Lahr’s Mayor Wolfgang G Müller attracted Germany-wide attention in January 2016 when, only equipped with a megaphone, he confronted an angry group of people who protested against the arrival of refugees from the Middle East. Most of the protesters were Russian-Germans who had arrived in Germany in the early 1990s from countries, which were part of the former Soviet Union.

At the beginning of 2016, the mood among immigrants from Russia turned against refugees after a 13-year old German-Russian girl falsely claimed she was abducted and raped by refugees from the Middle East. Even though she quickly withdrew her claims, her accusations were repeated hundred-fold on social media sites and by Russian news outlets.

Mayor Müller reminded the enraged protesters that they too were recent immigrants. Only 20 years earlier, they had arrived in only recently re-united Germany to a not universal welcome from the resident population. Then as now, the City of Lahr welcomed newcomers and, with the help of many volunteers, immediately started the integration process. The Mayor does not believe that the German-Russians, despite their opposition to new immigrants, are racist or particularly rightwing. “They are conservative with a clear sense of order and a fear of uncertainty.”

The integration of some 9,000 German-Russian newcomers into a town of less than 35,000 people is an important success story. It took some time to overcome the doubts of the local population and the anxiety of the newcomers but during the past 20 years, the new citizens found work, established businesses and started families. But every-day differences remain. Most still speak German with a Russian accent, cook Russian dishes and watch Russian TV. Integration does not mean conformity, says the Mayor of Lahr. In his essay for World Mayor Wolfgang Müller writes: “Twenty years ago, the vast majority of Lahr residents and the German-Russian newcomers got on well with one another. They developed a common identity while also maintaining their cultural uniqueness. Many German-Russians speak German but also many speak Russian among themselves. The German residents and the new German-Russian residents of Lahr each have their own characteristics, but they also share a common basis. They are proud to be citizens of Lahr and feel at home here.”

In his World Mayor interview, Wolfgang Müller, when asked to describe Lahr’s integration strategy, replies: “For immigrants, successfully integrating into a new culture doesn’t mean having to give up their culture of origin or their native language. We don't want to create carbon copies of ourselves! But we do ask immigrants to take on responsibility for ensuring their integration is successful. We ask for openness towards new learning processes. Sustainable integration demands continuing work towards providing equal access to the central areas of life in our society. These include the worlds of economics and labour, the education and qualification systems, neighbourhoods, and political, social, and cultural realms. For me personally, it’s important that citizens participate in the decision-making process and in shaping opinions in the city, making a peaceful contribution to our community.”

Extract from Mayor Müller’s essay:
The wave of incoming refugees has reawakened an old debate in Germany: Are we a country of immigration? Is immigration only permissible if it is useful? Many prudent Germans showing solidarity are making efforts to change the perspectives held by their fellow citizens: We are a country of immigration AND even today of emigration. When the Russian Czar Catherine the Great invited a large number of Germans to migrate to Russia nearly 250 years ago, thousands made the move, becoming early economic migrants. And Lahr citizen Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff as well, who, as the Russian consul general in Rio de Janeiro, invited the people of Baden to migrate to Brazil at the beginning of the 19th century. Brazil is a country in which I spent several years and with which I have a very personal connection. What a coincidence that Lahr im Schwarzwald, the hometown of von Langsdorff, provided around 10,000 returning emigrants from Russia a new home. Their ancestors once responded to the call of the Russian Czar in her empire, and they were now making their way back to Germany. MORE

Typical tribute:
As a former member of the Canadian Forces in Lahr in the 70s 80s and 90s, I have lived in Lahr and witnessed the long-lasting benefits of good relations with regards to the various cultures present. Thousands of Canadians have particularly lived in Lahr for long periods during those decades and once the Canadian presence officially ended in the late 90s, the transition process of welcoming new migrants took place and housing and administrative building formerly occupied by the Canadian military and their families were gradually filled by newly arrived migrants from parts of Europe and more. The good relations and openness to the world became a landmark welcome to new homecoming for migrants over the years and continue to do so.

I salute the openness of Mayor Müller for this new integration of different cultures mixing with local Lahr Residents and more, I salute his cohesion while integrating these new residents in tandem with a German economy that is open to the world. Lahr is a model city next-to-none for its modernity and openness to various world cultures. Thanks to Mayor Müller for making Lahr a home to come to and stay with a human touch of pride and achievement as citizens of a city in harmony with our new world order. MORE

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