Coming to Terms with a Misinterpreted Past? Rethinking the Historical Antecedents of Germany's 1999 Citizenship Reform

in German Politics and Society

The article contends that the significance attributed to the 1999 citizenship reform in Germany is closely linked to a particular reading of the history of German citizenship policies. This reading, which remained dominant until the 1990s, assigned a crucial role for Germany's exclusionary citizenship policies to the law of descent, which seemed to be deeply ingrained in successive German states policies and practices from the nineteenth century on. Arguing that recent historiography on citizenship has called attention to the significant degree of variation between periods of openness and closure, as well as highlighting restrictive naturalization policies as a key ingredient of ethnic closure, the author contends that this focus was misplaced. Accordingly, the disappointing effects of a law that focused on the automatic transmission of citizenship while paying less attention to making voluntary transition to citizenship easier are not particularly surprising.

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