Feature

Germany: A breakthrough for the Turkish minority

Cem Özdemir, who is of Turkish descent, broke through racial barriers in Germany when he was elected co-chair of the Green Party.

Germany has broken a race barrier, said Vera Gaserow in the Frankfurter Rundschau. The Green Party last week elected an ethnic Turk as one of its two party co-chairs. Cem Özdemir is the first major party leader of immigrant origin—his parents came to Germany as guest workers from Turkey—as well as the first Muslim party leader. The Greens “celebrated Özdemir’s victory wildly” as a turning point for minorities in Germany.

Significantly, Özdemir didn’t run as the Turkish candidate, said Jorg Michel in the Berliner Zeitung. While he did sometimes mention his Turkish background, it was never the centerpiece of his campaign. Instead, he mostly spoke about climate change and economic policy, just like the other candidates. And the Greens “treated him just like any other candidate.” They evaluated him on his merits as a Green, not on his ethnicity. In so doing, they showed “our fellow citizens of foreign extraction” that the party judges everyone by the same criteria. “That is a strong signal of integration, of which the Greens can be truly proud.”
 
Don’t worry, they are, said Stephan Lowenstein in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The Greens, in fact, have been wallowing in “smug self-congratulation” ever since they achieved this breakthrough for minorities. They have even taken to calling Özdemir “the Green Obama,” which is quite an overstatement. Still, they deserve credit for advancing a more open and tolerant brand of politics.

Özdemir himself wisely rejects the comparison with Obama, said Einar Koch in Bild. While his fans have begun wearing buttons that say, in English, “Yes We Cem,” Özdemir says he does not want to be “the Green Obama, but rather the Green Cem Özdemir.” With his Argentine-born wife at his side, he does embody a new vision of a multicultural Germany. His words are worth pondering: “I would like to live in a society where we can all get along regardless of descent,” he said in his victory speech, “whether your ancestors came from Kazakhstan, Anatolia, or whether they fought against the Romans in the forests of ancient Germania.”

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