In Germany, a breakthrough year for immigrant politicians
This weekend, more than 50 elected officials of Turkish descent meet to spur wider political participation among the country's 2.7 million Turkish residents.
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In 2005, Chancellor Angela Merkel's "grand coalition" adopted the country's first immigration law, paving the way for integration measures including a federal ministry and state initiatives such as language and civic courses for adults and preschoolers. This year, Ms. Merkel convened the third annual "integration summit" and an "Islam conference," with Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaüble, who said that Islam is a part of German society.Skip to next paragraph
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"That was quite a revolutionary thing to say from a conservative man who knows that his conservative electorate won't be happy," says Mr. Meier-Braun. "But that is the reality, and at long last we are facing reality."
Özkan agrees. "Ten years ago politicians talked about whether we need integration at all," she says. "Today we're talking about how to do it."
Still, there's a long way to go. "There is a deep climate of mistrust," says Cem Özdemir, the Bundestag's first Turkish-born representative. In Stüttgart, where half the children have foreign backgrounds, only two out of 60 city councillors have Turkish roots. Nationwide, only 2 percent of parliamentarians have a migration background, compared with 5 percent in France, 4 percent in England, and 8 percent in Sweden. Yüksel says he faced resistance in seeking his party's nomination. "There were people who said, 'You're good, you're ambitious, but your name just isn't right," he says.
But gradually, "even the conservative party is starting to realize that there will be more and more people with foreign backgrounds that are potential voters, and they are trying to make programmatic change," says Mr. Wüst. Özkan, for instance, felt that the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) best implemented her economic vision and saw beyond her Turkishness. "Integration is an across-the-board process," she says. "That the party saw it as no problem that I run as a woman, and a woman with a migration background – to me that was much more important than the elections themselves."
When Mr. Özdemir was elected to the Bundestag in 1994, the election of somebody like Ozkan of the CDU was unthinkable. "Today it's becoming normal for all political parties to have people with migration backgrounds," says Özdemir, now a European parliamentarian. "The legislative branch is covered now. You've got the local, regional, national parliaments covered. The next step is the executive branch – to have a member of government with roots in Turkey."