With Obama's victory, Europe's minorities sense new possibilities
A new discourse is emerging in France and Europe that urges a focus on ability – rather than on race or skin.
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After the 2005 minority riots in the French suburbs, new lobbying groups were created, along with websites and more talk. President Nicolas Sarkozy appointed three Muslim females to his cabinet after being elected in 2007, a major signal of change. The Netherlands has begun to witness more elected minorities: In October, the city of Rotterdam elected Moroccan Amed Aboutaled as mayor. In Germany, Cem Ozdemir, of Turkish origin, is set to become co-head of the Green Party.Skip to next paragraph
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But initiatives after the French riots have cooled. On Nov. 5, on the heels of the Obama election, the Representative Council of Black Associations (CRAN), led by Patrick Lozès, went to the Elysée Palace to give President Sarkozy a message of "the urgent claim for equality of the blacks in France."
In Germany, where some 250,000 people attended an Obama speech July 15, the Obama symbol is salient. After years of denying participation to non-Germans, the Merkel government in 2005 officially acknowledged Germany as a country of immigration.
"People have discovered the enormous social and economic potential of migrants, and a lot has been done in the last couple of years," says Nihat Sorgec of Bildungswerk, which trains young Turks in the Kreuzberg neighborhood in Berlin.
"Germany has finally opened itself, and Obama's victory will provide a huge motivation boost for society to open itself even more," he adds.
Turkish-born Aygü Keser, a political consultant in Berlin, agrees. "Obama's victory is an incredible victory for migrants, for them to see what can be achieved, but more important, it's a signal to Germans, to the majority, that the country has to be more open to migrants and what they can bring."
As in France, German minorities are not making a racial case for participation – but one of capability. Agyül Özkan of Hamburg, a woman who made history this year by becoming the first politician of Turkish origin elected as a conservative, says the Obama victory can move German perceptions past racial politics. "It shows, that what motivates us aren't race issues but rather what we can do," she says. Özkan, a corporate executive, says the German conservative CDU party had the most effective plan for her vision of economics, and saw past her Turkishness.
But in Frankfurt, a Turkish grocer, Abdel Zerouli, barely stops cutting meat at his deli, expressing skepticism about change. Although his father left Turkey more than 30 years ago, Mr. Zerouli still doesn't feel German and can't imagine a Turkish Obama in Berlin. "The Germans are too nationalistic," says Zerouli. "They want pure Germans – once a foreigner, always a foreigner.... Politicians from other European Union countries aren't foreigners, but for us, religion is a big problem: Germans see Islam as the enemy."