Sunday, November 16, 2008

German Greens make Turk party leader

Last week I wrote a piece about how even though the Europeans are very excited about his election his victory would be impossible in Europe today. Well, the Green Party of Germany has at least taken a step in the right direction.

At their party conference this weekend the German Greens named Cem Ozdemir, the son of Turkish immigrants, as one of the party's two co-leaders. If the Greens become part of Germany's ruling coalition after the next elections (a good possibility since the Greens have served as a coalition partner a number of times), Ozdemir will be in line for a Cabinet post, a first for a Turk in Germany.

It's good to see the Greens take this important step. There are nearly three million ethnic Turks in Germany, yet they by and large remain at the fringe of German society, often living in rundown sections of Germany’s larger cities. Only five ethnic Turks are in the German parliament, and none of them are in leadership roles.

Like Obama, Ozdemir tried not to let his background define him, saying "don't reduce me to the roots that I — by coincidence — have". He explained that Germans tend to make assumptions about Turks based on ethnic and religious ideas (like all Turks are devout Muslims, which they all are not) and that Turks in Germany then tend to go along with those assumptions. In the end, accepting these assumptions keeps the two cultures, German and Turkish, apart. Ozdemir, 42 years old and the author of several books, sees the parallels with Obama himself, his staff named his Facebook group "Yes We Cem" a play on Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign slogan.

So perhaps Obama is having a positive effect on race relations in Europe after all. In addition to the Green Party in Germany, groups in France and England are calling for ethnic minorities in their countries to be better represented in their national governments as well.
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