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Germans pick Turkish leader

Greens in Germany pick son of Turks as leader
By Judy Dempsey
International Herald Tribune Europe

Sunday, November 16, 2008
BERLIN: The Green party, one of Germany's main political parties, has elected the son of Turkish immigrants to its top political post, the first time any party here has chosen a leader with an immigrant background.

The election Saturday of Cem Ozdemir, 42, born in southern Germany of parents who had come from Turkey to work as "Gastarbeiter," or guest workers, during the 1960s, marks a major turning point not only for the opposition Greens, but also for the country as a whole.

Even though more than 2.6 million Turks live in Germany, accounting for 3 percent of the population, few have managed to make it to the higher ranks of the professions, including politics and the civil service.

But with a conservative party that had chosen Angela Merkel to run as chancellor in 2005 - a successful gambit - and now an ethnic Turk at the helm of an influential party, it appears that German society is slowly breaking with the past, when women were inconspicuous in public and immigrants' voices were seldom heard.

Ozdemir, a social scientist who studied at the Lutheran College for Social Sciences in Reutlingen in the state of Baden-Württemberg, was elected as a Greens legislator to the lower house of Parliament, the Bundestag, in 1994, the first time anyone with a Turkish background had won such a mandate. He moved to the European Parliament in 2004 after he was forced to give up his parliamentary seat for using his publicly paid airline miles for private use.

With his comeback to domestic politics over the weekend, Ozdemir - who is married, has one child and speaks German with a slight southwestern accent - joins a handful of ethnic Turks in the Greens, the Social Democrats and the new populist Left Party who want to make the parties more representative of the ethnic composition of the German population.

"I want a society where everyone has an equal chance, regardless of where they come from," Ozdemir said in his acceptance speech at the Greens' congress in the central city of Erfurt. He won 79.2 percent of the votes and joined Claudia Roth as the co-leader of the Greens.

It is estimated that 660,000 Turks have taken up German citizenship since 1972, giving them a significant influence. According to the main political parties, more than half a million Turks were eligible to vote in the 2005 election; 75 percent voted for the Social Democrats, 9.2 percent for the Greens and less than 5 percent for the Merkel's Christian Democrats.

With new leaders in place, the Greens are now turning their attention to federal elections next September. Some observers are asking whether the Greens, along with the pro-business Free Democrats, might win enough votes to become junior partners for Merkel's conservative bloc.

Such an idea was treated with ridicule until recently. But in February, the Christian Democrats chose to share power with the Greens in the port city of Hamburg. So far, the coalition, the first of its kind on the state level, has been working effectively, serving as a litmus test for other states.

Ralf Fücks, director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which is affiliated with the Green party, said, "In some ways we have more in common with the conservatives when it comes to human rights and values, which Merkel has paid particular attention to."

The Greens and the conservatives also support economic reform, and Merkel has made environmental issues a central theme of her party. But the sticking point for any cooperation, as Fücks acknowledged, is nuclear power. The Greens have always opposed atomic energy, while Merkel has promised to let nuclear power plants continue to run if she is re-elected next year. The conservatives are also against Turkey's joining the European Union, while the Greens favor such a move.

Traditionally, the Greens have been allies of the Social Democrats. The party had been the junior partner in the former coalition led by the Social Democratic chancellor Gerhard Schröder, which lasted from 1998 to 2005. That coalition was defeated by Merkel's conservative bloc, which was forced to band together with the Social Democrats because neither of the big parties was strong enough to establish a coalition with its preferred smaller partners.

Since late 2005, the discipline that characterized the Greens in government has given way to the old divisions between the "fundamentalists" who have opposed German soldiers serving abroad, for example, and the pragmatists, or "Realos," who favor Germany's playing a much greater role, even militarily, in international affairs, economic reform and pushing the environmental agenda.

Under the leadership of Joschka Fischer, who was foreign minister in Schröder's government, the pacifist and fundamentalist wing of the Greens was marginalized as Fischer pushed the party into accepting the NATO bombing of Serbian targets to stop the ethnic cleansing by Serbian security forces of the Albanians in Kosovo.


Hans - your thoughts?

Re: Germans pick Turkish leader


Perhaps he isn't overweight, you see. Read this article on fat German soldiers in Afghanistan ... sausage and beer etc

Re: Germans pick Turkish leader

I think everyone knows my views on the first topic. I'm not a tree-hugging, pinko, minority-loving liberal. Quite the opposite.

As for the second topic, it is true, many Germans are large. I myself am not at all slim. But, I believe both the Americans and British are on average fatter.