A Turkish Problem ?

Posted in Europe | 16-Apr-07 | Author: Christian Rieck

Christian Rieck is WSN Editor Latin America.

Leitkultur, Parallelgesellschaft, EU-membership

I. Introduction:

Ethnicity, Language, Culture, Identity

It is true, Germany is not a multiethnic or multicultural country in the sense that, say, India, Brazil or South Africa are. Indigenous cultural minorities are virtually nonexistent. But even though almost 9% of the total populace are foreigners, there are no significant minority issues of national concern. That is mostly due to the fact that most immigrants, having come from South and Southeast Europe – apart from Poland and Russia – have found it relatively easy to integrate into the German society, since they broadly share a number of cultural and religious values, apart from their obvious ethnic similarities. In short: the cultural distance between Germans and their immigrants is not that large.

The only notable exception to this is the Turkish community. It is the single most important minority in Germany, counting around 2 million members or 2.3% of the total population. Like other communities, it has a strong sense of identity, of being Turkish rather than exclusively German. Cultural, religious and family links to the motherland are strong, although, as we shall see later on, that differs from generation to generation. Even though religion certainly makes a difference between the Muslim Turks and the Christian Germans, it is the language barrier, however, that is high and that poses a serious inhibition to full integration.

Yet, the Turkish presence in German public life and mainstream culture has become more apparent in recent years. Mostly in film, comedy, television and pop music the new generation of Turko-Germans, most of them second if not third-generation Turks in Germany, increasingly make themselves heard – using their own language and symbols, or their own pidgin version of Turk-German. Many feel that Germany is their home now and feel as different in Turkey than they do in Germany. The identification of young Turko-Germans with Germany during the soccer World Cup last year was an insightful experience in this regard.

We see here, that the focus of identity shifts from generation to generation: It is always both what an immigrant community defines as being “us” as well as what the host society defines as being “them”. Common language, religion and traditions, shared history, experiences and family values – in short: a distinct culture – make the construction of identity and ethnicity possible. Multiculturalism, then, is the ability of a majoritarian society to peacefully absorb different other minority cultures into its broad societal consensus on shared values and principles. Multiculturalism is about the fruitful coexistence of diversity.

Certain problems are specific to the Turkish community – not because other communities do not share them but rather because they are smaller and the danger of closed parallel societies does not pose itself in the same way. Also, the discussion about a lead culture most affects the Turkish community, since it highlights the legal (but also societal) problem beyond “mere” matters of integration: the lack of citizenship. This is the most important element that sets the Turkish community apart from, say, the Aussiedler: ethnic Germans with a variety of integration issues of their own (mostly a lack of adequate language skills), but with a right to German citizenship and, therefore, without the legal (and, thus, societal) ramifications of “not being German”.

Being the largest immigrant community, Turko-Germans have traditionally relied upon powerful Turkish networks within Germany. However, this has proved to be both an advantage and a disadvantage: networks significantly lower the transaction costs of integration but also build strong disincentives to integration, i.e. that even though a local Turkish community may help the newcomers feel at home, thus making it easier for them to fit into the host society, it may also provide for an all-Turkish environment, complete with shops, social services and even radio and television, thus making it very difficult for the host society to get to the newcomers and put pressure on them to actively learn the host language so that they can be an effective part of that society.

This voluntary “ghettoisation” has been dubbed the problem of Parallelgesellschaften, or parallel societies. The argument goes that, as long as parallel societies are hermetic, integration will not happen. Integration in this context means having the ability to communicate effectively in and with the host society. In Germany the debate centers mostly on the language question. But without integration – not assimilation – into the host society, members of a minority community will not be able to exploit the opportunities that they are offered.

This has led in recent years to the discussion of a Leitkultur, or lead culture, meaning that in a majoritarian society certain basic values of the majority must prevail over conflicting values of immigrant communities in order for the society not to fracture and to strengthen its social consensus as enshrined in the constitution. The discussion focused mainly on animal rights (ritual killings of animals) and on religious symbols in secular schools (wearing of head-scarves in the public school service). The concept is still somewhat controversial, mainly because parts of the political spectrum still believe Germany not to be an immigrant country. Although, this line of thought is steadily receding. At long last, the German government has acknowledged that the Turkish presence in Germany is for good and has strived to establish mechanisms for co-opting the institutions of Turko-German life – e.g. through the ill-termed “Islam-Conference” (a “Diversity-Conference” would have been a more proper name). However, these are hopeful signs that slowly but steadily German society is coming to terms with its not-so-newfound diversity.

It thus becomes obvious that today’s Federal Republic of Germany is not the republic of its founding fathers. After decades of migration to the country first from the former German territories in the East, then from ethnic Germans from as far as Central Asia to the actively promoted economic migration during the boom years of reconstruction, Germany today is much more diverse than it used to be during its founding period.

II. A Brief History of German Turks:

Origins, Integration, Identity

1. The first generation

Large numbers of Turks came to Germany in the wake of the German economic miracle. They had been actively recruited in their home country by the German government to come to Germany as guest workers – the famed Gastarbeiter – and help fill the shortage of available labor there. These were boom times, unprecedented in scale and scope, so that integration – and therewith German perception of foreigners – was considerably influenced by the fact that opportunities of economic prosperity were offered to everybody according to merit alone. As long as the economy kept going, integration seemed to work fine: foreigners were eagerly welcomed into German society and the foreigners themselves were eager to demonstrate that they were a vital and productive part of their new home country.

Even though many of the first-generation immigrants planned on staying in Germany for only a relatively short period of time, the economic situation both in Germany and their respective native countries, including Turkey made them stay longer and longer, accepting their fate as de-facto emigrants. They could sustain their extended families abroad and even bring their closest relatives to Germany. Also, since distances are short, Turks could also travel easily back and forth between the two countries so that it was possible for them to keep the links to the motherland strong even without actually living there. Their status was recurrently upgraded depending on the time they had already lived and worked in Germany, so soon many had the precious indefinite residence permits that allowed them stay in the country for as long as they liked, giving them all the benefits of the German welfare and social security systems – including, ironically enough, unemployment benefits in times of economic crisis.

Today, almost 52% of Turks in Germany have been living and working in Germany for over 15 years, 42% have been in Germany longer than 20 years, 27% longer than 25 years and some 10% even longer than 30 years. Turks, therefore, have been a part of German society for quite some time.

2. The second generation

More than one third of the Turks living in Germany have been born there. Yet, according to the Federal Statistics Office, by the end of 2000, a total of 424.513 Turks had received the German citizenship. This number grows annually by 80.000 to 100.000. That may indicate a growing Turkish feeling of belonging to the German society.

However, having weaker bonds to Turkey, the younger generation are trying to define themselves not as being predominantly Turkish or German but as being both. This bicultural identity shows in a specific Turko-German dialect that many young Turks share, a fact that can pose problems in school and that is often exacerbated by the wide variety of Turkish (and, of course, other foreign) media in Germany and the concentration of Turks (and other foreigners) in certain city quarters.

Still, young Turks see themselves as well-integrated and are increasingly shaping German society through their presence in mass media and popular culture – and to a somewhat lesser extent even in politics. They are claiming their share of Germany. However, specific problems remain that need to be addressed if the Turkish community is to be truly enfranchised.

III. Specific Problems of Turko-Germans:

Society, Law, Politics

1. social disenfranchisement

The cultural distance between Germans and Turks is wider than it is between Germans and most other immigrant communities. This is mainly due to the differences in religion and resulting social and family values. While other communities have it easier to integrate into a host society with which they share at least a common Christian denomination – be it protestant, catholic or orthodox -, Muslims do not have this privilege. Many schools are not equipped to offer Islamic religious education, thus inadvertently giving the impression that Muslim children are not welcome in German society. The reservations with which large parts of the German populace regard Islam after 9-11 does not help either. If religion is a matter of cultural pride then the lack of religious education is a major humiliation to the devout.

Another point of content is language. The proportion of Turks who in their day-to-day business speak only German, mostly German or as much German as Turkish lies at 87% for 14-18 year-olds, at 75% for 19-29 year-olds and at 67% for 30-39 year-olds. Although the community is not completely closed and the language skills and therefore their social integration improve with each generation, only 4% of all Turks are in binational marriages.

This is connected to the fact that disproportionately many Turko-Germans do not go to university or even to college after their high school education. Obviously, integration into the upper strata of the majoritarian society is difficult, if not impossible, without higher education, since it is with income that also comes status. Without a highly skilled Turkish labor force, there will be no work – and no prestige – beyond the quintessential Kebab-jobs.

Still, the unemployment rate of foreigners in Germany stands at 18%, compared to 10% for their German counterparts. For Turks, however, it stands at 20% - while for Greeks and Italians it is 15%, for Spaniards and Portuguese just 11%. Other minorities seem to fare better economically, probably because their ethnic networks are not as extensive and the motivation to integrate is higher.

2. legal disenfranchisement

The Turkish community is not constitutionally recognized as a national minority. This means that they cannot claim the same privileges and the same protection of their community rights. Although it is true that integration is a federal concern, tangible improvements of the community rights situation are basically left to the local governments.

The legal situation of Turko-Germans is by no small degree governed by federal citizenship legislation. Even after many years in Germany, too many Turks do not enjoy the right to a German citizenship. This then leads to the peculiar situation of second-generation Turks still being “resident aliens”. Needless to say that this also brands Turks as non-Germans and is in itself an inhibition to full integration since it reinforces the danger of parallel societies.

3. political disenfranchisement

Finally, despite of the social problems Turks suffer in Germany, the lack of German citizenship also strongly impedes the political importance of the Turkish community. Since voting power and thus political clout come only with the German citizenship, there is no incentive for politicians to pick up the problems of this minority. The situation of Turko-Germans will not improve overnight – but without at least their political recognition as a part of German society that actually matters, this will be a considerably longer and more strenuous process.

IV. The Way Ahead:

Politics, Citizenship, Federalism, Education, Europe

The situation of immigrant minorities in general and of the Turkish community in particular is far from satisfactory. Especially the unemployment issue makes social acceptance on part of the German population difficult. There is room for improvement, however. Some suggestions on how to change the Turkish situation have already been made in the previous chapters.

In this last section, this essay will try to elaborate more on concrete measures that should be taken by the government on the different levels of German federalism. It identifies five areas of action: politics, citizenship, federalism, education and Europe, and will seek to link these to the abovementioned discussion on lead culture vs. parallel societies:

The face of the Turkish cultural community is already changing, as is shown by the lively debate about a Euro-Islam. It increasingly understands itself as being a vital part of this country and so this community is actively looking for common ground with the rest of German society. It has understood that integration brings tangible benefits.

Enfranchisement will help the Turko-Germans build trust in common values in Germany and thus make it easier for them to accept the notion of a lead culture.

1. politics

a. Germany needs a political consensus that it already is a multicultural society. Yes, immigration is real, but Germany also still is a majoritarian society. Yes, it can and should have minorities commit themselves to active integration, but that commitment has to go both ways. Yes, it has a lead culture, but it is by no means exclusive.

The country should start to treat minorities as an integral part of present-day Germany – and in this context politics have an important role to play. Only if Germany publicly, through its ruling class, acknowledges that diversity is a good thing, will it have the political capital to be able to insist on a stronger commitment towards integration. The “Islam Conference” can only be a start. It should not narrow the discussion to religion – as its name unfortunately implies – but should rather deal with the whole range of immigrant issues. It should become a “Diversity Conference”. Turks are more than just Muslims.

b. On a more pragmatic note: Politics should better start seeing the Turkish vote as important for this country. More and more Turks feel at home in Germany, they are going to matter – sooner than later. At present, the party affiliations of Turko-Germans are not clear-cut, so all major parties could profit from a public endorsement of the minority vote.

c. German-Turkish relations hinge on the Turkish community in Germany. They are a vibrant, enterprising community. Empower them politically and it will also benefit the German export economy through better relations with Turkey.

2. citizenship

a. In the year 2000, the modernization of the German citizenship law (StAG) and the law concerning foreigners in Germany (AuslG) brought about a major improvement for second-generation communities in Germany. It was obviously geared towards the Turko-Germans. Basically, the time period for naturalization was considerably shortened:

Now, the citizenship can already be handed to children of foreign parents if one parent has been regularly and legally living in Germany for the past eight years and if he has had an indefinite residence permit for the past three years (§ 4 III StAG). There is now also a possibility of facilitated naturalization for foreigners who have legally resided in Germany for the past eight years – if they pledge allegiance to its liberal democratic order, have an indefinite residence permit, be able to sustain themselves and their families, give up their previous nationality and have not been convicted of any crime (§ 85 AuslG). For married partners naturalization is also possible without reference to the eight-year period.

b. With citizenship comes voting power. Diversity politics are going to matter. This will substantially help the Turko-Germans identify with the German politico-constitutional system – one of the main pillars of the concept of a lead culture. The liberal order will make great inroads into closed communities if they see that it gives them real political power – on all levels of government.

3. federalism

a. Even though primary, secondary and also higher education is already an exclusive competence of the Länder, both the financial and political commitment to education needs to be strengthened on all levels of governance. Increased funding for schools and universities will benefit the society as a whole, minority integration would be a mere spill-over effect.

This is especially relevant in a society where the opportunities of children depend so strongly on the educational background of the parents. It is through education that minorities will be effectively integrated into society, not through language courses.

b. The constitutional court said in 2004 that the head-scarf question should be dealt with on the state level. On grounds of state secularity a teacher had been forbidden from wearing a head-scarf in class. She appealed this administrative decision in court, stating a breach of her right to religious freedom. The constitutional court ruling was solomonic in that it deferred this decision back to the states. This is to be welcomed from a federalist point of view for it leaves the states to react to their specific diversity needs: Berlin is not Bavaria.

Indeed, the federation should not worry about minorities. States should. Federalism can only strengthen minority rights because it provides for inclusion mechanisms on the level where they are needed most.

c. A renewed commitment to federalism will empower the states to respond to their social and ethnic diversity in the ways they deem appropriate. The minority vote on all levels of governance will increasingly and enormously influence the direction of that response.

4. education

a. Where possible and feasible, the Länder should find creative ways of activating their respective minorities – and the talent reserve they represent – through an inclusive education system. Immigrant communities have valuable intellectual resources that should not go untapped, not least the intercultural and interlingual knowledge. An much overlooked truth is that a higher level of education for Turks could also mean more jobs for Germans created by Turks.

b. Germany should strive for more Islamic religious education by teachers that are supervised by the state – as in the case of other denominations, mainly Catholicism and Protestantism – because “homegrown” Islamic education will be better suited to teach integration. At present, most Islamic teachers are educated in Turkey. Why let Turkey – or Saudi-Arabia, for that matter – have such an influence on the German education system?

If values are brought down to every new generation primarily through school education and not through the parental guidance, Germany should have an interest in stronger supervision of religious education in public schools.

5. Europe

a. Bringing Turkey into the European Union will alleviate many of the specific Turko-German problems. It will especially help with the identity issues. As with other European former Gastarbeiter, over time they will either accept German nationality – and the accompanying responsibility – and give up their Turkish citizenship if they want their voices to be heard in Germany, or vice versa if they want to influence things in Turkey.

But on the local level at least – where many of the pressing social problems have to be dealt with –, political participation will then no longer be such an emotional issue, since all EU citizens have local voting power in their country of residence. Germany has the largest Turkish minority and the second largest Muslim community in Europe, it should take the lead in supporting Turkeys bid for membership.



* The author has studied law and economics in Bayreuth (Germany), Seville (Spain) and at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. In 2002 he worked for the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament and member in the Convention on the Future of Europe, MEP Elmar Brok. The same year he was Carlo Schmid Fellow at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, CEPAL, in Mexico City. In 2005 he was a guest at the European University Institute in Florence (Italy). At present, the author is a project assistant at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Berlin, a German political foundation, where he is also a member of the Working Group on Foreign Policy. This paper states his personal opinion.

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