Two Unamalgamated Worlds

April 3, 2008

Author: Staff Writer

Source: The Economist

HE DID not plan it that way. But when Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, arrived in Germany for an official visit in February he found the Turkish community in turmoil. A few days before his arrival nine Turks, five of them children, had died in a fire in the south-western city of Ludwigshafen. A hate crime, many Turks suspected. The month before, Roland Koch, the conservative premier of the state of Hesse, had tried to win re-election by promising to deport foreign criminals (two-thirds of Turks do not have German citizenship). The transparent appeal to xenophobia backfired, costing Mr Koch his majority and perhaps his job.

Mr Erdogan both calmed tempers and inflamed them. In Ludwigshafen he reassured sceptical Turks that German police and firemen could be trusted. But then he seemed to urge them to hold themselves aloof from German society. Assimilation was a “crime against humanity”, he told a crowd of 16,000 in Cologne. Turkish children should be able to study in Turkish-language schools and at a Turkish university. With that, he largely wore out his welcome. Politicians across the spectrum accused him of fomenting Turkish nationalism on German soil. Perhaps, some mused, the European Union should suspend membership talks with Turkey.

These are awkward times in the fraught 47-year history of Germany's 2.6m Turks, the country's largest ethnic minority. They have powered Germany's industry, populated its cities and produced more than a handful of millionaires, artists and politicians. Doner kebabs, invented by Turks in Berlin, are edging aside currywurst as Germany's favourite fast food. Yet on average these Turks are poorer, less well educated and more violent than ordinary Germans. Even those who speak Germany's language, carry its passport and thrive in its economy are not sure they belong. “We're in, but not in all the way,” says Yasemin Kural, who works in public relations.

How Germany deals with its minorities is a mounting preoccupation for its leaders. In cities with more than 200,000 inhabitants 45% of children under 15 have a “migration background”, meaning either that they immigrated themselves or have parents or grandparents who did. Across Germany, the proportion is nearly a third (including children born to ethnic-German immigrants). Migrants have starring roles in crime, poverty and now terrorism, both as perpetrators and as victims. They and their children account for 36% of the population at or near the poverty line and for 29% of the unemployed.