Sixty years after Germany first invited Turkish workers to help rebuild the country after World War II, it has appointed its first Turkish-German minister. It’s a historic move in a country where more than one in four people have migrant roots and where Turks have been the main immigrant group for more than half a century.
“It is a very special moment,” Naika Foroutan, an immigration expert and professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin, said of the appointment of Cem Özdemir as agriculture minister. “For a lot of people in this country it means: If he can do it, I can do it, too.”
But to many, the promotion for Mr. Özdemir, a prominent Green politician from the Swabia region in southwestern Germany, underscores how slow the country has been at promoting members of ethnic minorities into positions of leadership.
“Cem Özdemir is the first federal minister with migrant roots — it’s almost absurd to say that 60 years after we signed the guest worker program,” Professor Foroutan said, referring to the initiative that brought many Turkish people to Germany to help drive its postwar economic revival, including Mr. Özdemir’s parents.
“Visibility and recognition of one’s own group is not just symbolically relevant, but a sign of political participation,” she added.
Though Germany has had a few ministers with overseas heritage before, their backgrounds were not typical of most postwar migration to the country: Katarina Barley, a former justice minister, had a British father; Philipp Rösler, who held several senior positions a decade ago, was born in Vietnam and adopted by a family in Germany at the age of 9 months.
Change has also been slow in the Bundestag, Germany’s Parliament. Eleven percent of its newly elected lawmakers have a migration background, up from 8 percent previously, according to the Berlin-based Migration Media Service, which asked sitting parties to help identify people who have a least one parent not born in Germany or were not born there themselves.
Mr. Özdemir, 55, was born in Germany to Turkish parents four years after the first Turkish “guest workers” arrived. That initiative was designed to bring in immigrant labor only temporarily, but many participants settled in their host country, including Mr. Özdemir’s parents.
His father had been a farmer in Turkey before emigrating to work in a German textile mill. Mr. Özdemir’s mother, who died last summer, worked as a tailor.
In politics for almost three decades, Mr. Özdemir won a seat in Parliament in 1994 at age 28, becoming the first lawmaker with Turkish roots in the country. He is now popular in Germany, having served as a co-leader of the Greens for almost a decade until 2018. He is also the first vegetarian to be Germany’s agriculture minister.
In a television interview this week, Mr. Özdemir quoted a letter of support he had received from a fellow German with Turkish roots, in which its author told him: “You are now where none of us have been before.”
Apsny News English