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Germany's New Obamania

By Andrew Zvirzdin

European politicians - whose nations have long struggled with the issue of racial integration - have duly noted the excitement generated by the U.S. electorate's choice of an African-American as its next president.

Now, Germany may be on the way to its own version of Obamania - thanks to the election of Cem Özdemir as Green Party leader. Özdemir's parents are originally of Turkish descent and immigrated to southern Germany during the peak of the Turkish guest worker immigration. Although there are now over 2.6 million ethnic Turks in Germany, Özdemir is the first ethnic Turk elected as a party leader and the highest-ranking politician ever with an immigrant background.

Ozdemir's election comes at a time when German leaders are struggling to fully integrate immigrants into Germany, and Ozdemir's election can be seen as reaffirming the government's efforts. The election will be inspirational for German youth of Turkish background, even if it does not immediately solve real problems such as unemployment and poverty. And too the Greens may have just discovered a new source of electoral strength within the immigrant community.

In the U.S., the Drudge Report featured a large photo and link to a story of the Green Party election results, indicating the level of international interest in the success of immigrants and minorities with a compelling Obama-like story. Though Ozdemir has dismissed media comparisons with Obama, the world appears eager to see the rise of other minorities throughout the world. Ozdemir should perhaps consider holding a foreign-policy speech at the National Mall.

Having worked with Cem in the European Parliament last year, I congratulate him on his historic election; he will make an excellent party leader. But he has little time to rest on his laurels. Özdemir has both tremendous opportunities and serious challenges. He will have to make some tough decisions regarding potential coalition partners and craft a coherent party platform for the upcoming 2009 elections. Özdemir must also unify his party and convince the more fundamental segments of his party to accept his internationalist perspective. And now he will have to deal with a heightened level of global interest in his political career. His upcoming year as party leader will not be easy.

Özdemir has become an inspiration for minorities and immigrants in Germany and even throughout the world, but must now deal with some very real political challenges. Sound like anyone familiar across the Atlantic?

Andrew Zvirzdin is a graduate student in the European Studies program at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center in Italy.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (3)

kohsar240 Author Profile Page:

Wow. Surprised! Here in the US we expected that one day we will be Ombamaied, but it is shocking for Germany. Well, we wish the German nation and Ozedmir much success. The election of Obama and Ozedmir and perhaps others is the currency this world is urgently in need of.

greener_pastures Author Profile Page:

Özdemir also emits a slight taint of corruption, recalling Obama's own oh-so-close relationship to the Daley machine and Tony Rezko here in Chicago. Özdemir was forced to resign from all of his political positions in July 2002, as result of a corruption scandal involving business lobbyists and the CDU politician Moritz Hunzinger. He, like Obama, now says that he's sorry. Everyone should stop portraying politicians as saints and mircle workers just because they are of color. It's not fair to them or good for the rest of us.

dunnhaupt Author Profile Page:

Özdemir represents a kind mini-Obama, a new ray of hope for the Turkish minority in Germany. Even though many are second, even third generation immigrants, the majority of Germans are hardly aware of their existence. Yet their presence is obvious enough, with hundreds of mosques having been constructed all over Germany.

Most Turks live in closely knit communities that make it difficult for their members to "escape" from their control. Those who manage to establish a life of their own, are treated as "traitors", especially if they intermarry with Germans. Here, too, education is the big divide. University trained Turko-Germans are quickly accepted by the general society while the under-educated cling to their old ways.

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