Germany’s first party leader from an ethnic minority

>> Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Greens in Germany
Cem difference
The Economist print edition
APA Turk at the top
CEM OZDEMIR has picked a good moment to be elected co-chairman of Germany’s Green Party. All of Europe is on the hunt for a European Barack Obama. As the first Turkish-origin leader of a big party in Germany, Mr Ozdemir is the country’s top contender. It does not hurt the comparison that he is thin, good-looking, charismatic and devoted to his family (wife and daughter).

Like the American version, he tries to transcend ethnicity, but in a different way. Mr Obama hoped that the historical significance of his election would work in his favour. Mr Ozdemir (who, as a Green, is unlikely ever to rise higher than foreign minister) seems eager to play down ethnicity altogether. “Is it so important to have a Turkish chancellor?” he wonders. “The fact that we’re still talking about this shows how far there is to go.” He blames both native Germans and immigrants. Germans must become comfortable with the “hyphenated identities” of some of their fellow citizens; immigrants and their children must accept that “this is not enemy territory.” The first words he heard were in the Swabian dialect of Baden-Württemberg.

Mr Ozdemir, who is 43, would rather dwell on his youth. He decided to run for the party chairmanship after reading a newspaper headline claiming that the young shun responsibility. He wanted to show that a political high-flyer can have a normal family life. “Most of the old battles were not my battles,” he says. That makes it easier to contemplate the exotic coalitions that may be necessary if the Greens are to return to power in what is now a five-party system. Potential partners range from the ex-communist Left Party to the Christian Democratic Union, the Greens’ partner in the city-state of Hamburg. What matters is a coalition “with as much Green handwriting as possible,” meaning one that defends civil liberties and social justice, and also fights climate change and nuclear power.

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