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Yes, We Cem

Is German Green party leader Cem Ozdemir Europe's Obama?

12:00 AM, Apr 14, 2009 • By GERALD ROBBINS
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The first quandary is political. Ozdemir might be prime ministerial material, but he's probably in the wrong party to achieve that office. While the Greens have polled reasonably well so far, their usual status as a likely coalition partner is being tested. There are other "minority" parties to contend with, noticeably the once-moribund Free Democrats and the insurgent neo-Communist Party of the Left. Furthermore, there's the nagging question as to what the Greens now stand for. Their environmental programs have been essentially co-opted by the "majority" Social and Christian Democrat parties. In light of the current economic and financial crises, their operational experience regarding these issues is practically nil.

The other perplexity is sociological. A recent study about integration by the Berlin-based Institute for Population and Development is causing a stir. According to the report, there's an alarming lack of assimilation among the nearly three million Turks living in Germany. Despite their fifty year, multi-generational presence, Germany's largest ethnic population is in danger of becoming a permanent underclass. Less than one-third of the Turkish German community graduate with any type of school certificate, consequently resulting in higher than normal rates of unemployment.

Governmental neglect partially explains this situation, but there's also the fact that many Turks who came to Germany as guest workers simply won't assimilate. The original belief about returning home once they've earned enough money remains unaltered. There's minimal interaction with German society, resulting in what sociologists call "self-imposed ghettos." Attempts to bridge this gap with yearly "Integration Summits" has had minimal success.

This seems a tailor-made issue for Ozdemir to focus upon. "It's time to get beyond diaspora societies", he declares. His statement is rhetorically satisfying, but thin on substance--perhaps another sign that Cem Ozdemir is Europe's Obama.

Gerald Robbins is an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.