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Turkish Immigrants’ Son Is Rising Star Of Germany’s Greens

BERLIN (dpa) – Faced with a series of political disappointments in recent state elections, Germany’s Green Party is now turning to its younger political performers to give it more thrust in the run-up to German national elections next year.

The Greens have suffered from a rather dowdy image in recent years, with a sizeable chunk of their membership now in solid middle- age.

“We aren’t exactly a good advertisement for a party that wants to be seen as young and dynamic,” observes a prominent Green member.

But such talk doesn’t impress Cem Ozdemir, 36, son of a Turkish “guest worker” whose parents first arrived in Germany back in the early 1960s. A Green deputy in the Reichstag, the tall, smartly- dressed Ozdemir is today a star party performer.

He dismisses speculation that the Greens are in “deep crisis,” and might fail to take the five per cent of votes needed for parliamentary representation next year.

“I think that’s nonsense,” he says. “There are problems and sometimes differences with Chancellor Schroeder’s Social Democrats. But we’ve proved we are a reliable coalition partner,” he says.

Ozdemir soon burst into prominence after gaining German citizenship in 1981 and joining the Greens the same year.

A man with a dashing presence and eloquent voice, he is frequently asked to handle questions concerning Germany’s 2.l million Turks.

Germany has been marking the 40-year-history of the first Turkish “guest-worker” arrivals in the country, which came about after the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, when east Berliners were prevented from reaching their work-places in the western districts.

Ozdemir is asked how he rates the German-Turkish labour alliance, in a country now where more than 2.1 million Turkish worker-families are to be living.

“It is a success story if you look at where those people came from and what they are doing now,” he says. “We have big Turkish companies creating jobs for Germans and for non-Germans.

“There are people in the media, in sport and in politics who have a non-German background, and there are those who have proved very successful in universities and in science,” Ozdemir added.

“This is something nobody expected when in the beginning of the 1960s my parents came to Germany. On the other hand we still have problems with low-skilled labour and with unemployment. So the results are mixed in a way,” he argues.

Asked how the Green Party is being affected by America’s continuing bombing strategy in Afghanistan, he says: “It’s very hard for my party with its pacifistic background. But on the other hand I ask, what is the alternative?”

Then he adds: “What I criticise is where were we before September ll? The Taliban has been around for a long time. Human rights abuses against women have been there for a long time. Did we only see what was going on in Afghanistan after September ll? Why hadn’t we discussed human rights violations there before that?

“This is something the West can be criticised for. It appears we only see human rights abuses when the West is touched by them.” For the West to be successful in the fight against the Taliban and al- Qaeda, democracy had to be established, he argued.

“There must be an open society, one where women are visible, not one where there is no fundamentalism. The alternative to the Taliban is democracy, nothing else will do,” he said.

Ozdemir was first elected to the German parliament in 1994.

The author of several books about the integration of foreigners in Germany, he frequently appears on television chat shows and on radio current affair broadcasts, expressing his views on foreigners’ problems in Germany.

Ozdemir was born in Bad Urach in the southwestern region of Swabia in 1965. His parents were among early Turkish “guest-workers” arriving to provide labour for the western German post-war economic miracle.

The politician spends much of his time in Berlin pumping peoples’ hands, and giving advice to Turkish workers.

Now the Green Party’s domestic policy spokesman, he’s confident the party will continue to play a role at government level after next year’s elections.

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