AKP boosts self-confidence among Turkish-German voters
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The polarization that exists in Turkey is also valid among the Turkish immigrants in Germany, says Defne Kadıoğlu Polat, an academic born in Germany.Turkish political campaigns in Europe come at a time when Germany is marking the 25th anniversary of reunification, which, far from helping the Turkish-German community, actually pushed them further to the margins of society, according to an academic. Becoming more defensive, some Turkish immigrants started to find solace more in Turkish nationalism and religion as an identity, said Defne Kadıoğlu Polat. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) owes part of its success among Turkish-German voters as it has made them feel more self-confident, she added.
What were the effects of German unification on Turks living in the country?
I think it’s really under-discussed [even though] it was very important because I think the unification process marginalized immigrants from Turkey in Germany emotionally and economically.
First of all, unemployment rose extremely after unification. East Germans started to migrate to the West and it started to affect Turkish immigrants because they were the first ones to be laid off. This is so important because many of these people who were then young and got laid off are still unemployed today.
So it was not a temporary situation.
This has so many repercussions. If you have unemployed parents who have been unemployed for 10-15-20 years, your chances in society also decrease. It is an important factor in the current problems we have in the realm of education or the realm of employment for the younger generation.
On the other hand, there is the rising racist sentiment that dominated the early 1990s. This is very important because we have this debate again regarding refugees in Germany. In the 1990s racist sentiment became widespread and more or less socially acceptable in mainstream circles.
Turkish immigrants became more defensive after that, and I think they kind of retreated more into their own shells.
In what sense have they become more defensive?
From the 1970s onwards, for example, Turkish ghettos were growing, but it was never discussed why immigrants were clustering in certain parts of the city, like Kreuzberg, for instance: The reason was because it was the cheapest. But by the end of the 1980s and after 1990, even if they had economic means to move elsewhere, they didn’t because they were sheltering themselves against racism.
Which has probably prevented their integration.
Yes, and that has led to this debate about ghettos and ghetto schools and why Turkish children are not successful. After the 9/11 attack, this whole isolation went more from being Turkish to being Muslim. Turks more and more became identified as Muslims, and then they effectively clustered around that identity. It was not everyone, of course, but some of them clustered around that identity, too.
How can we evaluate your analysis in terms of the latest electoral results, as Turks in Germany voted in the general elections for the first time in June.
The AKP’s [Justice and Development Party] rule in Turkey has also had an effect on the electoral behavior of German Turks. What you hear from them is that with the AKP, they feel more empowered and entitled because Turkey is becoming a stronger country, so their position in Germany is being enhanced. I don’t know if that is true, actually. It’s not because the AKP came to power that the Germans respect Turkish immigrants more or less than before. But there is definitely the sentiment that “now we have a strong prime minister/president and that is why we are more respected here too – more than before.”
But would you also say that the fact that Turks started to resort to alternative modes of identity such as Turkish nationalism and religion partly explains the AKP’s success among the German Turkish electorate?
Definitely, of course. And curiously, it very much appeals to the younger generation that hasn’t even really lived through all these problems when, for instance, racism was at its height. Some of them have this extreme appreciation for AKP as they say, “(Presidnet Recenp Tayyip Erdoğan) He is a strong leader, we don’t feel embarrased anymore.”
This feeling of victimhood was high in the 1990s. They used to say: “We don’t want to be the Jews of tomorrow.”So if you have parents who went through this type of victimization where they felt very weak economically and emotionally, of course that also affects the younger generation. Now there is a very strange kind of nationalistic Turkish-German branch of AKP-ism, so to say, which is quite different than the one in Turkey I think.
Different in which sense?
They don’t want to live in Turkey. It’s about being a stronger member of society in Germany. They are not really living with the repercussions of what the AKP is doing or not doing positively or negatively, but in their eyes, they are becoming more respected in the country they live in. As I said whether you can ground that in anything, I’m not sure.
But we must also say that what’s similar to Turkey is the divisions and fault lines. Those who are against the AKP in Turkey are really against the AKP and those who are for them are really for them. It is the same in Germany. And there is not much discussion between them so this polarization is similar to the one in Turkey.
How has Turkey’s relations with Berlin affected the situation of the Turks? One would expect the AKP to put pressure on Berlin to improve the rights of Turkish immigrants.
In its first years, the AKP enjoyed a better image; now it has deteriorated. But that doesn’t affect the policy level; that doesn’t affect the everyday life of Turkish immigrants. But I personally think Erdoğan’s involvement [through visits] to Germany is counterproductive, to be honest.
Counterproductive in which sense?
The way he comes and speaks is irritating many Germans and politicians as well. It is counterproductive in the sense that they feel bothered by it, but it doesn’t really affect the policy level.
Is this irritation specific to Erdoğan or are they bothered by the political campaigning of Turkish parties in general?
I think it’s a general irritant. They’re irritated by the fact that home politics still plays a role. But that’s the wrong way to look at it [from the German perspective] because there are reasons why it still plays a role, and we come back to the history of exclusion. If you don’t give citizenship, there is so much unemployment over the years and the schools your children go to are still the worst schools then it’s kind of natural that these people take a defensive attitude and sometimes look elsewhere to be sheltered.
What do you think motivates their voting patterns? What do they expect for themselves when the vote for this or that party?
I don’t think there is necessarily immediate expectations. I don’t think most Turkish immigrants think the Turkish government can influence the German government to such a level that their life standards will immediately improve.
What they want is to get out of this kind of second-class citizen status. What they expect probably is to have Turkey getting stronger. What I always hear is “now we have self-confidence.”
Who is Defne Kadıoğlu Polat?
Defne Kadıoğlu Polat was born in Germany to Turkish parents. She graduated from the University of Düsseldorf’s Social Sciences Department and obtained her master’s degree from the University of Essex in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights. In 2008, she moved to Istanbul. After a year of work in civil society, she began PhD Studies at Boğaziçi University at the Department of Political Science and International Relations.
Between 2010 and 2015, she was the executive assistant of the Boğaziçi University-TÜSİAD Foreign Policy Forum. In winter 2012/2013, she was a visiting doctoral researcher at Humboldt University’s Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences (BGSS). During her time at BGSS, Kadıoğlu Polat conducted field research in Berlin’s Neukölln borough on the effects of gentrification on immigrant residents from Turkey.
Her research interest includes studies of urban transformation and social exclusion of marginalized populations. She currently works on a comparative study between Istanbul and Berlin.
Defne Kadıoğlu Polat is 2015/2016 Stiftung Mercator-Istanbul Policy Center Fellow