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The wages of exploitation

The continuing uncertainties felt by Europe’s main ethnic minorities have been highlighted by a recent survey of Germans of Turkish descent. Like most European countries, Germany has an ethnically varied population. Among a total of 83 million, Turkish-Germans form the largest minority, with estimates of the proportion varying between 2.1 per cent and 4 per cent. A recent study conducted in Germany and in Turkey shows that 45 per cent of Turkish-Germans feel unwanted in Germany, with only 21 per cent happy to call it home. Just 54 per cent feel that they have the same educational opportunities as other Germans. They are also ambivalent about their own identity, with 62 per cent saying that in Germany they feel Turkish but in Turkey they feel German — readers of Orhan Pamuk’s wonderful fiction will recognise this phenomenon. Over half the respondents are thinking of moving to Turkey at some point in the future. The survey’s most interesting finding is that younger Turkish-Germans, those aged between 15 and 29, are more conservative than their elders on a wide range of issues like virginity, abortion, and believing in heaven. Many of them ascribe their hardline attitudes to the pressure of trying to fit into German society.

The sense of unwantedness within this important minority is understandable given the history of Turkish migration to Germany. In the 1960s, with the Berlin Wall ending labour movement from the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany imported large numbers of Gastarbeiter or “guest workers” from Turkey and Yugoslavia. They were denied residence and other rights, and even their German-born children were denied citizenship for a long time. The Turkish contribution to the German economic miracle, however, was acknowledged especially by the big corporations. As for cultural integration, while Germany does not prescribe views for individuals, the fact that the majority of Turkish-Germans have origins in the poorer regions of Turkey may account for a tendency to continue speaking Turkish and celebrating traditional festivals. This exacerbates white racism, which in turn contributes to the feeling of exclusion. That young Turkish-Germans are becoming more traditionalist is, in good measure, the result of cynical and exploitative policies dating back nearly half a century.

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