Germany's ongoing struggles with identity and migration
By Nevra Akdemir
In Germany, as in many other countries, the identity of migrants and the extent to which they should be considered citizens is one of the significant debates that the right wing has forced onto the public agenda. The implicit racism of references to who is considered "German" has horrifying implications, ranging from implicit racism to explicit discrimination over who owns cities.
Recent comments by Friedrich Merz, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), considered the main opposition party in Germany, about his perspective on the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin, have added salt to this debate. As you know, it is salt and pepper that determine the taste of a dish. Politicians' gaffes also signal the ideological references on which they build their political line.
"Germany is not Kreuzberg; Germany is Gillamoos," said Merz in his speech at the Gillamoos fair in Bavaria. Gillamoos is a festival with a 700-year history, representing the history of Bavaria, the seventh most prosperous state in the EU, with a strong industry and services sector, where the conservative right-wing parties in the German political line are strong.
Such festivals and historiography are significant, especially in a country like Germany, which was late to establish its national unity and become capitalist. The meaning of these festivals constantly changes as each group seeking power rewrites and re-describes the history that best suits its reference. The most archaic and reactionary elements become functional building blocks.
The role of festivals in constructing culture and representing the political line becomes highly fictionalized. What does Kreuzberg mean? The comparison between Gillamoos and Kreuzberg is also quite strange. Gillamoos represents the right-wing ideal of Germany, while Kreuzberg has become a symbol of immigration and crime for the whole of Germany.
When working in Osnabrück and giving my Kreuzberg address, my colleague's eyes widened, and he asked if I was afraid to go home. I later understood the reason for this question - whenever a crime story in Germany, Kreuzberg is always mentioned, even in unbiased media.
We know this situation very well. In Turkey, the backstreets of Taksim and Tarlabasi received similar treatment before the big gentrification projects. However, anyone involved in politics in Turkey knows that until recently, this was the center of political action. Although known for ethnic mafia gangs, Kreuzberg is the center of street resistance and activism in Berlin, with a great history of fighting for rights.
By the way, the most significant number of Turkish immigrants live in North Rhine-Westphalia, not Berlin. While the Turkish population is decreasing, it will increase slightly in 2022. There is also a great need for qualified medical workers, as those who study in Germany work abroad. More people are leaving Germany than coming to work. The percentage of people without a German passport is 26 percent. All of Germany, like Kreuzberg, is a country of immigration. Kreuzberg represents that.
It is not only migrant identity that makes politicians like Merz uncomfortable but anything that disrupts Germany's capital accumulation based on family and colonial dynamics. They find non-heteronormativity and solidaristic life practices tolerable only when turned into advertising. Kreuzberg's colorful, open public life and nights are another discomfort.
This hatred, expressed at the highest level, can unfortunately turn the lives of migrants, queers, and others not conforming to norms because of appearance into a circle of violence in Kreuzberg or Berlin. I want to remind you that three women were murdered in Berlin lately. The assumption that other migrant groups handle daily violence is one of the most essential agendas before us.
The hostility towards migrants, exposed by Merz's bizarre comparison, frequently sets the agenda in Germany. The right-wing is ignorant of realities in Germany or considers the votes won by distorting facts and inciting hatred worth everything. Even when criticizing dictators abroad, the authors of this hateful language are opening a broader political space for their kind and empowering them. The distance between Merz's words and Erdogan's may not be if we think!
*Nevra Akdemir's article was published in Turkish in Gasteavrupa on October 16, 2023. It has been adapted into English for Gerceknews readers.