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Culture

An Unlikely Dialogue

An unusual project wants to improve the mutual understanding of various German cultures. Second-generation foreign youths and right-wing extremists will be spending close to three weeks together in Turkey.

It’s a well-known fact that neo-Nazis and foreigners do not get along well. Well, a unique initiative wants to change this.

The German-Turkish Youth Organization in Frankfurt is sending 32 youths to Turkey, half of whom are professed right-wing extremists mainly from depressed eastern Germany.

The rest are foreigners born or raised in Germany. The majority are the children of Turkish immigrants. But there are also youths from Croatia, Italy, Iran and Russia taking part.

The group will first meet for a few days of preparation in Frankfurt. They will then spend close to three weeks together travelling through Turkey, visiting youth facilities and getting to know the country and its people.

Dialogue, not re-education

The organization’s head, Hüseyin Ayvaz, says he is well-aware that skinheads will not begin promoting multiculturalism after such a short period of time.

"We are not so naive as to expect right-wing youths to change their opinions within a couple of weeks," he told DW-WORLD. "This is not about re-education, it’s about coming together for a dialogue. We want to see if such projects have a future in anti-racist work."

Ayvaz fears that the issue of foreigners will be abused in this year’s elections in Germany. He says that immigrants have to be included in the debates.

"That’s why we are the ones initiating this project and not some German ministry. We want to take action ourselves and not have the topic of hostility towards foreigners be discussed over our heads."

Resolving conflicts without violence

The trip is the second of its kind. Ayvaz already led a similar journey back in 1993, when Germany was experiencing a wave of right-wing violence against foreigners and immigrants.

He says that the eastern German youths take part in the project for various reasons. "Some are simply curious or looking for an adventure," he explains. "And others want to get bonus points from their probation officer."

But isn’t bringing together these two groups a dangerous combination?

Ayvaz doesn’t think so.

The foreign youth have undergone intense preparations on how to deal with potential conflicts without using violence. And on the part of the skinheads, Ayvaz says they have, after all, accepted the invitation to come along.

"They know that the only things we are asking of them are renouncing violence and being willing to engage in a dialogue," he says. "Anyone who has something to tell us also has to be able to listen."

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