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Opinion: German president pulls no punches in Turkey

Christian Wulff was the first German president to make a speech in front of the Turkish parliament. His address had important messages for Germans and Turks, says Baha Gungor of DW's Turkish service.

A graphic marked Opinion

The omens for Christian Wulff's third trip abroad as German president, this time to Turkey, were unfavorable. In Germany, a debate on integration was raging, charged with emotions. The weekly magazine "Focus" published a cover with Wulff's face on it - distorted as an Islamic prayer leader.

Wulff had, however, merely pointed out in an October 3 speech that Islam - in addition to Christianity and Judaism - is part of life in Germany.

Public attention became focused on the first speech given by a German president to the Turkish parliament. Wulff did not mince words. For one, he repeated that Islam has become an integral part of Germany. He also demanded that Turkey acknowledge that Christianity has a place in Turkey, and that Christians there should be free to worship as they wish. That included priests being trained in Turkey, he said, which is not possible now.

Baha Guengoer, head of DW's Turkish department

Baha Gungor, head of DW's Turkish department

Wulff did not avoid critical topics, such as Turkey's difficult relationship with Cyprus and Armenia. Not least, he affirmed Israel's right to exist while demanding an autonomous, viable and democratically ruled Palestine. That was an indirect request for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resume dialogue with Israel.

Wulff refrained from making empty promises regarding Turkey joining the European Union. Shrewdly, clearly and unmistakably, Wulff said that regardless of the democratic and economic progress Turkey has indeed made, EU membership was not a foregone conclusion.

The most distinct messages that Wulff addressed to both Germans and Turks had to do with the need for people of Turkish descent in Germany to find a place in German society. It was striking that Wulff avoided using the loaded word "integration."

His call for immigrants to learn the German language had been supported by the Turkish President Abdullah Gul in the run-up to his visit. And Gul did not forget to mention in a joint press conference ahead of Wulff's speech that he was the president of all Turkish citizens - those with Armenian, Jewish and Greek roots included - and that all people in Turkey should speak Turkish.

Wulff's five-day state visit will evidently help to minimize misunderstanding between Berlin and Ankara. Wulff's manner has been well-received and his cautious words will not be ignored.

Whether a change of direction in Germany's out-of-control integration debate can be expected remains to be seen; Wulff does not have to win elections anymore.

Certain politicians, on the other hand, are not likely to pass on the strategy of pitting popular emotions against foreigners and migrants for their election campaigns.

Author: Baha Gungor (sst/rc)

Editor: Nancy Isenson

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