Days after the leaders of Germany and Turkey pledged to cooperate more on the integration of Germany's substantial Turkish minority, a Turkish politician tells Turkish Germans integration is a responsibility.
Bagis told Turkish Germans to accept German customs
Turkish European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis has called on Turks in Germany to better integrate themselves into German culture, inserting himself into a fierce and ongoing debate on the integration of Germany's Turkish minority.
"Learn German! Adjust to the customs of your host country," he told daily newspaper Bild in an interview published on Tuesday. "You don't have to give up the gift of your identity and culture, but rather think of yourselves as ambassadors for Turkey. Only then can you build bridges for a better friendship and partnership between our countries."
Three days before his comments were published, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Berlin on the 50th anniversary of a guest worker pact between the two countries, pledging to cooperate more on integration of Turks living in Germany.
Merkel and Erdogan pledged to work together on integration
Ines Michalowski, a senior researcher at Berlin's Social Science Research Center, said the call for Turkish-Germans to maintain their culture while still adjusting to German customs may seem paradoxical, but that the two are not mutually exclusive.
"The Turkish nation-state is a very nationalistic nation, where there are actually claims of Turks belonging to the Turkish nation-state even though they have been living abroad for several generations," she told Deutsche Welle. "But that doesn't mean that integration on the labor market, or in the educational system, or contacts with Germans - that these aspects of integration go badly."
Still, research shows that most Turkish Germans are poorly integrated in these areas - a fact which Haci Halil Uslucan, director of the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research, said cannot be entirely attributed to a perceived lack of motivation of immigrants to integrate themselves.
"I think we also have to focus on the conditions of being integrated - and that means the attitudes of the majority, the look of the majority on the minority," he told Deutsche Welle. "The political discussion should not go in this direction of creating ranks - these are the good immigrants and these are the bad ones. That only increases social tension."
Education is key
Bagis also said in his interview that Turkish-German parents should send their children "to the best schools, so that they have a future," echoing comments by Prime Minister Erdogan that Turkish-Germans should prioritize education.
Research shows other minorities have integrated better than Turks
Michalowski said studies of Vietnamese immigrant parents in the eastern state of Brandenburg have shown their children to have higher high-school graduation and college entrance rates than non-immigrant German children, partly because the parents place a high priority on education.
"Some of the criticism has been that maybe Turkish parents are not putting enough emphasis on getting a good education within Germany," she said. "So if there is a government official from Turkey who actually encourages people to pay more attention to the education of their children, I think that can never do any harm."
But Uslucan said other research shows that Turkish-German parents have high educational aspirations for their children, and that teachers often send young Turkish students to lower-level high schools that do not feed into universities, even when their educational performance is as good as their non-Turkish peers.
"The doctrine must be that Turkish parents should have more information about the German educational system," he said. "I think there is the problem that Turkish parents don't have enough information on what the best school is."
Turkey has made entry into the EU a high priority
Ambassadors for Turkish EU accession
In addition to his post as EU affairs minister, Bagis is also chiefly responsible for negotiating Turkey's accession into the bloc. While Merkel has called Turkey's accession process "open-ended with no guarantees," the Turkish government has made it a high priority.
Michalowski said Bagis's call on immigrants to integrate could be seen as a way of enhancing Turkey's chances of gaining EU membership.
"If you have a well-integrated minority, people in Germany may be more favorable to the idea of Turkey becoming a member of the European Union than if the Turkish community is always in the media as being badly integrated," she said.
Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Chuck Penfold