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Germans Slam Proposal

DW staff (sp)February 8, 2008

Meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan called for Turkish-language schools and universities to be set up in Germany. The plan has met with skepticism in Germany.

Angela Merkel and Erdogan
Merkel and Erdogan smoothed over tensions fueled by a fire which claimed Turkish victimsImage: AP

During a meeting with Merkel and school students from Berlin on Friday, Feb. 8, to discuss problems of young migrants such as language barriers, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said he was in favor of integration and against assimiliation.

The Turkish leader said he supported integration efforts but people's differences must be accepted.

"In Germany, it should be possible for high schools to be set up where the teaching is in Turkish," Erdogan said, adding he also favored the idea of Turkish-language universities in Germany.

Germany is home to Western Europe's biggest population of Turks -- about 2.5 million people.

He added that children would not be able to master German unless they could speak their own language and added that Turkey would be willing to send over teachers.

"If you want a Turkish school, go to Turkey"

Merkel reacted cautiously to the idea, saying she foresaw difficulties if Turkish teachers were to work in German schools.

A school in Cologne
A good grasp of the native tongue helps learn new languages, say expertsImage: dpa

Education ministers from Germany's 16 federal states have agreed to promote the teaching of foreign languages in schools and linguists have often said in the past that a good grasp of the native tongue is an important prerequisite for learning new languages.

Yet Erdogan's proposal remains politically controversial. Politicians warned against exporting Turkish educational institutions to Germany. Some have pointed out that six Turkish-German schools already exist in Germany.

"Turkish schools and universities in Germany would be a pure obstacle to integration," said Christine Haderthauer, General Secretary of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Both parties oppose Turkey's entry into the European Union

"If you want a Turkish school, go to Turkey," said Haderthauer.

No to teachers from Turkey

Other politicians said they were in favour of teaching Turkish in schools in Germany, but that it had to be done by locally trained teachers who were familiar with the problems of migrants.

"Speaking two languages is not damaging, I support Erdogan in that respect," Cem Özdemir of Germany's opposition Green Party told the Web site of news magazine Der Spiegel. But he added that schools or teachers from Turkey couldn't be simply relocated to Germany.

Kenan Kolat, chairman of the Turkish Community too was criticial of Erdogan's proposal, saying that though the native tongue, Turkish, was important, German was no less so.

"Integration can only work this way (if both languages are on an equal footing)," Kolat told Spiegel. He rejected the idea of importing teachers from Turkey. "They don't know the society here, they haven't studied here."

Integration is a delicate topic in Germany as in many other parts of Western Europe with large immigrant populations. Children from immigrant backgrounds perform markedly worse at school than their German counterparts. Merkel has talked about helping young immigrants get better education to avoid alienation and help them find jobs.

Blaze stokes tensions

Two women with headscarves gaze at the building where the fire broke out in Ludwigshafen
Two women with headscarves gaze at the building where the fire broke outImage: AP

Tensions between Germans and Turks were fuelled last week by a fire in a housing block in the German city of Ludwigshafen, killing nine people of Turkish origin. The cause of the fire remains unknown but Turkish media have speculated that it was a racially motivated attack.

The blaze has stirred memories of a firebombing by Germans in 1993 in the town of Solingen which killed five Turks.

Erdogan visited the site this week and met with survivors. He has called on police to clear up the case swiftly.