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Lower Saxony minister-designate Ayguel Oezkan
Oezkan's comments upset other Christian DemocratsImage: AP

Cautious welcome

April 27, 2010

Despite friction over her criticism of crucifixes in schools, Ayguel Oezkan has been sworn in as Lower Saxony's social affairs minister on Tuesday. Political leaders welcomed her appointment, but rejected her comments.


The state parliament of Lower Saxony swore in Ayguel Oezkan as minister of social affairs for the northern state on Tuesday, making her the first female Muslim minister in Germany.

Initially politicians and immigrant community leaders across the political spectrum praised the choice of Oezkan by Lower Saxony State Premier Christian Wulff. However, her comments to weekly German magazine Focus over the weekend criticizing the presence of crucifixes in state schools, ruffled feathers among her fellow conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).

"Christian symbols do not belong in state schools," the 38-year-old Oezkan told the magazine. "Schools should be neutral places where children can decide their religious orientation on their own." She also said she thought headscarves did not belong in the classroom.

A crucifix
Christian Democrats say the crucifixes in public schools are there to stayImage: Bilderbox

The response from the CDU was quick and clear. "When it comes to religious neutrality, I have a fundamentally different view," said Armin Laschet, the integration minister for North Rhine-Westphalia. "I'll say it very clearly: We're keeping the crosses up in the schools of North Rhine-Westphalia."

Oezkan later apologized to her colleagues in Hanover for the friction her comments had caused.

"Ms. Oezkan accepts that in Lower Saxony the crucifix is both welcome and desired in schools," Wulff said. "She's following the party line on this. Thus the issue is settled."

While Wulff may see the discussion as closed, there are some that wish Oezkan would continue her push for secularism in the public schools. "She had to take it back, but I think she was right," Kenan Kolat, chairman of the TGD, the Turkish Community in Germany.

Integration in action

But Wulff, Kolat, Laschet and other CDU members agree that Oezkan's appointment is a good sign for Germany.

Saarland's State Premier Peter Mueller, told the newspaper the Saarbruecker Zeitung that he thought Oezkan was a good choice. "She is a testament to the willingness to integrate of our political system and especially of the CDU," he said.

"It's a joy for us," said Kolat, "that in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, 50 years after immigration began, we now have a female minister of Turkish descent."

Speaking to Deutschlandfunk public radio, Laschet said that every politician has to correct himself or herself at some point.

"The real story is the happiness that a child of an immigrant worker, a tailor, passed her school leaving examinations, studied at a university, passed two judicial state examinations and has, for the first time, landed in a high public office in Germany," he said.

A cabinet shakeup

Oezkan and three other ministers were appointed last week by Wulff in a cabinet reshuffle. All are expected to be approved by the state parliament where a coalition majority of CDU and the Free Democrats rules.

Oezkan was born in Hamburg to Turkish immigrants and is a trained lawyer. She has been the CDU's economic policy spokeswoman for the regional parliamentary group in Hamburg.

Editor: Rob Turner

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