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Germany Appoints First Minister of Non-European Origin

26/10/09October 26, 2009

Germany’s new cabinet was unveiled at the weekend. The biggest surprise of all was the nomination of Philipp Rösler as health minister, who despite his very German name has very Asian looks -- not that surprisingly, considering he was born in Vietnam. The first German minister of non-European origin has already achieved big things in the world of politics.

Philipp Rösler was born in Vietnam but is a proud inhabitant of Lower Saxony
Philipp Rösler was born in Vietnam but is a proud inhabitant of Lower SaxonyImage: DW-TV

Philipp Rösler's prospects did not look so bright when he started out in life. The 36-year-old was born during the Vietnam War and spent the first months of his life in a Catholic orphanage in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City.

At the age of nine months, he was adopted by a German couple. His adoptive parents split up when he was four and he was brought up by his father, an officer in the German army.

Perhaps his tumultuous childhood has given him the strength needed for a successful political career.

“Politicians have to have the courage to make decisions and I think I have it,” he has told reporters. “They have to have the competence to make the right decisions. They have to be in a position to motivate people and to implement what they have decided on successfully. That’s how I imagine politics and I hope that comes across in my actions.”

A brilliant career

So far, Rösler has shot up the ranks in Germany’s FDP, the liberal and business-oriented Free Democratic Party. He joined the party’s youth wing at the age of 18, becoming general secretary in the state of Lower Saxony at 27. In 2003, he was elected to the regional parliament.

The father of two says he has never felt any resistance because of his background. For him, the fact that he has been nominated as minister shows that Germany is “a liberal, open and tolerant country”.

His Vietnamese origins have never been an issue for Rösler, who is a proud inhabitant of Lower Saxony. In 2006, he paid a visit to the country of his birth only because his wife wanted to know where he was from.

“All Asians are karate experts”

As a child he never had any trouble, he recently told a German weekly magazine jokingly, “because people always think that all Asians are karate experts” anyway.

Tens of thousands of Vietnamese or people of Vietnamese descent live in Germany. The head of the Vietnamese student association in Germany, Hoa Nguyen, is very happy that the Vietnamese-born Rösler has managed to bag this high political post.

However, she said, “we don’t identify with him because, although he looks very Vietnamese, he does not have the culture. As far as I know he is married to a German woman so we think that his cultural background is very German and Western. We can’t identify with him but we are very happy for him,” she said.

Phuong Le Trong, a Vietnamese linguist in Bonn, said it was too early to tell: “I think we may have to wait for some weeks until Mr Rösler is really established and then we can hear more questions and find out about his engagement referring to his origins.”

What is clear is that Germany hasn’t heard the last of this young Asian-looking politician.

Author: Anne Thomas
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein