Left ... out? One woman′s politics cloud citizenship chances | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 26.02.2010
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Left ... out? One woman's politics cloud citizenship chances

How far left is too left, when it comes to becoming a German? A woman raised in the country has applied for citizenship, but due to her politics, the outlook is dim.

Jannine Menger-Hamilton

Menger-Hamilton says she feels European - and that means German, too

It was a process that should have taken three to six months, but it's been going on for nearly three years: a 31-year-old woman with Scottish and Italian parents has applied for German citizenship, and she is still waiting for a reply.

Her prospects are uncertain - and it's all because she was active in far-left politics.

Jannine Menger-Hamilton was born to European parents and raised in Germany, so she applied for citizenship in 2007.

"I feel that I am quite European, with an Italian mother and Scottish father and living in Germany, and I don't know why I shouldn't have German citizenship, since I would live here, and I would like to vote here," Menger-Hamilton said.

Surprise in the file

Person waving a Left party flag

The Left party is getting more popular among youth

Unfortunately, her application was made five years after a regulation went into effect that was created in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks in the United States. That rule requires that Germany's Office for Protection of the Constitution examine the suitability of citizenship applicants.

When no decision was forthcoming, Menger-Hamilton asked to see her file - and was surprised by what she found. The office had written that she was unsuitable to receive a German passport because she has been active in the Left party - a party formed out of a combination of the old Communist party in East Germany and disaffected lefties from the West.

The problem is that Germany "thinks I am not a real democrat," Menger-Hamilton said.

A legal party

"The only reason for them to say that is that I'm a member of the party Die Linke, which is a socialist party in Germany," she explained.

What makes the decision hard to understand is that the Left party isn't illegal in Germany. In fact, it is the fourth-largest political party in the country, with representation in a number of state parliaments and 76 legislators in the Bundestag. It is also strongly represented in the European Parliament.

Now many in Germany are asking how membership in a legally recognized political party could possibly be counted as a strike against someone applying for German citizenship.

Left party politicians in Lower Saxony have called the ruling arbitrary, and some have intimated that the decision is a political one, led by right-wing forces in the state's conservative CDU-run interior ministry.

Political motivation is questioned

Kreszentia Flauger, the head of the Left party parliamentary group in Lower Saxony, called the action "arbitrary," according to broadcaster NDR.

A picture of a portion of the German citizenship test and book on the German constitution

German citizenship applications are usually processed within months

"Interior Minister [Uwe] Schuenemann is trying to carry out his discriminatory campaign against the Left party by means of controlling citizenship rights," she said.

And Berlin political researcher Hans-Gerd Jaschke said 'extremism' "isn't a legal term. Whether or not to call the Left party extremist is a political assessment of the Interior Ministry."

For its part, Lower Saxony's interior ministry denies any political motivation for the decision, and a ministry spokesman pointed out that the party is under permanent surveillance in certain regions by the country's intelligence agencies, which keep an eye out for terrorist and anarchist activity.

"The Left party is a party on the extreme left wing of the party system, and it is watched over by the Office for Protection of the Constitution in many German states," ministry spokesman Klaus Engemann said.

Perplexed and hurt

The state is keeping the Left party under watch because "there are serious doubts that the Left party conforms to the German constitution - doubts that, on the contrary, it doesn't want to override the state," Engemann said.

And it is why Menger-Hamilton's political activity - she was the deputy treasurer for a party office in Hanover - casts doubt on her willingness to adhere to German constitutional law, he added.

Meanwhile, Menger-Hamilton said she is "perplexed" and "hurt" by the authorities' reaction.

"I don't know how they explain it ... They don't have any special reason against my person. Here is nothing that I have ever said or done which would indicate that I'm not a democrat."

Now, she just has to wait for the final decision to come on whether or not the country where she was raised and went to school, where she studied German literature at university, and where she took her marriage vows, will someday let her cast a ballot.

Author: Jennifer Abramsohn
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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