Mesut Özil’s case stirs debate on German nationality laws | Daily Sabah

Of interest (while or course Turkey erases identities of its Kurdish, Assyrian, Armenian and Greek minorities):

In the mid-1900s, West Germany experienced the “Wirtschaftswunder” – which means “economic miracle” in German – but after the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961, West Germany’s labor crisis was exacerbated due to the fact that the flow of immigrants from East Germany was restricted. As a result of the shortage of workers, the West German government felt the need to sign a labor recruitment agreement with Türkiye on Oct. 30,1961, paving the way for Turkish people’s immigration to the country.

Since then, German legislators have time and time again failed to fully embrace the nation’s multiculturalism, and Germans of Turkish descent were not provided with a feasible path to citizenship. In addition, religious bigotry was also practiced against ethnic Turks who are overwhelmingly Muslims.

One of the most prominent signs for the fact that xenophobia peaked in the country was former Chancellor Helmut Kohl of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) infamously telling former British Prime Minister, the “iron lady” Margaret Thatcher that he didn’t have a problem with European immigrants but that “Turks belong to a very distinct culture.” He also had the audacity to supply monetary inducements for them to return to Türkiye.

Only in the 1990s did Germany pave a path to citizenship for non-ethnic Germans who lived in the nation for over 15 years. And only at the dawn of the 21stt century, did the then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the lobbying by the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the Greens to lower this lengthy residency criteria to eight years for all and introduce a “jus soli” basis – or birthright citizenship – to be also valid alongside its current “jus sanguinis,” which is the ethnicity-based citizenship framework. This is glaringly different from the United States’ practice of automatically granting people born on American territory ID cards and passports. To qualify for citizenship, a child must have one parent who has lived legally in Germany for a minimum of eight years. “Until the end of the 1990s, you were a German or a foreigner. There was nothing in between,” Ferda Ataman, who is currently Germany’s anti-discrimination commissioner, previously said about the issue.

Still, Germany’s immigration policy evolved from refusal to reluctance. The SPD had to make compromises to get the new citizenship law past conservatives in the CDU and Free Democratic Party (FDP) which argued that permitting naturalized or Germans that got their citizenship through the “jus soli” basis to maintain their previous citizenship was an “act of provocation” that would “sow the seeds of division.”

Such opposition was laced with racism and right-wing German politicians complained such relaxation would lead to the “formation of ghettos.” The CDU opposed dual nationality and forced the SPD and Greens into incorporating a clause that kids who became German citizens under the jus soli framework and had a second nationality would have to choose one citizenship upon assuming legal adulthood. Ironically, this policy did not apply to the ethnic Germans who are dual citizens of both Germany and another country.

Nevertheless, a wholesale ban on dual citizenship, which, in theory, applied to all non-ethnic Germans, was particularly aimed at Turkish Germans and other Muslim minority immigrants. An exception was also granted to dual nationals of other European Union states and Switzerland – which sits right at the heart of the EU’s geography but rejects to join the bloc over its principle to stay neutral in global politics.

Mesut Özil case

I have researched and focused on such legal details to highlight their inherent inconsistencies and how they became part of Turkish-German football star Mesut Özil’s narrative. The footballer was born to a third-generation Turkish-German family in 1988 and only assumed German citizenship when he turned 17. He had to renege on his Turkish passport soon after. Though Özil was passionate to play for Germany back then, the compulsory decision seems to have left a deep emotional wound in his psyche.

Such realities also undermine Germany’s rhetoric on integration. Formerly a paragon of productive integration, Özil swiftly learned that this status would only be safeguarded by renouncing his Turkish roots. In his 2018 resignation, Özil blamed the former German Football Association (DFB) President Reinhard Grindel, a former CDU member of parliament, for having “voted against legislation for dual nationalities” during his tenure.

The government already scrapped the dual citizenship provision for most naturalized and “jus soli” Germans who grew up in Germany in 2014 due to the lobbying by the SPD, and Germany is painstakingly adjusting to its multicultural composition, albeit hesitantly. This evolution was accelerated by the arrival of refugees in 2015 under the then-Chancellor Angela Merkel and by Özil’s resignation.

Özil’s withdrawal from the German national team was such a jolt to the country’s cohesion that it forced many ethnic Germans to deal with the bitter reality that their country was not as accommodating as they had perceived. Germany officially announced plans to speed up its naturalization process. Palestinian German politician Sawsan Chebli labeled the reality an “indictment of our country” and wondered if “we will ever belong? My doubts are growing daily.”

Ordinary Germans of color kicked off a huge social media campaign to share their lived experiences of racism under the hashtag “#MeTwo” – which essentially altered Germany’s debate with regard to racial issues, ethnicity and identity. And even Grindel apologized for his actions, vowing substantive reform within the DFB, lamenting that he “needed to stand by Mesut Özil.”

In 2022, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the SPD favored Reem Alabali-Radovan to be Germany’s first-ever federal anti-racism officer. And this past week, Scholz’s government confirmed that the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community headed by Nancy Faeser was promulgating new nationality reform. Faeser plans to lower the citizenship application residency requirement from eight to five years, a reduction that would also extend to jus soli provisions. She also plans to scrap all restrictions on dual citizenship.

Zero-sum game

If properly implemented, these are welcome first steps as they would offer representation and voting rights to over 9 million non-citizen residents who productively contribute to Germany’s economy and society. The conservatives’ obsession with dual citizenship was always illogical. “Belonging and identity are not a zero-sum game,” Scholz told the German parliament during a debate this week.

Expect opposition from the FDP and CDU, and outright rejection from Germany’s controversial far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has gained alarming political clout over the past decade. The AfD is often called “Neo-Nazi” because of apparent racism and xenophobia among its members, who embrace more controversial and populist stances against Scholz and Faeser’s more reasonable recommendations. CDU leader Friedrich Merz has warned of immigrants skirting integration and abusing the welfare state properties of Germany.

Scholz may not need the green light from the AfD and CDU to pass his recommendations, however, the FDP is a part of the current coalition and is likely to undermine the commendable reforms. It’s remarkable how out of touch these three parties’ comments are with Germany’s swiftly evolving cultural, social, sporting and economic journey over 20 years. Such inconsistencies are even more pronounced with Mesut Özil back in the news.

At FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, the departure of Germany’s outstanding football legend Özil attests how his withdrawal represents a deep scar for a country that is deeply politically divided and still racially segregated, both on and off the football pitch. Scholz’s recommended new citizenship law will never undo the racist abuse faced by Mesut Özil, suffered by Ilkay Günoğan, experienced by Antonio Rüdiger, Son Hueng-Min and hundreds of other Germans of color and religious minorities, but it can mitigate Özil’s main complaint by reassessing more holistically what it means to “be German” in a post-modern, multiethnic multicultural society. It can also be a first step toward proving to a skeptical global public that Özil’s disastrous departure has become one of the leading causes for inclusive reform in a country where segregation and racism still exist. This is Germany’s moment of reckoning; with itself, its past and also its future.

Source: Mesut Özil’s case stirs debate on German nationality laws | Daily Sabah

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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