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Ülker Radziwill: A Turk in the Berlin Parliament PDF Print E-mail
2006-05-15 18:43:23
Interview by Jennifer Eaton Gökmen

Ülker Radziwill, a young Turkish woman from Arpacık, Fethiye, is an amazing success story. After moving to Berlin with her family at the age of seven and spending her childhood assisting her father at their local branch of the Turkish Social Democrats Party, Ms. Radziwill went on to a political career of her own.

Honoring her country by becoming one of the first Turks ever elected to the State Parliament of Berlin in 2001 for the Social Democrat Party of Germany (SPD), representing the district of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf.

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Since 2001 Radziwill has been a member of the Berlin Parliament.

Not only does this remarkable achievement rank her among Turkish elite, but Ms. Radziwill is linked to royalty by virtue of her marriage as well; she married into is a bride of one of the most prominent Polish aristocratic families, one which has maintained their noble lineage for over five hundred years. Known for having produced many outstanding politicians, the Radziwills may soon count Ülker among them.
Chairperson of the task force for Health, Social, Migration, and Consumer Protection, Ms. Radziwill is intimately involved with issues such as the integration of foreigners into German society. TurkofAmerica caught up with Ms. Radziwill as she was gearing up for her re-election...

When did you and your family move to Germany? Where is your family from in Turkey? Tell us about your family life.
My family moved to Berlin in 1973, my mother arriving there three months before us to make arrangements for my father, my younger brother, and I. I was born in the beautiful village of Arpacık in the mountains behind Fethiye in June 1966 and attended primary school in Aydın’s Gülbahçe district. From there we moved to Berlin in the middle of a severe winter. I had never seen such snow.

My parents were both trained teachers who were assigned to different villages in Turkey each year, but when they arrived in Berlin, my mother worked in a factory and my father enroled in a German language course and soon found work as a teacher. Later, after my mother took a course to learn German, she also became a teacher. After 25 years of teaching elementary school, they have both recently retired.  

I was schooled in Berlin and while attending university I also began a travel agency with my parents. I studied tourism as well as politics and union/association management. My family had always been active in the local sector of the Turkish Social Democrats’ Association and from a young age I was involved in association work and community projects, learning from my father the value and importance of those endeavors.

For the past 12 and a half years I have been married to a German lawyer who is also an extremely active Social Democrat. In our family politics and community service take high priority.

How much of a role do each of the cultures (German and Turkish) play  in your life? Do you consider yourself more of one or the other?
This is a question I have been answering for years. Both cultures are very important to me. From my family I learned Turkish culture and language; we spoke only Turkish at home since childhood, so as not to forget our mother tongue. At school we learned pristine German while learning German culture from our friends. I’m now thirty-nine and have been living in Germany since the age of seven. I’ve lived so much of my life here that of course both cultures share importance for me.

Occasionally friends or acquaintances from either culture pressure me on this point, but I could never choose one over the other. It’s just not possible. Like I need oxygen to breathe, I need both cultures. My family in Turkey, Turkey’s environment and character, its music... all of these things I miss, but because the center of my life is Berlin, that has its importance, too. Of course I have dislikes about each culture, too, but they don’t trouble me much.
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Berlin Parliament Building. (Picture by www.cs.ubc.ca)

Being elected to German government is an amazing accomplishment,  given local climate towards Turks. To what do you attribute your success?
Of course, it is a wonderful honor for me to be a member of Berlin’s Parliament. For more than 45 years, Turks have been in Germany, but the election in 2001 was the first time the state of Berlin’s Social Democrat Party elected two women of Turkish descent to its state parliament. This was a major achievement, but as time passes, it ought to become something quite normal. It’s only natural that in a state with such a large Turkish population that there should be a Turkish representative in parliament. Being elected was an incredible feeling. I feel the skills I brought to the job were important as I had the advantage of many years’ experience working with the party doing association work in brave quarters.
In performing my duty, I work for all the constituents of my region, not just Turks. There are Germans as well as many other foreign nationals. Because of my surname, I see my work as important to those of Polish ancestry, too.

One of my priorities is continuing intercultural dialogue and I put time and effort into that. It’s also important for people of Turkish origin as a group to see the possibility of doing what I’m doing, providing a role model of what they, too, can achieve.  
 
In your profession, you must be more aware than many people of the issues facing the Turkish population in Germany. What are the major concerns/problems and how have they changed over the past decade?
It can be said that the problems for Turks and those of Turkish origin in Berlin have been consistent over the past decade: high rates of unemployment and problems with education for youth. Unfortunately Turkish youths suffer much under the current education system. In the past four years we have found solutions for the education system. Learning German is crucial so we are teaching it in preschool and primary school. Also, integration is a community issue. Now, the whole administration is responsible for integration. Unfortunately in previous years, there were many mistakes made in integration programs. Now the new immigration legislation reflects the fact that Germany is an immigration destination and much more intense work is being done to address this.

What are the unique issues facing second and third generation Turks in Germany?
There are two main groups that we can identify within the second generation Turks. The first group completed most of their schooling in Turkey before arriving to Germany.
The second group of youths started their schooling in Germany at a young age and went through the system here and for that reason, they have more advantages. They typically have the opportunity to learn a vocation and are better able to make use of available opportunities.

The third generation Turks were born here, were fully socialized here, and place importance on both Turkish and German culture in their lives. But many youths in this category cannot speak their second language fluently. They don’t learn enough Turkish at home and it’s not always possible to learn it at school, or they don’t master German so perhaps they suffer the consequences in their professional lives. However, despite these problems, there are also excellent examples of integration-- for instance, from the families of under-educated factory workers can come the next generation who become well-educated doctors, lawyers, etc. There are many such examples in Berlin, but sadly, it’s more common for the news to report more on the problems and less on the successes. 

Within the society of Turks in Germany, there is a minority that are more conservative, more religious, who give more importance to convention and custom. Under these constrictive rules, youths and women tend to suffer.  

Obviously your position requires you to look after the government as a whole, but in relation to Germany's largest minority, what are you doing to improve the lives of Turks in Germany?
In Germany’s capital, a new concept of integration is being implemented for immigrants. We want to stress that education; professionalism and employment are important factors. The administration understands the necessity for increased intercultural support. It’s our goal to create a government department specifically for citizens of foreign origin. Budgeting for this will occur in the coming years and meanwhile, government employees are receiving additional cultural training to be better able to understand and support the foreigners in the community.

The first generation of Turkish immigrants are now reaching retirement age and have the right to retirement benefits. We need to organize treatment and care such as they might receive in their own culture. Because we have limited experience in this area, we are developing new models. Retirement homes are being made for Turks. For some years now we have implemented programs to help elderly geriatric Turks find opportunities/activities to engage in to add value to their available time. For geriatric care, however, we have just begun taking the first steps.  

Living in an EU country, you've been able to witness firsthand the benefits and drawbacks of the EU as a connecting body. How would you characterize the benefits and drawbacks of the EU in your German life?
To me, European society is like a large family; its benefits and problems don’t seem necessary to explain. Many rules made to EU standards affect politics and daily living, but on the other hand, there is much more freedom, more human rights guarantees.

What is your stance on Turkey joining the EU? How will it affect Europe? How will it affect Turkey? Will it ever happen?
I think the Turkish train is gearing up for the European station, but the question is: how fast is that train going and under what conditions is it traveling? This will be evident by the end of the initiated agreements. This is not an easy process. Somewhere along the way, Turks may be confounded if the level of the conditions and stipulations rises.

For the necessity of political and economic laws, I think Turkey should be a full member. But this is much easier said than done. To be a member means having a right to share a place at the table, a right that is hard earned. Turkey’s population is so large that many EU member countries are hesitant to grant Turkey’s accession.

You are currently up for re-election. What are the major points of your platform?
To invest more effort in increasing the intercultural dialog in Berlin, to demonstrate the rich advantages of having a multicultural society, to increase the educational opportunities for children, to fight for better protection of rights for women and children. Finally, to equalize the opportunities and rights offered to Germans and citizens of foreign descent.

Who would you consider to be among the most successful Turks in Europe?
There are many, many successful Turks. For instance, moneyless mothers and fathers who endured great difficulties to bring their children to another country earn meagre livings and make great sacrifices to give their children a university education. Those are successful people. To be a person of Turkish origin in the European Parliament is a great success. In this day and age there are Turks and those of Turkish descent in every European region, sharing their art, sports skills, culture, and literature. This in itself is a huge success for all of society.

(May 2006, Issue 20th) 

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