Migrant politics

Turkish Germans back Merkel, Russian Germans back Putin

Pro Erdogan Demo in Berlin
Who's got your backing? Source: DPA

To what extent do immigrants cling to their home country? A study revealed that in Germany, people with Turkish roots are not as attached to the politics of their homeland as their Russian counterparts.

The two groups make up Germany’s two largest immigrant groups: it is home to around 1.3 million German citizens with Turkish ancestry, and 2.4 million ethnic Germans who hail from Russia.

Turkish-Germans tend to back Chancellor Angela Merkel rather than Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, according to the survey. First-generation Turks, of whom many came as labor immigrants during the 1960s and ’70s, tend to be more supportive of Ms. Merkel than the second generation.

The results suggest that assumptions in Germany about the political loyalties of Turkish-Germans are often misplaced.

Researchers from the universities of Cologne and Duisburg-Essen asked migrants about how they voted and about the political issues that are important to them. Their responses have implications for the new government as it shapes its future policies and for Ms. Merkel – though comments on social media suggested “better than Erdogan, worse than Putin” didn’t seem like a compliment.

Germans of Turkish descent voted left-of-center, while Germans of Russian descent tended to be more conservative. The researchers also asked respondents whether they preferred the leader of their adopted country or of their country of origin. They found that Turkish-Germans backed Ms. Merkel, but Russian-Germans supported Russian president Vladimir Putin.

07 The migrant vote-01

The results fly in the face of the suggestion that most Turkish-Germans are supporters of Mr. Erdogan. The Turkish referendum last year over constitutional reform was highly divisive as it gave Mr. Erdogan significantly more powers. The vote was open to Turkish people in Germany and some suggested that Turkish-Germans tended to blindly support Mr. Erdogan. Jens Spahn, a young, upstart conservative politician from the Christian Democrats who will become Germany’s health minister, suggested that Turkish-Germans should have to state their loyalties and questioned whether they should be allowed dual nationality.

But Germans of Turkish origin are absolutely against Mr. Erdogan. If they even took part in the referendum, they clearly voted against it, according to Achim Goerres, the professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen who led the study and is an expert in integration. Only 21 percent of Turkish-German dual nationals supported Turkey’s constitutional referendum, he noted.

Dennis Spies, a Cologne University professor who worked on the study, said what surprised him was how polarized the groups were – particularly Russian-Germans. The results of the study showed 15 percent favoring the Alternative for Germany, a right-wing populist group. Against that, 21 percent supported the hard-left Left Party.

The difference may lie in the two groups’ historical backgrounds. Turks are a large group in Germany and were only belatedly allowed dual nationality, they struggled to become fully integrated into German society. The diaspora of 4 million people has its roots in the post-war invitation to Germany after the war to build up the broken nation. Companies recruited guest workers from rural areas; many were illiterate and the lack of an immigration law meant often that they could not become citizens. Many Turks still live in isolation, achieving lower levels of education and earning less than the German average.

German-Russians are the biggest group of immigrant voters in Germany and have very different historical experiences. They have roots in German-speaking territories in Russia that date back to the 18th century, and those who took part in the study came to Germany in waves between 1987 and 1997. But this background means Russian-Germans aren’t a typical immigrant group, having a strong sense of German identity dating back hundreds of years, even without having lived in Germany, and a sense that coming to Germany is a return to their homeland.

This distinctiveness is also evident in how they vote: while immigrant groups tend to be more leftist, Germans with a Russian background have long tended to vote for the CDU. The latest study, however, showed growing support for the Alternative for Germany.

Mr. Goerres, who led the study, said he was most surprised by the low level of participation of both groups in Germany’s federal election. While 76 percent of Germans voted, only 64 percent of Turkish-Germans went to the polls, against 58 percent of Russian-Germans. This could be an argument for an immigration law in Germany along with easing the country’s restrictive dual nationality regulations.

Allison Williams is deputy editor of Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: williams@handelsblatt.com

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