When it comes to Afghanistan, Zahra Mohammadi can get really angry. The 19-year-old from Bad Neustadt an der Saale goes from the country’s turbulent history to the status quo in a few sentences. “The country is below zero again,” she says. In the past, when she herself was still living in the Middle East, she always said: one day, I will become president of Afghanistan. Today, she still wants to make a difference. “Co-decided, participate,” she said, staring resolutely at her laptop’s camera. It’s just easier said than done.
One in five people in Bavaria has an immigrant background, according to forecasts, this will be one in four people in 2024. And yet, disadvantages run like a common thread through people’s lives. If Zahra Mohammadi were average, she would live in a smaller apartment, be more likely than others to go to college, and be more likely to repeat grades. She would be more likely to leave school without a degree, earn less, vote less often, and be less involved in politics and community service.
The diversity of the Bavarian population is not reflected in parliament. If you scroll down the list of members of the Bavarian state parliament, you will only find a handful of foreign-sounding names. Six of the 205 deputies have an immigrant background – that is to say all 34 or almost three percent. On the other hand, nine deputies bear the classic German first name Martin and six deputies are called Markus.
Arif Taşdelen’s parents were illiterate
“As far as equal opportunities are concerned, we are still living in the stone age,” says Arif Taşdelen (SPD) from Nuremberg, one of the few MPs with an immigrant background. When he was eight, his mother came with him to Bavaria from Anatolia. His parents were illiterate. He became the first migrant from Middle Franconia to run for state parliament. “There was a big fear in the party that the German wouldn’t vote for someone with a foreign name,” he says. He then won his candidacy in a duel against another candidate.
In order to get more people like him involved in politics, the Frankfurt-based “Start” foundation has been awarding scholarships to schoolchildren with an immigrant background, and for several years also to those from Bavaria. One of the recipients is Zahra Mohammadi. A 19 year old with dyed light blonde hair, silver hoops and a penchant for denglish. She grew up as a member of an Afghan minority in Iran, helped her mother sew in the factory and was otherwise well advised to dress properly. In 2016, the family fled west and ended up in Bad Neustadt an der Saale in Lower Franconia.
There she quickly integrated with the help of volunteers, learned the language, obtained one of the best diplomas in college and became Bavarian vice-champion in kickboxing. Getting involved was not so easy in the town of 15,000 people. “I missed a community that inspires me,” she says. So she applied to the Start Foundation. Since last autumn, she has been participating in seminars on topics such as personal development, social entrepreneurship and democracy with her twelve Bavarian colleagues.
You and other young people from countries like Hungary, Albania and Egypt should develop and network, gain self-confidence and later get involved in politics and civil society. The foundation thus wishes to strengthen diversity at decision-making levels and therefore social cohesion. A model alumnus is Kassem Taher Saleh, a native of Iraq who was elected to the Bundestag for the Greens. “When I see that these people have succeeded, I will certainly do so too,” says Mohammadi.
Children with an immigrant background usually attend college
So far, only a few people with an immigrant background have managed to enter the Bavarian state parliament, most of them belonging to the Greens. For example, the spokesman for strategies against right-wing extremism, Cemal Bozoglu, born in Istanbul. Or Gülseren Demirel, born in Malatya, Turkey, and member of the legal committee. Munich-Moosach MP Benjamin Adjei was born in Tegernsee, his father is from Ghana. The family of Christoph Skutella (FDP) left Poland for the Upper Palatinate, two free voters have a Sudeten German origin, which therefore does not count in the statistics. Agriculture Minister Michaela Kaniber (CSU) is the daughter of Croatian guest workers. And of course Arif Taşdelen (SPD) from Anatolia.
While a 2018 report paints a fundamentally positive picture of Bavarian integration work, Taşdelen still finds many deficits, especially in the field of education. On the phone, he grumbles about the extremely unequal transfer rate in his Nuremberg constituency, the too few surveys and the conditions in high schools. Indeed, these have long been a gathering place for young people of immigrant origin. Nearly 60% of eighth-grade immigrant students attend middle school, compared to only 20% of those who don’t. While one in three people with no immigrant background makes it to high school, even one in five doesn’t make it to the others. “We need a lot more multi-professional teams,” says Taşdelen.
Zahra Mohammadi also criticizes the school system. “School is a place where grades are made,” she says. The subjects often seem unreal to him. But the scholarship helped her see that there were other things out there. Things worth fighting for. She is currently in the middle of her BEP. Next year she would like to graduate with the regular Abitur, then study in a big city and network there. It is important, she says, that it is not just the Germans who plan things in politics: “The country is colorful.