In the 1950s and 1960s, the prospering economy of West Germany was searching for more workers and got them from other countries, especially Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey. This economic-based explanation was dominant for decades. Until the last years scientific investigations uncovered that political reasons had a much greater importance. The West German Ministry of the Interior was skeptical about hiring non-European workers and therefore warned against introducing Turkish workers to Germany.
But in 1960, West Germany signed a “guest worker” agreement with Greece. Turkish officials expressed the view that treating Turkey differently to Greece would be an insult for the NATO Partner. They wanted equal treatment. So the State Department of West Germany, with the German administration, outvoted the Ministry of Interior and Germany signed a guest worker treaty with Turkey in 1961.
The Turks, who were at the beginning only a small number of the whole of the so-called Gastarbeiter (guest workers) grew to become the dominating group in the beginning of the 1970s. The end of authoritarian regimes in Portugal, Spain and Greece in the 1970s, together with the decreasing need of handwork-workforce in German factories led to the return of many guest workers to their home countries – except the Turks, because Turkey was economically and politically unstable throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
The deep cultural rift between Germans and Turks made sentiments of hostility frequent in this relationship. Similar sentiments may have occurred also with Italians and Greeks in the 1960s and 1970s, but never to the same extent as with the Turks, because both groups of South Europeans are Christians, and the Greeks particularly benefited from the esteem held for their ancient ancestors. Nowadays, Greek and Italian restaurants are part of everyday life of the Germans; this may also be true for the doner kebab of Turkish take-outs, because it became the favourite snack of the Germans and it is meanwhile probably easier to get a doner kebab in a German city than a Bratwurst sausage.
But gastronomic preferences don’t necessarily match cultural approach. For many Germans, Turks still represent an alien element in Germany. They often feel this way because Turks, unlike the Italians for example, hardly mix with Germans in relationships. They prefer to marry in their own ethnic group, read their own newspapers, watch Turkish television and the gigantic mosques which are built in German cities since a few years produce rejection, and not only among conservative Germans. Most Germans may not even know that there are many Greek language high schools in Germany because the Greeks are a silent minority. In contrast, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan demanded Turkish schools in Germany, and raised a wave of popular outrage.
But the Turks have meanwhile outnumbered all other nations of former guest workers, and German politicians made more and more allowances for this fact in the last decades. Chancellor Kohl (1982-1998) of the conservative party CDU promised to reduce the number of strangers entering upon office (and all knew that he meant the Turks, not all strangers), but after a few results with financial inducements, the Turkish immigration began once more in the mid-1980s. Nowadays, in Germany, a land of 82 million, there are about 3 million people with Turkish roots; about half of them, 1.6 million, still holding Turkish citizenship. The Italians, the second largest group of strangers in Germany, account for about 500,000 people. There are less than 300,000 Greek nationals in Germany, making them the fourth strongest group of immigrants after Turks, Italians and Poles. Germany ranges fourth in worldwide diaspora population of Greeks after the US, Great Britain and Australia.
German-Greek relations were good for many decades. Hundreds of thousands of Greeks worked hard in Germany and earned good money; millions of Germans travelled to Greece in the summer and enjoyed Greek hospitality. Only the Euro crises caused some resentment on both sides. But this cannot be compared to the extensive antipathy for Turks by Germans – and the way, on the contrary, German politicians are flattering the strongest group of strangers because they want their votes.
Though a majority of Germans don’t want Turkey to become a member of the European Union, preparations for this membership are in hand. Though almost every building of a new mosque in a German city produces fears and rejection from Germans, political leaders play down such Islamization-Turkification as positive sign of a multicultural society and diversity. Open speech about negative sides of immigration of Turks is seldom; but in 2010, a member of the famous Bundesbank, the central bank of Germany, Thilo Sarrazin, published a best seller with his book Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany abolishes itself). The social democrat Sarrazin could not be defamed as a right-wing extremist, and his pointing to Muslims and Turks in Germany as increasing groups unwilling to integrate into German society produced enormous echoes by way of discussions on television, radio broadcasting, newspapers, magazines and internet forums.
In 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus, some Turks and Greeks brawled in German factories instead of working. Nowadays, relations are peaceful – on the surface. The Turkish lobby, the Turkish pressure groups grew increasingly powerful in the last years. Functionaries of these pressure groups deny the genocide of the Armenians 1915 without being outlawed for it.
As for Smyrna 1922 and the Pontos Greeks, they must not deny, because knowledge about that is very rare. German and Greek pressure groups restrain from mentioning it, because they concentrate on other topics and probably think that it wouldn’t help to argue about that history in Germany – where other genocides than that of the Jews have not much attention.
After all, there is unfortunately a high probability that the Turkish minority will become an important player in the domestic policy of Germany and that Turkey will act as protector state of this minority. But most Germans wouldn’t like such a scenario, neither would most of the non-Turkish immigrants.