‘I take my vote very seriously’: New Germans reflect on citizenship in run-up to election

Three million new Germans can vote in the federal election on September 24th. Here are four first-time voters reflecting on their paths to citizenship as well as on Chancellor Angela Merkel, international relations and social media.

'I take my vote very seriously': New Germans reflect on citizenship in run-up to election
New Germans obtaining their citizenship in Brandenburg in 2014. Photo: DPA.

Canam Yildaz's decade-long wait for German citizenship came to an end last year. The 21-year-old is one of more than 6 million people with foreign roots eligible to vote in the upcoming federal election.

“I am not thrilled by Chancellor Angela Merkel or her opponent, but there's nothing that's going to keep me from voting on September 24th,” says Yildaz, whose Turkish father submitted her naturalization application when she was just 10 years old.

“A precondition of gaining citizenship was giving up my Turkish passport – that wasn't an easy decision,” says Yildaz, one of over 16,000 Turkish people and 110,000 people overall to gain German citizenship in 2016.

Developments in Turkey after a failed coup attempt last year have threatened the cohesion of Germany's 3-million-strong ethnic Turkish minority and Berlin's feud with Ankara has alienated many from Merkel's government.

“That doesn't affect my decision to vote, but I wouldn't say the same of many of my friends and family members,” says Yildaz.

Like Yildiz, Maria M. – who declined to give her last name – had to give up her Slovakian citizenship when she became German six months ago.

“It wasn't hard for me,” says the 33-year-old, who now works as a psychotherapist in Frankfurt. “I never identified with Slovakia and I left the moment I turned 18. Recent developments – particularly regarding refugees – made the decision even easier.”

Slovakia was among the countries to file a complaint against a scheme devised by Brussels to redistribute 120,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other member states. Slovakia's claim was dismissed by the EU's top court earlier this month.

Maria came to Germany when she came of age because there were no professional opportunities in her home town. Slovakia was not a member of the EU at the time. She made a living as a cleaner and a kitchen hand before enrolling to study psychology.

“I take my vote very seriously – I am taking my time to form an opinion,” she said. “The parties do a bad job of explaining their platforms on social media, so I am relying on conversations with like-minded friends.”

Deborah Feldman, an author from the United States who settled in Berlin three years ago, gained citizenship based on her great-grandfather.

“Acquiring citizenship was very important for me, primarily for social and emotional reasons, not necessarily political ones,” says Feldman, whose autobiography about escaping a religious sect in Brooklyn, New York, became a bestseller in 2012.

“But it is clear, after living here for three years, what a different political culture there is in comparison to the US,” she says. “There is a clear emphasis on social justice that all parties recognize as a fundamental value, which is not the case back home.”

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Fernando Gabriel Swiech came to Germany to study with a full scholarship from the Brazilian government in 1999. He now works as a church organist in the northern city of Hamburg.

“Brazilian politics are more chaotic,” says Swiech with a laugh.

“If there's one thing I admire about Angela Merkel, it's her endurance and her energy, but deciding to vote for her is another matter.”