German Left Party Deputy Sevim Dagdelen "Tekel resistance ‚magnificent’"

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News A member of the German Bundestag for two consecutive terms, Sevim Dagdelen, says she never dreamed of becoming a career parliamentarian. She says there is racism and policies of isolation in every society and admits she is not an exception as a daughter of an immigrant family with roots in Turkey. ‚I am here not because of easy conditions but despite the difficulties. Isn’t life full of challenges?‘ she says.

The determined strike of workers at Tekel, the former state-owned alcohol and tobacco monopoly, and the closure of a pro-Kurdish party by a top Constitutional Court have drawn a female German politician to Turkey this week in a show of solidarity.

Sevim Dagdelen of the German Left Party (Die Linke), who has family roots in Turkey and has secured a seat in the Bundestag for a second consecutive term, first visited striking workers in Ankara. The Tekel workers have been staying in tents there for more than a month and a half despite the cold and snow as they fight to defend their jobs and wages.

"This is an extraordinary struggle; very big, very determined. Despite the snow and winter, this protest is ongoing on Ankara’s streets," Dagdelen told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview.

"For me, it is very impressive. I have never seen such a fight. The opening of a tent city in the heart of Ankara and the show of solidarity by the locals are both magnificent," she said.

‚Remarkable fight‘

The German parliamentarian spent up to four hours Monday with the striking workers at their tents, listening to their concerns and their expectations from the government. As part of its privatization policy, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, sold the Tekel company to the multinational firm British American Tobacco, or BAT, in 2008. Some 12,000 workers are at risk of having their wages cut and ending up in a temporary job.

A daughter of an immigrant worker family in Germany, Dagdelen welcomed the Tekel workers‘ resistance as a "remarkable fight at the European level against privatization." Asked if such large-scale protests are common in Europe, she said, "There are, of course, demonstrations and protest marches in Europe, but I haven’t witnessed such a strike."

Her encounter with one of the striking workers, a man from the southeastern city of Batman, deeply affected the German deputy.

"I met with Hüseyin Bey in the tent of the strikers from Batman. He told me that while he was here in Ankara to protest, he was informed of his child’s debilitating health condition. He traveled to Batman to visit his 14-year-old daughter, who later died. He buried her and then joined the strike again. That is really impressive," Dagdelen said.

MP criticizes AKP’s privatization policies

Commenting on the Turkish government’s approach, the deputy said governments are usually ignorant or indifferent.

"Now, of course, the [government officials] try to see the dimension of the struggle. They might have thought at the beginning that it would be like 2008, but they had to show interest as the protest lasted longer this time," she said. "In fact, even this is an accomplishment. The situation of Tekel workers occupies not only the government’s agenda but the agenda of the entire nation now."

Noting that even the taxi driver who brought her from the airport was talking about the Tekel workers, Dagdelen said, "This means the protest has been heard by large masses and a public opinion has been created."

The German politician expressed her hope that the AKP government would take the necessary steps to provide the workers with decent education, decent wages and insurance.

"The whole world is living through the biggest economic slump of the last 80 years. This is the crisis of capitalism. The current crisis has clearly shown privatization policies are extremely wrong," said Dagdelen. "The privatization policies rapidly pursued by the AKP government here in recent years are striking. Thus, I see the struggle of the Tekel workers against privatization as a fight that will shed a light for workers in Germany and [elsewhere in] Europe."

‚Party closure a heavy penalty‘

In Ankara, Dagdelen also participated in the party congress of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, which drew many former members of the Democratic Society Party, or DTP, after that party was banned by the top Constitutional Court for links to terrorism.

"After the DTP’s closure in December, the [German] Left Party parliamentary group made a statement that condemned the ban in a show of solidarity with the democratic Kurds," Dagdelen said. "A political party’s closure is not a first in Turkey’s history; dozens of parties have been banned and this is really a heavy penalty. There aren’t that many bans in Europe. It is not that simple. There is a need for a deep-rooted correction in Turkey. The law on political parties should be amended."

After the DTP’s closure, the Left Party’s parliamentary group made a demand to the German government that Turkey change its law on political parties, and that the country’s EU negotiations be halted unless the law is changed.

Link between party closure, EU talks

Dagdelen said her party had expressed similar concerns during the AKP’s closure case in 2008. "Not only the Left Party, but all of European governments followed that case," she said, complaining that while top EU officials warned that that Turkey’s accession talks could be suspended if the AKP was closed down, they refrained from criticizing the DTP closure.

"There are international agreements to improve minority rights in Turkey. The Copenhagen criteria are among them and they should be fulfilled," she said. "That is not only for Turkey’s membership in the EU, but because Turkey needs to make progress in democracy and human rights. Turkey itself should feel such a need and change its law on parties."

Dagdelen added, "The court ruling [on the DTP’s closure] is upsetting also because Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had launched a democratic initiative to resolve the Kurdish problem and the decision could cause a delay in that move."

‚DTP closure ruling includes contradictions‘

The German politician criticized the court verdict and said it was "missing" evidence in proving the DTP’s links with violence and terror and "contradictory."

"For example, Ahmet Türk followed a more moderate, more open pro-dialogue policy and was banned from politics by the court," she said. "When we have a look at the intra-party powers fighting in the DTP, those in favor of dialogue and seeking political solutions were banned. That is a contradiction."

‚Life is not in parliaments but on streets‘

The deputy added that she has never seen her service as a member of parliament as a career, but as a responsibility. "I never dreamed or wished to become a deputy," she told the Daily News. "On the contrary, I always say life is not in parliaments or political parties but on the streets, at work and in schools and universities."

"Decisions are made there," she added. "Life never changes based on decisions made in parliaments; life changes with actions. Where is the action? It is not in parliament but at work, at schools. Workers, students are all in action. I come from among them."

Being a deputy despite challenges

Born in Duisburg in 1975, Dagdelen is from a family with six children. Her father moved to Germany from Turkey in 1973, followed by her mother in 1974. As her father was the family’s only provider of income, she had to start working as a cleaner at a German airport on the weekends when she was 16 years old.

Dagdelen studied law first at the University of Marburg, then at Adelaide University and later at the University of Cologne. After joining the Left Party, she became a member of the regional-level party council of North Rhine-Westphalia and the federal student agency from 1996 to 1998. From 1993 to 2001, she was a member of the federal youth commission. She has been a member of the German Bundestag since 2005 and is also a member of the Democratic Workers‘ Clubs Federation.

Asked if she faced any difficulty in German politics because of her immigrant background, Dagdelen said there is racism and policies of isolation toward immigrants in every society. "Thus my family and I faced such difficulties, but my position as a deputy in parliament is not because of the presence of easy conditions but despite the difficulties," she said. "Isn’t every walk of life full of challenges? We need to overcome them."