Interview Djawad Nadalian

"Approaching Immigrants with Open Hands"

The "Gallus" district in Frankfurt, Germany, is known as a social trouble spot. This is where social educator and conflict consultant Djawad Nadalian works. Diana Fröhlich spoke with him about the reactions of Frankfurt's youth to the unrest in Paris

The "Gallus" district in Frankfurt, is known as a social trouble spot. This is where social educator and conflict consultant Djawad Nadalian works. Diana Fröhlich spoke with him about the reactions of Frankfurt's youth to the unrest in Paris

Mr. Nadalian, at the Youth Center in Gallus you meet young immigrants every day who have problems similar to those faced by the French youth. They don't speak the language very well, never completed school, and therefore have no hope of finding a vocational training position. How did the young people in your district react to the rioting in France?

Djawad Nadalian: They can in part understand only too well why young people in Paris are taking to the streets and setting cars on fire. And why are the French youth doing this? Because they are constantly confronted with prejudice, no matter which passport they hold.

And the immigrants here face the same problem. They are likewise frequently disadvantaged, particularly when it comes to getting a traineeship. Even when grandchildren of guest workers from Italy, Turkey or Portugal were born here and carry a German ID card, the Germans still harbor prejudices against them.

But not all young people identify with their counterparts in Paris. Here at the Youth Center there are several who severely condemn the actions of the rioters.

Could you imagine riots similar to those in France breaking out here in Germany?

Nadalian: I think it's possible, even if it might take several years before it happens. What we are already seeing in Frankfurt once in a while are individual instigators. Just a few weeks ago, a young man punctured the tires of several police cars. Afterward, the police feared that street fights would break out in the district. But before the troublemaker could stir up other youth, we managed to calm him down again with the help of social education workers.

What drove him to do it?

Nadalian: There's no question: an utter lack of hope. No education, no job, hardly any money, no future – and of course the fun of annoying the powers that be and seeing if they can be provoked into getting into a power struggle. He simply wanted to draw attention to himself and his problems.

This motive was coupled with a personal twist of fate. His mother deserted the family when he was only two years old, and his father was not always the most caring parent in the world. I think that in such cases it is immensely important to react humanely. Only then will young people be receptive to social education.

What does the Youth Center in Gallus offer young people?

Nadalian: We help anyone who has problems in school or on the job, or conflicts with parents or friends. Strictly speaking, the Youth Center is open to 14 to 21-year olds, but we also have young people aged up to 30 here who take advantage of our services. We play music, go to the movies together, hold sports competitions and eat lunch together.

What kind of district is Gallus? Is it comparable to the Paris suburbs?

Nadalian: Around half of the district's 25,000 residents have parents of foreign origin. No one nationality dominates here; instead, it is a melting pot made up of many different cultures. Here and there is a street where, for example, mainly Moroccans reside, but on the whole it is very well mixed.

It's completely different from France. There, people of African origin live together in suburban ghettos. It's no surprise that young people there can organize better and more quickly. And that sets the stage for the outbreak of riots.

We fortunately don't have many highrises in our quarter, and, what's more, we're located in the center of the city and not on the outskirts. There is a lively atmosphere here, things are happening. In Frankfurt's neighboring city of Offenbach, however, the danger of organized criminality is already somewhat greater. There are plenty of highrise projects there in which the majority of residents are immigrants.

A completely different point to consider is each country's past. Germany was never a colonial power; the immigrants here are mostly guest workers. And the young people know that. They have internalized the idea that they will never have equal rights.

The first to imitate the Paris riots were young people in Berlin, Cologne and Bremen. What did these rioters hope to accomplish, and what should the government do to prevent unrest from spreading to Germany?

Nadalian: The young people here wanted to show their solidarity. The media give youth all over the world primarily one thing: indirect feedback. It's as if the youth in France wanted to say: See? You can do it too, just follow our example!

Furthermore, politicians have become unsure how to react. This is why I believe that a few cars will be set on fire in German city districts. But it will not come to widespread rioting.

What the government should do? Exactly what the French have not yet managed to do: To approach immigrants with open hands and without prejudice.

The interview was conducted by Diana Fröhlich.

© Diana Fröhlich/ 2005

This interview was previously published by the German weekly Die Zeit (45/2005).

Translation from the German: Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

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