What is the status of the immigrant community within local city politics?

A text from the “Berlin bleibt! #3 – Werkstatt Mehringplatz” publication by Hülya K. Kilic

In every family with a migrant background in Berlin, as Hülya Kilic tells us in a conversation, there is an incomprehensible history of rent politics that has to do with bureaucratic trauma and a lack of trust – not only in the (municipal) institutions but also in the power of one's own voice. In this sense, she considers her work as urban political education and empowerment, building a bridge to the voices we otherwise wouldn't hear.

Time flies – I have been experiencing the constant change of this exciting city for five decades. It's something I've wanted to get away from a few times, but it's always kept me captivated. That's because there's always something new happening. I was born in Berlin Kreuzberg 36, and I love this city. For several years now, I have been active in various initiatives campaigning against the sell-out of the city. I am a co-founder of OraNostra, which has been campaigning against the displacement of small businesses in Oranienstraße and the surrounding area since 2018. It struck me that those who are actually affected, especially those from families with a history of migration, are completely underrepresented in these initiatives. I wondered why none of the people, especially from the first and second generation of people from Turkey – whom I have known for a long time and who have been building up an independent existence with their grocery shops, snack bars, craft shops, cafés, restaurants, flower shops et cetera – are part of these initiatives. Through speaking with them and my efforts to protect the shops on Oranienstraße and the surrounding area, it became clear that they are disconnected from the highly academicised activists who have long been familiar with the issues and who form a circle of insiders within the various initiatives. On the one hand, important and effective urban political movements have emerged from these initiatives. On the other hand, I miss the permanent participation of those directly impacted, mostly people from the immigrant community. With the stress of everyday life, the ever-increasing cost of living and paying rent, providing for the family and taking care of the children's educational opportunities – coupled with deep-rooted fears of not being able to meet the demands of the ever more pronounced bureaucratic apparatus of the authorities – there is absolutely no headspace left to stand up for your rights, even if it's urgently necessary. This creates a blockade, a distrust of the other, as people with migration histories – often with traumatic experiences – feel stigmatised and are unable to find and assert themselves in initiatives on the outside in the longer term.

What we are dealing with here is the decades-long, institutional ossification of structures in ignorance. It is all the more important that these appalling conditions become a major focus of existing initiatives. I would like to emphasise here that I have seen, very clearly, how little consideration is given to the most basic and existential interests, which are:

  1. affordable housing,
  2. fair wages for work, which is what makes it possible for people in the first place,
  3. to be able to exercise their rights in the form of participation in important political decision-making processes in their living environment, in their street, in their district, in the city where they have lived for four generations.

An important point for a lively, diverse form of coexistence in the neighbourhood would also be the protection of small business in the form of a law. This is long overdue, because the sell-out of the city is in full swing. This development is disastrous! After five decades, it should be possible for people long established in the neighbourhood with a history of migration to actively shape urban political processes with their own voice and equal rights. There is an acute need for action here!

Picture: Yorgos Konstantinou / Imagistan

Hülya K. Kilic has a small shop on Oranienstraße. She founded the OraNostra initiative, an association of small traders and tenants from the Oranienstraße neighbourhood, and the Initiative Oranienstraße Kreuzberg 36 (IOK36). It campaigns against the selling out of the city and supports immigrant communities in the clarification of their rights.