Europe Has a Long Wait for Its Obama

Elaine Ganley, AP, Nov. 2, 2008

Where is Europe’s Barack Obama? Not only are droves of Europeans hoping for a victory by the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, many are asking when France, Germany or Britain will get a chance to cast a ballot for a leader from their own burgeoning minorities.

The answer: not any time soon.

“Obama is rather far away. It’s a bit of a fiction here, a bit of a dream,” said Kadar Mkalache, tending a stand at the weekly market in Les Bosquets, a tough housing project in Montfermeil northeast of Paris.

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Discrimination is only one reason that citizens of immigrant origin are unlikely to soon produce a leader able to crack the system. Another is that the Old World is relatively new to the issue of minorities of color.

“Obama hasn’t happened overnight,” said Danny Sriskandarajah of the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain. “It took generations of minority activism in the U.S. to create this space and develop that sort of political acumen . . . which is largely absent from Europe.”

In Spain, a magnet for migrants from north and sub-Saharan Africa, most members of visibly distinct minorities are still in their first generation. Elsewhere, they mainly go back three generations at most.

The changing face of some other European countries, like Britain or France, often reflects their colonial past: Their immigrants come from countries they once ruled, and color barriers remain formidable.

In Britain, minorities—at least 8 percent of the population—hold only 15 of 646 parliamentary seats. However, a black woman, Baroness Scotland, holds the post of attorney general—the highest-ranking minority in British government.

In France, where there are an estimated 5 million Muslims, mainly from North Africa, and millions more blacks, there is only one black lawmaker in the 577-seat National Assembly, who was born in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. The upper house has four senators with roots in North Africa.

Minorities in Germany’s Bundestag hold 10 of 612 seats, although a politician of Turkish origin, Cem Ozdemir, is about to become the first to take the helm of a political party, co-leading the Green Party. Meanwhile, heavily immigrant Rotterdam, one of Holland’s biggest cities, is getting a Moroccan-born mayor.

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“Obama-mania” has swept countries like Germany, Britain and France. But the minorities remain trapped in political infancy.

In France, the mother country of “liberty, equality, fraternity,” discrimination against “visible minorities” is often blatant.

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Obama “is the incarnation of the American dream,” the French black leader Lozes said. “Here, we will ask the question: ‘Where is the French dream?’“

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