Turks in Strasbourg: Has Anyone Seen the Lost Politician?

Article published on May 25, 2014
Article published on May 25, 2014

Tuncer Saglamer raised the hopes of the Turk­ish com­mu­nity in Eu­rope. He got onto the city coun­cil ad­vo­cating par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy & mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. He even claimed to have cre­ated the first cit­i­zen move­ment. An in­ter­view with him ap­peared most in­trigu­ing. Un­less Saglamer dis­ap­peared, of course. Which he did. And so be­gins the hunt for he who must not be named

Let's face it: in the Eu­ro­pean Union (EU) we have so many prob­lems that it's too bor­ing to keep on talk­ing about them. In­stead of dis­cussing these dull is­sues, we pre­fer to search for breaths of fresh air that carry with them the scent of pos­si­ble so­lu­tions. Those cases that raise our spir­its and make us shout “there is hope!”.

In Stras­bourg we found one such case. At a time when im­mi­grants are al­ready an es­sen­tial part of Eu­ro­pean so­ci­ety, but still do not have ad­e­quate po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion (for ex­am­ple, of the 754 mem­bers of the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment, only 15 are im­mi­grant for­eign ori­gins), the French mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions saw the birth of a party that is both in­ter­est­ing and un­usual for the Al­sace re­gion. The Cit­i­zen Move­ment of Stras­burg (MCS) boasted among its core val­ues ​​the de­sire to de­velop a par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy in which the cit­i­zen was at the heart of each pro­ject, as well as re­spect­ing and de­fend­ing eth­nic and cul­tural di­ver­sity.

Their leader, Tuncer Saglamer, was a politi­cian born in Turkey, as were many of the mem­bers of his elec­toral list. Al­though he pre­sented his party just a month be­fore the elec­tion, Saglamer won 2.69% of the vote, more than dou­ble that of the 1% an­tic­i­pated by poll­sters, prob­a­bly with the sup­port of the city’s Turk­ish com­mu­nity, the largest in France. We would have loved for him to tell us of his ex­tra­or­di­nary case, to ex­plain his ideas on how to renew Eu­ro­pean democ­racy, how to make the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity more ac­tive and cre­ate a de­mo­c­ra­tic bar­rier against the ex­treme right... What could pos­si­bly go wrong? Well, Saglamer could dis­ap­pear, for ex­am­ple, and that's ex­actly what hap­pened.


After try­ing for weeks to con­tact him, his press sec­re­tary, mem­bers of his party, via email, via his web­site, on Fa­ce­book, and see­ing each of my at­tempts slam into a brick wall, the first thing I did when I set foot in Stras­bourg was to visit his party’s elec­toral of­fice. I can­not say I was sur­prised to find the  rooms com­pletely empty. "His photo was there, but it was re­moved and now the place is once again for rent," the phar­macy next door con­firmed.

And now what? I don’t have any ad­dresses to try, phones to call or emails to write to. I am in a work­ing class neigh­bor­hood on the out­skirts of Stras­bourg, with a large im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion, so I try to find some­one to help me solve the mys­tery of what hap­pened to Saglamer, or to tell me where I could find him. How­ever, the smiles and the ea­ger­ness of the Turk­ish sales­peo­ple dis­ap­pear when I tell them I'm a jour­nal­ist look­ing for Saglamer. "Yes, I know who he is but... You know I'm not in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics, I can­'t tell you any­thing about him", "He sounds fa­mil­iar, but I don’t know any­thing about him, why don't you ask at the bak­ery?", "Saglamer? Yes, I know him, he's been a cus­tomer for a few years, but I know noth­ing of his party. Pol­i­tics for the politi­cians." After many sim­i­lar an­swers, I ar­rive at a Turk­ish su­per­mar­ket where I fi­nally find some­one will­ing to talk to me.

"What Saglamer did is very im­por­tant for the Turk­ish com­mu­nity," says the butcher be­hind the counter, which emits freez­ing air. "It is an ex­am­ple of the fact that we are slowly thriv­ing, that we Turks are here to work, that we can par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics," he ex­plains. "Asil," in­ter­rupts his boss, who ges­tures that there is work to do. "Wait a mo­ment, I’ll be with you in 10 min­utes," the butcher tells me. While I am wait­ing, I see the boss ap­proach­ him and tell him some­thing in a low voice. When Asil re­turns, it's just to say that the con­ver­sa­tion is over, "You know? I have noth­ing more to say. All that I could have said, I have al­ready told you." I start to feel dis­cour­aged by these re­ac­tions. Why is every­one so afraid of talk­ing to me about Saglamer? I ex­pected to find the op­po­site re­ac­tion. How­ever, I will not give up just yet, there is an­other site that might be a good place to go look­ing for Wally.


Lo­cated at the junc­tion of two canals that cross the city, the Great Mosque of Stras­bourg is the sec­ond largest in France. The dome and the un­usual pil­lars that hold it rise up from be­hind the trees and veg­e­ta­tion on the river bank.

​I meet the di­rec­tor of the mosque in the court­yard in front of the tem­ple, talk­ing to a few peo­ple after Fri­day prayers. He is a se­ri­ous young man but friendly too, and he shows no hes­i­ta­tion in talk­ing to me. "For us the most im­por­tant thing is that peo­ple com­mit to democ­racy and are a part of it, if only to ex­press their opin­ion through vot­ing. We have tried to show that pol­i­tics doesn't only take place in the closed cir­cles of Paris," says the di­rec­tor. "If the can­di­date is Mus­lim, im­mi­grant or nei­ther, is some­thing of less im­por­tance. The main thing is to find a space for re­flec­tion where every­one can feel use­ful. For ex­am­ple," he con­tin­ues, "for Mus­lim be­liev­ers this could be gar­den­ing, it is one of the Qur'anic prin­ci­ples".


The di­rec­tor has given me some clues, but I do not want to leave Stras­bourg with­out talk­ing to Muhar­ren Koç, di­rec­tor of Astu, , a cul­tural as­so­ci­a­tion that has sup­ported Turk­ish work­ers in the cap­i­tal of Al­sace since the ‘70s. "Being French, being Mus­lim or being Span­ish does not con­fine you to cer­tain poli­cies, it only makes you part of a com­mu­nity. But within that com­mu­nity, not all of the mem­bers have to have the same view of the world," ex­plains Koç.

"It is in­creas­ingly com­mon that po­lit­i­cal think­ing only takes place within your com­mu­nity, but pol­i­tics is not only about doing things just for your own in­ter­ests, it is a col­lec­tive field. Share your vi­sion, your val­ues​​," he con­tin­ues. "You can cre­ate a po­lit­i­cal party to pro­mote the im­mi­grants' right to vote, to im­prove the reg­u­lar­iza­tion of the sans-pa­piers, their em­ploy­ment sta­tus, etc. but it is never done with the thought: I am an im­mi­grant, I'm going to go into pol­i­tics." He never men­tioned Saglamer, but I get the mes­sage. Just to check, I ask him. "I know who he is, but I do not want to talk about him. I don’t have any con­tact with him or his group." Koç re­sponds un­com­fort­ably.

At this point, I think I can give up re­ly­ing on Saglamer for this story. Will he reap­pear some­day? I guess so, but this post-elec­tion si­lence, which is echoed by his of­fi­cial web­site and Face­book page (no up­dates since March) says more than any po­lit­i­cal dis­course filled with good in­ten­tions. I would have liked to bring that breath of fresh air, that smell of so­lu­tions for Eu­rope which we were talk­ing about ear­lier, but in­stead I leave this story with a mes­sage: Be­ware of panaceas!

This ar­ti­cle is part of a spe­cial se­ries de­voted to Stras­bourg. It's part of EU­topia: Time to Vote, a pro­ject run by Cafébabel in part­ner­ship with the Hip­pocrène foun­da­tion, The Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion, the Min­istry of For­eign Af­faires and the EVENS foun­da­tion.