germany, Turkey

Duisburg anti-litter campaign accused of racism over use of Turkish names

Some members of Duisburg's Turkish community say a new trash can campaign encouraging "Mehmet" and "Gülcan" to throw away garbage is racist.

Source: Wirtschaftsbetriebe Duisburg

The western German city of Duisburg launched a campaign about a month ago to encourage people to throw away their trash, posting motivational slogans on around 6,000 bins with sayings like “Come here, Kevin” and “Clean, Steffi”.

Some also include Turkish names, with phrases like “There you go, Gülcan” and “Do it, Mehmet.” And for those who only see these last two examples, the campaign may come across as targeting the Turkish community.

“Does Duisburg have the impression that only Turks throw their trash on the ground,” wrote one person on Twitter. “What’s next?”

The trash cans even made it into Turkish newspaper BirGün in an article with the headline “Trash discussion between Turks and Germans,” according to Focus.

Spokeswoman for the campaign Silke Kersken said she was “surprised” and that “we did not expect this reaction,” according to the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ).

Kersken explained that the campaign simply wanted to inspire people to clean up after themselves with a bit of humour.

“The names were absolutely randomly selected and there was no intention to insult anyone,” she said, adding that they also wanted to be inclusive of the Turkish community.

“If we have not done that, it would certainly also have been wrong.”

Local Green party integration politics spokesman Melih Keser spoke out to the Turkish community through a Facebook post in both German and Turkish on Monday, saying that the campaign was not racist. Rather, he explained that the campaign was a reflection of ignorance in regards to Turkish names: The name Mehmet comes from the Arabic Mohammed, and therefore may be considered a holy name.

“For many days, I have noticed how my Turkish friends have been flustered by the campaign,” Keser wrote.

“I would like to say that it is not a deliberately Turkish-hostile campaign… If it were a case of discrimination or exclusion, I would be one of the first to stand up and go against it. But here this was not the case. We must simply communicate more with one another.”

He also pointed out that the campaign website allows users to pick their own name and slogan to share with friends on social media.



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