The publicist Ferda Ataman is the new Federal Anti-Discrimination Commissioner. The personality polarizes. For some, she is exactly the right person for the office, while others fought tooth and nail against her election.

After heated debates, the federal anti-discrimination agency gets a new boss in Ferda Ataman. The 42-year-old publicist was elected to the new office in the Bundestag as proposed by the traffic light government.

The election was a political issue. Critics from Union and AfD but also from the governing party FDP had mobilized against Ataman. Your accusation: Ironically, the anti-discrimination agency should be headed by a “left-wing activist”. Politicians from the SPD and the Greens rejected this as a “slanderous campaign” and spoke of baseless allegations.

Only narrow majority for Ataman

When the result was read out in the Bundestag late Thursday afternoon, Ferda Ataman stood up briefly in the visitors’ gallery and bowed slightly – her hand on her chest. “I would like to convince those who have not yet been able to place their trust in me with my work,” she says afterwards, looking at the vote.

278 MPs had voted against them. The necessary so-called chancellor majority – the majority of all 736 members of the Bundestag – reaches them only very narrowly: 376 votes. Only 8 less and it wouldn’t have been enough. Many of the traffic lights were canceled because of Corona and could not vote, said Greens boss Ricarda Lang later. The traffic light coalition has a total of 416 MPs.

Opposition considers Ataman unsuitable

The AfD had failed on Wednesday in the Bundestag with the attempt to take Ataman’s election off the agenda. A woman should be elected anti-discrimination officer who “consistently discriminates against Germans,” complained the First Parliamentary Secretary, Bernd Baumann.

Similar tones also came from the Union. The first parliamentary director of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Thorsten Frei (CDU), accused Ataman of standing for a “trivialization and trivialization” of “clan crime” and Islamism and for the “awareness that discrimination only occurs against white Germans can go out”. The deputy leader of the Union parliamentary group, Dorothee Bär (CSU), said Ataman scoffed at the German majority society. The new anti-discrimination officer was and is also being attacked online.

Esken: “Slanderous campaign”

From the point of view of SPD leader Saskia Esken, this is a “defamatory campaign,” as she wrote on Twitter. The leader of the Greens, Britta Haßelmann, said on Deutschlandfunk that many were “factually unfounded allegations” and “false factual allegations”. Ataman is an expert on diversity and “in any case” the right person for the office. She has been campaigning for diversity and against all forms of discrimination for many years.

FDP faction leader Christian Dürr – some in the ranks of the FDP had also grumbled – said Ataman now has a completely different role. “And I expect her to take on this other role and to be aware that she is no longer a publicist. But that’s what she confirmed.” There is no doubt about their professional qualifications.

Years of work as a journalist

Ferda Ataman was born in Stuttgart in November 1979 and grew up in Nuremberg. Her parents are from Turkey. She studied political science in Erlangen and at the Free University of Berlin. She later became a speechwriter in the NRW integration ministry under Armin Laschet (CDU), who later became a candidate for chancellor. Ataman worked for a long time as a journalist and columnist for the “Spiegel” among others and headed the public relations department of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency in 2010 and 2011.

Criticism of her is sparked, for example, by columns that she wrote with a sharp pen – including a text in “Spiegel” in early 2020, when she defended the term “potato” for Germans without a migration background. In another text from 2019, Ataman criticized the fact that children born and raised in Germany from families from other countries had to keep hearing sentences like: “But you speak German well!” or «You don’t look Turkish at all». Millions of people are forced to emigrate again and again and many are annoyed by it. The “verbal expatriation – “Where are you from?”” can hit you anytime and anywhere.

Ataman: Support people who experience discrimination

As the new Federal Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Ataman promised after her election that she would work for all people in the country who experience discrimination, whether because of age, disability, origin, gender, sexual identity or religion and belief. “I see it as my task to support people who experience discrimination through advice, research and public relations with the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency.”

The office is based in Berlin and is affiliated with the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs. She advises those affected on the basis of the General Equal Treatment Act in enforcing their rights, be it in the case of discrimination because of their last name when looking for an apartment or when looking for a job because of their age. The office also obtains statements from the other side and mediates amicable settlements. It also commissions studies, creates guidelines, brochures and guides and uses public relations work to draw attention to discrimination issues.