Political online-participation of migrants in Germany.

Author:Kissau, Kathrin
 
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1 Introduction

What potential does the Internet possess for the political participation of migrants? This question has been disregarded in German migration and communication research. Its relevance however is evident: modern information technologies enable migrants to contact their country of origin easily and quickly and thus retain relationships where once all bridges were demolished. Therefore, migrants today lead a life between two poles: They often speak multiple languages, move between two cultures and feel part of more than one society. Therefore, they also pursue interests regarding political, economical and cultural life in two or more countries. In this context, the Internet is of special relevance, since it is both an information and communication media. Migrants can use the Internet, especially emails and chats, to establish a vivid link to their family and friends in their country of origin. Additionally, they can inform themselves through different online sources such as online journals, weblogs, newsgroups or forums and obtain detailed information on the political events and the public opinion in their country of origin.

Additionally, the Internet offers immigrants possibilities--more than traditional print and audiovisual media can--to publish their own opinions through online articles or comments and thus to contribute to the formation of public opinion. This alternative public sphere thus has the potential to influence the public opinion and to support or even initiate social change. Additionally, not only the transnational exchange of views and information is simplified through the Internet, but also the political organization of civic engagement in the form of online campaigns (see the contribution of Baringhorst in this volume), email-initiatives, lobbying, etc. can be done via the Internet. For this active individuals build networks with peers to establish interests groups or connect to existing larger organizations. This way immigrant can cost-effectively and easily contact one another to advocate their interests regarding their country of residence or their country of origin. While this might enable migrants voices to be heard where political participation is otherwise scarce, these activities are also of great importance for the country of origin. Through the Internet certain information, positions and debates, which might otherwise be censored in countries such as Iran, China or Russia, can be transmitted from abroad and reach an audience.

In this chapter the empirical data and experiences collected as part of the authors' research project at the University of Muenster in Germany will be presented. The central question of this research project was whether and if so, how the Internet is changing the political activities of migrants. Does the Internet merely facilitate the communication and information between migrants or do these activities develop and obtain a whole new quality, because new ways of influence are successfully utilized? What impact on the political events in the countries of origin and of residence can be identified, how do they occur and what consequences do they have? Exemplarily, this will be analyzed regarding immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Turkey and Kurdish areas in the Middle East.

2 Method

Our method consists of a content analysis of websites created and used by migrants for political activities (focusing on their thematic orientation, self-description and group boundaries), an analysis of the link structures of these websites (using a hyperlink analysis program to uncover virtual networks) as well as a survey of the sites' users and administrators (detecting individual interests beyond groupism).

Using a structured website search with the help of search engines and the snowball sampling method (Hawe/Webster/Shiell 2004), we studied websites created and used by migrants from the former Soviet Union, Turkey and the Kurdish areas now living in Germany, Switzerland or

Austria. In this analysis we viewed over 800 sites, of which 99 German-Post Soviet sites, 108 German-Turkish and 102 German-Kurdish websites (1) turned out be relevant for our research question that focused on their political content. These sites were explored as to their year of establishment, their up-to-dateness, their political information, communication and participation features as well as existing references to home and/or host country politics. Additionally, 30 websites were chosen for a more intensive content analysis and a survey of the sites' operators and users.

Since our interest lay in uncovering organizational structures and orientations of migrants' political online activities, we made use of a network visualization tool (Issuecrawler). This server-side Internet network location software performed a co-link analysis of the entered 99, 108 and 102 relevant URLs from the three groups (see Rogers 2006: 2). The results of the inquiries are geographical visualizations of the networks. This method enabled us to reveal relationships, displayed online through hyperlinks, between different political websites and so to add to our understanding of the studied political spheres of migrants.

We also conducted an online user survey, which was posted on the 30 most relevant German-Post-Soviet,-Turkish and-Kurdish websites (2) and explored the political online and offline activities of the three migrant groups. In all cases the questionnaire was available in two languages (German or Russian/German or Turkish). The form was completed by 136 migrants from the former Soviet Union (Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan etc.), 177 Turkish and 136 Kurdish migrants. 37.6 percent of the first group indicated their ethnical background as Russian-Jewish, 21.8 percent as German ("Aussiedler") and 20.3 percent as Russian, which shows how heterogeneous the migrant groups are. The sample is not representative due to the self selection of the participants (Dillman 2000). Nevertheless, since drawing a representative sample of Internet users it to date impossible, this procedure allows us to generate first explorative conclusions about the political Internet use of migrants in Germany.

By analyzing the political activities of migrants in this way we hope to view the following dimensions of migrants' orientations:

* internal interaction of migrants within one online-community and within one country (information and data exchange, discussion and political mobilization)

* interaction with the residents and organizations in the country of origin (input of alternative information; articulation of opposition, mobilizing resistance)

* interaction with the residents and organizations in the host country (information about the situation in the country of origin, lobbying for support)

* interaction within a possibly international public (Diaspora) sphere (worldwide visibility and influence)

3 Results

3.1 Website analysis

The website-analysis was mainly conducted in order to address the following questions: Which target groups do the sites have? Which political topics are treated with which priority? What language is used and how are the websites linked to each other?

3.1.1 Target groups

Migrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU) are not the primary target group of eight out of the ten most relevant political Internet sites evaluated. The administrators of these sites more often stated that their website was designed for Russian speaking users in host and home countries as well as people interested in Russian culture and politics (for details see Seveker 2007). In contrast, nine out of ten of the surveyed Turkish administrators indicated that their primary target group consists of persons of Turkish origin, who now live in Germany. Five administrators stated that they also address web users of German origin. One administrator explained that his site was supposed to serve as 'a forum for exchange of experiences and opinions of all German speaking Turks, all their friends and those who are interested in them'. The analysis of the Kurdish websites showed that these sites are not primarily designed for Kurds in Germany, but for Kurds everywhere in the world or people interested in the Kurdish issues. Since many of these websites are blocked by the governments in Iran, Syria or Turkey, it can be assumed that the Kurdish websites are not commonly used for communication between migrants and the inhabitants in the country of origin.

3.1.2 Topics

On the majority of websites political issues concerning the country of origin as well as the country of residence are commented on, but viewing each migrant group separately clear discrepancies become evident (for details see table 1). More than 50 percent of the evaluated Post-Soviet websites concentrate on international topics. In contrast, political topics with reference to Germany count for 19 percent, and nine percent of the websites concentrate solely on Post-Soviet topics. The emphasis of the analyzed Turkish websites lies on German politics. 50 percent have a dominant political reference to the migrants' host country. Roughly 17 percent of the websites refer to political developments in Turkey. Political information from both countries is offered by 32 percent of the web pages. Kurdish sites show a strong focus on the Kurdish "cause". 28 percent focus exclusively on this topic; their "Kurdish nationalism" stands out strongly. 70 percent of the websites deal with political events in their host country, but only whenever these are linked to Kurdish interests or incidents in the Kurdish areas in the Middle East.

Table 1: Geographical references to political topics on the analyzed websites Total(N=309) Post-Soviet Turkish Kurdish...

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