In his debut Bundestag appearance, Armand Zorn was surprisingly relaxed. The topic: Tax policy — one that interests the 33-year-old management consultant elected to parliament last September.
“I was a bit excited, I have to admit,” Zorn said. “I like it, though. When you’re tense for a moment, you do realize how important the issue is,” he told DW in his Bundestag office following his first speech.
No one noticed his excitement because his address sounded confident, knowledgeable and factual. He even threw small jabs at the far-right populist AfD.
Armand Zorn has an exceptional biography. Born in Cameroon, he moved to Halle — the largest city in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt when he was 12. His mother’s new partner lived there. From there, he went to Paris, Constance, Bologna, Hong Kong, and Oxford.
Armand Zorn: Fighting for social justice
Zorn has lived in Frankfurt since 2015 and has been politically active since 2009. He joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in 2011. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is also a member of the SPD, the party that won the most seats in last year’s election.
Zorn made it to the Bundestag as a direct candidate. He said he has always wanted to fight for more social justice.
“I have had many experiences where I met young people who were very hardworking, competent, but never got the success they deserved,” Zorn said.
In the Bundestag, Zorn is a member of the powerful Finance Committee and the Digital Committee. That is where he sees his strengths and competencies.
He also remains connected to his continent of origin, Africa. “In finance, for example, there are many issues related to the global financial stability,” Zorn said, pointing to the debt ratios of African countries.
“It’s about providing funds also to allow perspective and economic development in certain African countries,” he added.
Awet Tesfaiesus: Defending asylum seekers
Awet Tesfaiesus has also been in the Bundestag since the last election. However, she is still getting used to being a member of parliament. “It’s a very different world. People are looking to talk and are open,” Tesfaiesus told DW in a Skype interview.
“You can invite people. You’re high up in the hierarchy, especially if you were otherwise eyed critically as a black woman in the drugstore to see if you weren’t stealing something.”
Nevertheless, she said she still experiences everyday racism in her daily life. “When I go shopping and get the looks from the security personnel. That normalizes again.”
Experiences of racism have accompanied her for a long time. Tesfaiesus was born in 1974 in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara. At that time, Eritrea had not seceded from Ethiopia.
Eritrea is a military dictatorship under President Isaias Afwerki. Since her parents were politically active, the family fled to Germany when Tesfaiesus was 10 years old.
Their new home became a refugee shelter, where many families from Eritrea lived.
“For my parents, it was hard,” Tesfaiesus recalled. “We lived in a cramped space with many Eritrean children. There were six of us in one room with the whole family. But when you’re a kid, you ignore that. You’re happy that there are so many great people.”
The experience inspired her to study law, and she later opened a law firm specializing in asylum law.
She wants to help others who also come to Germany as refugees. But she has reached her limits. Many refugees are not granted residence status in Germany.
The EU’s Dublin rules are clear: Refugees must apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter. In the case of her clients, that is usually Italy or Spain.
“In Italy, a lot of people were living on the streets, maybe had recognition as eligible for asylum, but no social benefits, no language courses, nothing,” an agitated Tesfaiesus said.
“It was frustrating to go against that system, but I felt like I needed to make a political change.”
Tesfaiesus has been a member of the Green Party since 2009 and was a city councilor in her home city of Kassel for 5 years.
She became a member of the Bundestag in October last year and is already her party’s representative on the Culture Committee. And here, too, she has set an ambitious goal: Looted cultural treasures should be returned to the countries of origin.
“When I walk through German museums and see art and cultural goods from my region, it hurts my heart. The things are looked at here, and they mean nothing to the people,” she noted.
“On the other hand, they mean a lot to the people in their countries of origin. Their identity has been robbed.”
Karamba Diaby: The veteran anti-racism politician
Alongside the two newcomers, Karamba Diaby is almost something of an old hand in the Bundestag.
In 2013, he entered the Bundestag for the first time, and even the New York Times reported his achievement. That’s because Diaby was the first member of the German parliament with African roots.
“Many people thought that I was the expert on Africa or on racism in everyday life and didn’t want to perceive that I was an education and research politician,” Diaby said.
Today, he is recognized in the Bundestag and by his voters. In 2021, they elected him directly for the first time.
Diaby came to former East Germany (GDR) in the 1980s from his native Senegal on a scholarship. He studied chemistry at Halle and eventually earned his doctorate in heavy metal contamination.
He has long called Halle home; something many right-wing extremists refuse to accept. Racist attackson social media are part of his everyday life.
For someone who has to endure so much hate and agitation, Diaby is remarkably calm. Even after years, he tries to differentiate, avoiding sweeping judgments and political battle rhetoric.
“Death threats and things like that hurt me. But I’ve also always felt backing and solidarity when anything unqualified, insulting or demeaning was posted,” he told DW.
“There were letters from people expressing solidarity or school classes collecting signatures.”
After almost 9 years in the Bundestag, supporters view Diaby as still a “friendly neighbor from next door.”
He has learned the typical parliamentary tone and still tries to use as little as possible in direct conversation.
He sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Development Committee in this legislative period. It’s far from the same parliament as in 2013 — today, it’s much more diverse.
Nevertheless, Diaby continues to fight for diversity. Not only in terms of origin. But also when it comes to the literate and illiterate, people from urban and rural areas, or with and without disabilities.
“These are all factors where I say the more diverse the parliament is, the more differentiated the perspectives that are perceived.”