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Mithat Gedik smiles and looks a little embarrassed when he is asked about his “famous story”. “That happened a long time ago but it is, of course, still a topical subject,” he said – and so he agreed to describe what happened three years ago when he set the ball rolling for greater religious equality.
Mithat Gedik is 36 years old and is German – and he not only grew up in this country, he was born here. The subjects on his high school leaving certificate also include the Catholic religion. He is married, has four children and has been a site manager at REMONDIS for three years now. When he joined the company, REMONDIS’ south west regional division had just opened a plastics processing facility in Mannheim and had been looking for an expert who had the know-how and personnel management skills to run this plant. Mithat had already made a name for himself in this sector. He knows all about plastics, gets on really well with all those around him and is a very tactful person. He is also ambitious and has a good head for business. Today, he no longer only manages the plastics plant but is also the operational manager for the whole of REMONDIS’ site in Mannheim. Besides running the plastics processing facility, he is in charge of the South West Region’s transfer station – which handles 6,000 tonnes of plastics, 25,000 tonnes of old paper and 3,000 tonnes of commercial waste every year – and the central workshop. Mannheim is not his hometown, however: he grew up in Sönnern in the District of Werl 330 kilometres away. All of the 870 people living in Sönnern know Mithat as he has always done everything he can to support the local community – for example by joining the voluntary fire brigade and the ‘Schützenverein’ (a local voluntary association focusing on shooting as a sport).
His story hit the national headlines because – and this is what the story is all about – Mithat is also a Moslem. Every year, ‘Schützenvereins’ across the country hold a shooting contest to determine who will be their new king, their ‘Schützenkönig’. A wooden bird is placed at the top of a pole and the person who shoots it down is the new king. Newspaper articles appeared across the country – in Spiegel Online, Süddeutsche and FAZ to name just a few – when Mithat shot down the wooden bird in the summer of 2014. It wasn’t long before the BHDS [Association of historical German shooting fraternities] got to hear of this. The by-laws of these shooting fraternities, which had been written almost 90 years ago, stipulated that a member must be Christian. The association demanded that Mithat stand down as ‘Schützenkönig’ because of his religion. “I found the whole thing more than a little strange. I am a German citizen with Turkish roots. I was born and brought up in Germany. My family background had never been a problem before,” explained Mithat Gedik. His fellow “Schützen” brothers stood by him and announced that they would all leave the club if Mithat was forced to stand down. The story spread through the media like wildfire; even the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency stepped in. This was a fundamental matter of political importance as it centred on the coexistence and equality of religions.
As a preliminary measure, the association drew up an exemption clause for Mithat Gedik so that he could be ‘Schützenkönig’. A proposal to change the by-laws to include non-Christians was not discussed by the BHDS until this year – three years later. Mithat was not at the meeting even though he was the reason for this discussion in the first place. He was, though, very happy to hear that the proposal had been accepted. “At the end of the day, we have only solved one of many problems. This discussion won’t end here. Even though we’re living in the 21st Century, there are many others who think differently,” he concluded summing up his story.