By Elif Kayi
OPINION. Germany’s most (in)famous terrorist group the Red Army Fraction is no longer active, except on the big screen with the movie of Uli Edel “The Baader Meinhof Complex”, which was released in 2008. But the war is not yet over and not all guns have been put down.
A German citizen of Turkish origin, Ibrahim Bassal, reported how a group had tried to cut down and burn the 20-meter flag he had hung above his electronic shop, in the Berlin district of Neukölln. The Berliner and Lebanese citizen Ghassan Hassoun further explained that small badges, which were attached to his daughter’s and his neighbours’ cars, had also been stolen.
The attempt to violate the flag at Bassal’s shop was claimed by some “autonomists” calling themselves the “Commando Kevin-Prince-Boateng Berlin”. The Swiss daily newspaper Basler Zeitung reported the harsh words of warrior Bassal: “I will defend the German flag!” Oops! What is this all about? The German flag? Migrants’ new task in Germany? Honestly, we always felt that Germans were kind of weird… but this…
While I write these lines, the German national soccer team is still on the run for the World Cup and will play against Argentina in about two hours. Dear Mannschaft, you may play well. Even though some experts, random experts or bar experts pretend they do not like the way you play nowadays. Too passive, they say. Well, as far as I am concerned, I do not miss the time you were playing aggressively. French supporters still remember the horror foul of goalkeeper Harald Schumacher in 1982 on French defender Patrick Battiston, who was knocked unconscious, lost two teeth and suffered damage to his vertebrae.
But the Mannschaft is luckily no longer a bunch of wild beasts. They have learnt how to behave abroad. And one should recognize that they do not play badly. Three times world champions in 1954, 1974 and 1990: No mean achievement. So we, as non-German supporters or simple citizens, owe them at least some respect. I speak of respect because as you know, it is hard to feel happy when they win. Their victories leave a bitter and irritating feeling. No matter whom they play against, frankly speaking we usually tend to support their opponent.
Dear German fellows, please, don’t pretend that you were surprised or shocked by these words. I am sure you know exactly what is meant here. Remember that not so long ago, you were the first to be embarrassed by your own enthusiasm for “your” national team.
Please notice here the use of quotes. Did you indeed ever wonder why Germans often put the possessive adjective our into quotes when writing about the German team? “I am happy that ‘our’ team has won” or “I wonder how ‘our’ players will do on Saturday”. Commonly read sentences on the beloved Facebook… OK, we as non-Germans got their point. They always feel the need to display loudly their detachment from any supposed mark of nationalism. Just in case we would think they did not learn the lessons of recent history.
But somehow we feel that something is brewing within them. The wish to finally dare to shout aloud their scary nationalistic passion? Having spent quite a few years on German soil and actually really enjoyed it, I still dare to say that I never found anything as frightening as a mass of Germans yelling after their team had scored a goal. As we say in France: one has to be careful of still water… But maybe something good will come out of this abandoned restraint. Let us just give our fellow Germans the benefit of the doubt.
June 2006. Germany was in World Cup fever. For the second time –the first time was in 1974- the Germans had the privilege to be the host country of the most followed sport event in the world. Everything was ready in overconfident Germany. Even tee-shirts and banners with “Germany World Cup Champion 2006”. We smiled at such naivety afterwards…
But not all people had a great opinion of the event. In spring 2006, the African Community in Berlin had declared in a press release that they wanted to protect foreigners and tourists from racist attacks in Germany during the World Cup. They had decided to publish a map of so-called “no-go areas”, which basically meant dangerous areas for people with dark skin or those who could be immediately perceived as foreigners. The focus was set on the new Länder of former Eastern German Republic, where more than hundred foreigners had been killed during racist attacks since the reunification.
The press release caused a heated controversy in the country. Former government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye added some fuel to the fire by saying during an interview with the radio channel Deutschlandradio: “There are small and medium cities in Brandeburg, and in other places, where I think a person with dark skin should not go. He or she might possibly not leave it alive”. In Berlin some hundred persons gathered around the Cameroun-born activist Simplice Lemovou and launched the World Cup Racism Help Line, a hotline service in different languages designed for tourists who might be victims of racist attack or abuse.
In such starry eyed days, the entire political family strongly reacted, forcing Uwe-Karsten Heye to apologize officially. Nobody really wanted to listen to the spoilsports raising the question of racism. Through its advertising campaign “Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden” (which was translated in English: “A time to make friends), Germany wanted to show the new face of a friendly, open-minded and tolerant society.
In the meanwhile, 2006 seemed to be the year of change. I still remember the theory that a German fellow journalist once told me. According to him, the worst nightmare of a German tourist would be for instance to be spotted as a German while enjoying a cappuccino and reading La Repubblica on the terrace of a nice café in Florence… Yes, there was a time -not so long ago- when it was hard to be a German. It was not something to be happy with, not something to be proud of…
But suddenly in the summer 2006, red, black and golden flags started to flourish on every corner. All of a sudden it seemed fine to make-up one’s chicks in Teutonic colors. Some explained the situation with the change of generations. The grandchildren of the baby-boomers were not directly affected by the familial difficulties of the national-socialist heritage and felt the repression as belonging to a distant past. But there was something more.
Among the supporters of 2006 there were also the so-called migrants! [For readers acquainted with German internal political discourse: You may want to discuss the word “migrants” itself, preferring to use the expression “person with migrant background” or “migrant child” or even “child born from a family with a migrant background”… I prefer not to beat around the bush and speak of “migrants”, a word that can easily be understood. Apologize for my political incorrectness]. Not having had to go through the difficult process of familiar and historical heritage, migrants and their children saw no problem in waving the German flag. In many places one could see Turkish flags –the Turks went up to the semi-final in 2006- together with Germans ones.
So-called Anti-Germans (in German Antideutsche), whose political movement was a response to the rise in racist attacks and nationalism in the wake of the German reunification, would call this attitude a complete misunderstanding of German history. But this could also be interpreted in a positive way. Deciding not to wait for a “national recognition” of their presence, “migrants” were sending a signal that they had “adopted” Germany themselves, and in their own way.
In fact politicians of the German Bundestag only recently recognized officially that Germany was “a migration country”. Which means some fifty years after the first Turks, Greeks, Yugoslavs, Italians and other Gastarbeiters had started to come to the German Federal Republic…
In 2005 a campaign had been launched by 25 media companies showing several kids, mostly with migration backgrounds, saying the innocent sentence “Du bist Deutschland” (You are Germany). The idea of the companies was to create “positive thinking and a new German national feeling”. For critics the expression was very unlucky, reminding Nazi banner with Hitler’s picture and the words “Denn du bist Deutschland” (Because you are Germany). Ghana-born German soccer player Gerald Asamoa supported the marketing campaign. In reaction, a campaign run by neo-nazis started on the Internet against him with stickers showing his picture with the words “Nein, Gerald, du bist nicht Deutschland” (No, Gerald, you are not Germany).
I already mentioned that it was not easy to be a German. But it is also not easy, when not impossible, to become one. The citizenship law for instance introduced in 2000 makes it easier for residents to obtain German citizenship but still requires the candidate to opt out of his or her former citizenship if he or she wants to become German. Small step by small step… And being German on paper does not make you a “real German”. I spare you the endless vocabulary around “Urdeutsche” (original Germans) or “Biodeutsche” (Bio-Germans) and other hilarious predicates. But migrants and their children, waving their flag, may still portray the new faces of a changing country.
In France, we had the Republican model – all French and only French in the public and private sphere- and in the UK, they had the multiculturalistic approach –British in the public sphere, whatever you feel like in private. Both models are being criticized nowadays. But Germany never had such policies. The process is therefore long and will take time, but it seems on the way. Even the German team is changing. There are already players like Poland-born Miroslav Klose or Brazil-born Cacau. And among this year’s new stars is the young German of Turkish origin Mesut Özil.
The last mark of an ongoing process for a successful integration “à la française”: Beside “nice guys” like Özil, Germany also has its “bad kids” like French Nicolas Anelka. Kevin-Prince Boateng! Well, Kevin-Prince is not really German because contrary to his brother Jérôme, who plays in the German national team, he, the “scum” of the Berlin district of Wedding, decided to keep the Ghanaian citizenship of his father and plays for the Ghanean national team. But it doesn’t matter. His foul on German captain Michael Ballack in the FA Cup final ruled Ballack out of the World Cup and made the “needed hate figure” out of him.
In Germany these days people claim that supporting the national team belongs to a “healthy patriotism” and has nothing to do with “ugly nationalism”. At least, Germany should say thank you to its migrants! They managed to send the Mannschaft into the quarterfinal (Özil at 60’). But above all they –either players or supporters- make German euphoria look much friendlier.
And as I finish these lines: 4-0… Deutschland! Schland! Schlan!