Posted on June 23, 2024

In Germany, Football Has Made Nationalism Cool Again. That’s Why I’m Dreading the Euros

Fatma Aydemir, The Guardian, June 13, 2024

It was the summer I graduated from secondary school, when Germans openly displayed their patriotism for the first time in decades. I had survived Germany’s inherently racist education system, passed the final exams with acceptable grades, become the first in my working-class immigrant family to qualify for university. In short: I was ready to celebrate.

That summer of 2006 was surprisingly summery for Germany, so my classmates and I spent June organising outdoor parties, the last before we moved away to pursue our studies in other cities. But it was also the summer when Germany hosted the football World Cup and it quickly seemed to infect almost everyone around me with an enthusiasm for the alleged greatness of the reunified country. Like zombies, my white classmates transformed into aggressively drunk nationalists and our graduation parties turned into occasions for them to celebrate their Germanness together.

Overt patriotism had been taboo in German society for decades – for good reason. But in 2006 it felt as if an invisible chain had broken. Never before had I seen so many black-red-gold flags waving from windows, hanging in cars, painted on cheeks. All the symbolism and pride in being German that had been reserved primarily for neo-Nazis who had been busy beating up and killing immigrants throughout the 1990s had suddenly become mainstream.

The World Cup gave Germany permission for a positive expression of nationalism, a moment that many Germans may have yearned for since 1945, according to the millennial German Jewish writer Max Czollek, who describes this collective feeling of relief as “perpetrator solidarity”.

Being German was finally cool again, without needing to be weighed down by guilt over Nazi crimes. But this so-called “summer fairytale” – the kitschy marketing concept of the World Cup 2006 – was unfortunately not restricted to four weeks of football matches; it had a deep impact on the German self-image. In his book De-Integrate, Czollek even draws a direct connection between the 2006 World Cup and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland’s election into the Bundestag in 2017: “The former signified the normalisation of nationalism and national symbols, the latter demanded that corresponding concepts return to the front row of the political arena.”

When Germany won the World Cup in 2014, the national team were welcomed with a public victory celebration in the heart of Berlin, sponsored by major German brands and broadcast live by state channels. A journalist colleague rightly criticised this “warrior-like self-aggrandisement” of the national team and its ludicrous mocking of the defeated Argentinian players as “loser gauchos”. This caused a a social media furore. Proud German football fans didn’t want their fun spoiled, especially not by some lefty female journalist.

The presence of players from dual-heritage families on the German football team doesn’t really change the racist dynamic attached to this national fan culture. When the German team unexpectedly went out in the early group stage of the 2018 World Cup, Mesut Özil, a player of Turkish descent, quit the national team with the words: “I am German when we win but I am an immigrant when we lose.” Özil said he never wanted to wear the German national shirt again after an outcry over his meeting with the Turkish president and autocrat, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Of course, it was appropriate to criticise Özil’s endorsement of a political figure known for human rights violations and curbs on media freedom, but did it make his barb about not feeling accepted as a German any less valid? Moreover, given the corruption scandals around the 2006 World Cup, it’s hard to see the German football federation as a moral authority

Almost two decades after my graduation, a new “summer fairytale” of unbridled xenophobia and racism is the big fear among minorities and anti-fascists as Germany prepares to host the 2024 Uefa European Football Championship. We are not paranoid. Nobody should be surprised if the Euros unleash a wave of the most aggressive nationalism in Germany since the one we saw in 2006.

The current mood is a perfect breeding ground. Rightwing extremists have had secret meetings to discuss how to “remigrate” immigrants, their descendants and allies, once they are in power. The AfD overtook all the governing parties in last weekend’s European elections, and it is especially east Germans and young people who seem more and more attracted to the party’s extremist positions.

This was evident in a video that went viral recently. Filmed on Sylt, an elite German party island, the footage shows revellers chanting the unlawful Nazi slogan “Foreigners out – Germany for the Germans” to Gigi D’Agostino’s hit L’amour toujours while drinking champagne, dancing and making the illegal Nazi salute. Their terribly conventional dress and rosy faces confirmed what many already suspected: there is a new generation of wealthy, young and powerful Germans who don’t care about the guilt of the country’s Nazi past, let alone feel it. It is not a topic of shame for them. Instead, it appears to be a history to celebrate when they are among their peers. I call them the rich toddlers of 2006.

Luckily, some faces from the video were identified, and some are reported to have lost their jobs as a result of the ensuing outrage. But new videos of different people at other parties chanting the same song have also appeared, with faces blurred. You can already guess what the unofficial anthem of the European Cup will be, when the German flags are out once again.

Multiculturalism is a positive trait only when the football tournament is won. In the run-up to the Euros, a new survey found that 21% of Germans agreed that there should be more white players in the national football team. I can’t decide what is scarier: this answer, or the question being asked in this survey?

I, for one, will be doing what I have done since 2006: hoping that the German football team – again one of the favourites – lose their opening matches and get kicked out of the tournament as quickly as possible. It might be the only way to limit the ugly party mood.