Dec 07 2013
The 20th century was a wicked roller coaster ride for Germany.
Two World Wars, each spawned by high levels of nationalism, both resulted in German defeat. In the course of less than fifty years, Germany’s territory, economy, and politics were reduced to rubble, rebuilt, and then subsequently destroyed multiple times. Post World War II, the Allied Powers split Germany into two countries to separate East from West during the Cold War, with the very visible divide in the form of the Berlin Wall. Only with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 did East and West Germany begin the process of reunification. So, where has that left German citizens?
Since the end of World War II, Germans have been wary of displaying national pride, which has been suggested by scholars to be a result of war shame and guilt . Even today, nearly seventy years since the end of WWII and over twenty years since the reunification, Germans show relatively low national pride compared to other nations with similar economic and political stability . However, when it comes to football, the display of national pride is a completely different story.
Much to everyone’s surprise, when Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, German flags flew everywhere during the World Cup. It even came to a surprise for Germans at the time, as the display of the flag became the No. 2 topic of conversation, right behind coverage of the actual World Cup games themselves . Prior to 2006, fans who waved or wore flags in public were less commonplace . In the 2010 World Cup, Germans who crowded into the stadium that held the semifinal between Germany and Spain covered themselves in the nation’s colors — black, gold, and red — and pridefully sang the Deutschland national anthem .
However, this rise in patriotism due to football has not been met without opposition. Back in Germany during the 2010 World Cup, shopkeeper Ibrahim Bassal, who is a German immigrant himself, hung up a giant German flag outside his shop that had been stolen twice — likely by members of the radical left-wing — and someone even tried to light the flag on fire . Since WWII, Germans have been particularly sensitive to the topic of displaying national pride, as it typically triggers thoughts of war, blind-allegiance, and shame.
Opponents of the increase in nationalism also cite a rise in xenophobia and racism as a main issue. After Germany defeated Denmark in a game during the 2012 UEFA European Championship, anonymous users on Twitter made racist comments about German player Mesut Özil, who is third generation Turkish-German, in hopes of sparking a hate campaign . Since German Turks form the largest minority in Germany , it makes sense that these racist comments would be particularly alarming.
Even though many view sport as an equalizer without any place in politics, it is difficult to deny that football has a history of being manipulated as a form propaganda. Could the football-induced nationalism directly lead to increased xenophobia or violence targeting minorities? Or is that stretching it a bit far? Many Germans and critics will continue to be cautious as traumatizing flashbacks of Nazi Germany haunt their psyche.
Contrastingly, is it so terrible to have the ability to publicly show pride in one’s own nation without being scorned? Germany will continue to emerge from its difficult past, and these are just some of the issues that Germans along with the rest of the world will have to deal with eventually. This is a particularly fascinating case study, and as the 2014 World Cup rolls around, it will be interesting to see the pro- and anti-nationalism dynamics play out once again.