Monthly Archives: May 2016

Cuteness against PEGIDA

There was a brilliant moment in one of the presidential debates between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama where Mr. Romney was trying to lambast President Obama for being out of touch with the needs of the American military. Mitt Romney had made an impressive showing in the first debate, and Obama seemed to need a touch-up lesson in debating if he was going to secure reelection. Obama, in response to Romney’s critique that Obama would cut military spending and reduce the military’s size, pounced. Our military is smaller than it was in 1960 because “we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” Obama also patronizes Romney and starts describing military equipment to him as if Romney were 7 years old. You can watch it here.

I’ve long thought that the only way to win, rhetorically, against the radical and extreme rights (although, let’s be clear, Romney is not – compared to Trump – that radical or extreme) is to be funny. Funny, silly, ridiculous, alberndoof – whatever you want to call it. Trying to debate irrational and empty claims with reason is absurd.

Whether Frauke Petry or Donald Trump, the only thing they have on offer are patronizing, authoritarian commentary and a hot temper.

Last Friday, the Kinder (Children) chocolate brand unveiled a new series of packaging that was a masterful marketing ploy to advertise for the European Soccer Championship. The standard packaging shows a blond child as the face of the brand. But somehow, Kinder managed to get childhood pictures of members of the national German soccer team and issued a special edition of the chocolate bars with players like Götze, Schürrle, Kramer – and Gündogan (who has Turkish roots) and Boateng (who has Ghanian roots, and whose brother plays for the Ghanian national team). You can see the video here.

PEGIDA adherents hated it. They posted disparaging comments on Facebook which were taken down by Ferrero, the Italian owner of Kinder.

But PEGIDA, whose leader Lutz Bachmann, was recently convicted on charges of inciting the people, now just looks a little bit “silly,” as the Washington Post and Stern have reported. Not only were Facebook users not having all this disparaging talk, but hundreds of Twitter followers have posted pictures of themselves as children under the hashtag #cutesolidarity, started by Zeit reporter Mohamed Amjahid:

Translated: #cutesolidarity is an antiracist mini-campaign against Pegida and AfD, who spread hate. In constrast, we don’t just win soccer tournaments [by playing] together.

The pictures posted under the hashtag normalize childhood, which is one of the most effective antiracist visual strategies I’ve seen in a long time. Humor helps. The childlike playfulness of this campaign is a strong antidote to the constant temper tantrums of the far-right.

 

 

 

 

“For Thinking” / Zum Nachdenken

There’s a lot going on, as always, in European politics. Germany has proposed an “integration law” to be enacted later this month. Lutz Bachmann has provisionally been found guilty of inciting the people, a verdict many thought would not materialize and which has yet to be enacted. Austria has elected a far-right chancellor after Werner Faymann, Angela Merkel’s right hand man who helped open the borders last September, abruptly resigned. In Idomeni, tear gas was used against refugees trying to push a train through a border fence. Thousands are still trapped in Greece, and more arrive in Italy daily. Dr. Frauke Petry keeps talking.

But there are some amazing pieces of work being produced in these times.

These two German audio documentaries have given me much to think about in the past week. Anna Frenyo produced this documentary called “The Fence” for SWR last December. In it, she goes deep into the supply lines and politics of construction that led to the construction of a border fence between Hungary and Serbia last fall.

This radio documentary produced for ARD by Thomas Gaevert, which was produced last September, is called “Wer ist das Volk?” or “Who is the people?” Through interviews with former East German guestworkers, primarily from Vietnam and Mozambique, he seeks to find historical continuity between the rhetoric used in the former East to describe foreign workers and the persistence of this rhetoric about foreigners in the paroles of the PEGIDA movement.

 

The folks at wirmachendas.jetzt have such an impressive array of projects that one can get lost in their mix of reportage, reviews and services. The website has an English tab, and one of the aesthetic projects that is highly innovative is the Syrian Mobile Films Festival, which recently had a screening in BOX.Freiraum in Berlin. Building on the use of mobile phone cameras in the Arab protest movements, the Syrian Mobile Films Festival moves throughout Syria and other locations to encourage professional directors and amateurs to make low-budget films with phones. This group also offers the “pixel” training program for emerging young directors through grants and awards.

The mission statement of the SMFF states that it “seeks to present free and different cinematic vision, a vision believes that the higher accuracy image is not necessarily the most clearness one.”

Finally, Idil Baydar has written this piece for ZEIT MAGAZIN, the glossy magazine of the weekly politics and arts newspaper Die Zeit. In it, she performs the code-switching which made her famous as the character Jilet Ayse, whom I blogged about here.

My dream is that we stop blowing smoke. Instead we should finally show young people more respect, recognition and attention. That’s what we call empowerment, it’s real cool, but most Germans don’t know about it. Valla haram Almanya, I swear, that’s not cool, Germany!

She also distinguishes between the freedom of speech and crossing the line to impose discriminatory rule:

You get it? You don’t get nothing? The Jilet in me would say: ok, I’m talking slowly and clearly with you. Pegida can walk to Germania and back, but please, please don’t determine how we, the majority in this beautiful country, should live with each other. Germany, you’re doing AfD, upper limit and stuff. I have solution! We make with you welcoming-kültür workshop, totally da bomb, valla! Chill your life, Germany! Then you be ok, too.

 

 

 

AfD Party Meeting in Stuttgart

Last weekend, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD/Alternative for Germany) party met in Stuttgart for their first national party meeting. This meeting was the focus of much attention for several reasons. First, the AfD is a new party, so what they decide at this meeting will shape both the party platform and the party’s ambitions. These ambitions are now clearly focused on national, rather than merely provincial, representation. Second, the party currently has two factions: the neoliberal-conservative group around Frauke Petry, and the nationalist-conservative group around Alexander Gauland, one of the founders of the party as a Euro-sceptic party. How the party will cope with dissent within its ranks is one of the questions political scientist Cas Mudde (UGA) tweeted the day before the meeting began. Given the warm welcome to racist-extremist Björn Höcke, it seems like the AfD will continue moving towards the right.

Finally, the party meeting itself was a controversial event, which inspired intense protest from left-autonomous groups and the preliminary arrests of 400-500 people. The Twitter feed from the German Association of Investigative Journalists posted a press release about crackdowns by police on the freedom of the press on May 2nd, when four photojournalists were arrested for participating in a sitting protest along the highway A8 and blocking traffic. Other charges included threatening behavior (Nötigung) and disturbing the peace. The press release details humiliation by police officers and that two of the journalists needed medical attention. It’s difficult to discern from the video below how extensive the protest was, but newspaper reports describe both protests near the convention center as well as a more peaceful protest in downtown Stuttgart.

 

My favorite use of technology as protest, however, was started by the satirical news broadcast extra-3 (the broadcast responsible for the recent Erdogan jokes). Deciding that the hashtag #AfD should really stand for “Aufmerksamkeit für Dackel” or “Attention to Dachshunds,” Twitter users started using the hashtag to tweet images of Dachshunds, making fun of the party and its approach to power.

The party meeting seems to have been largely symbolic – with a party program almost 80 pages long, the party meeting was hampered by organizational specifics and began late due to the protests. Of the more than 1,500 points to discuss, the party broached merely four. The “Islam Debate” was one of those four, and has caused the most uproar, with the Central Board of Jews in Germany and Green politician Volker Beck loudly condemning the AfD’s decision to include the statement that “Islam does not belong to Germany” in their program. (“Islam belongs to Germany” was a famous statement made by then-Federal President Christian Wulff in response to a racist polemic against Muslims published by Thilo Sarrazin in 2010, which monopolized the German newswaves for months.)

The best recap of the party meeting was by Lenz Jacobsen of Zeit Online, who summarized several important points:

  • Björn Höcke, the radical new right leader from Thüringen, who is infamous for making racist statements especially about Muslims, was the real star of the party. He showed up hours late, said nothing, but was greeted with so much applause that the person leading the meeting was clearly irritated and forced to stop the proceedings.
  • Albrecht Glaser is their candidate for federal president (a largely symbolic office), and was frequently addressed as “Mr. President-Elect.”
  • The provincial arm of the AfD in Saarland has been disbanded from the national AfD for working together with the NPD (Neonazi Party). Federal arbitrators are now the responsible party for the dispute.
  • Jacobsen rightly also points to the contradiction of the AfD and other groups like PEGIDA for hating foreigners who are Muslim, but praising white foreigners – like special guest Vaclav Klaus, former president of Czechia – who share their nationalistic approach. Indeed, for me, this transnational flow of right-wing ideas and collaboration across right-wing nationalistic parties is one of the most fascinating aspects of contemporary European nationalist-populism.

Finally, although the AfD has mostly been receiving press attention for their racist ideas towards Muslims and declarations by Beatrix von Storch that she would have border guards shoot refugees trying to enter Germany, queer.de published an important commentary on the heteronormative family biopolitics of the AfD called “Homophobia for Everyone!” The written goals of the AfD include elements of political struggles common to US audiences in the context of “culture wars”: no abortion, children should have two, opposite sex, traditional parents; Gender Studies should be abolished as a discipline; school curricula should not include mentions of homosexual behavior or transgendered folk; the German Christian heritage should be preserved. The ways in which this backlash would affect queer minorities can be intuited; what is important to remember is that backlash against queers extend negative effects to women and girls, single parents, divorced parents, step-families, infertile couples and single adults.

In reading through the program published by the AfD in advance of the meeting last weekend, what struck me is how the AfD party program reads like a textbook of the goals of the new right. There is an emphasis on promoting ethno-nationalist goals for Germany in order to strengthen the nation, all the while hoping to revert to some kind of mythical distant past in which there is no political union amongst European nations and no immigration. Immigrants are explicitly marked as criminal at several points in the program. Despite the prevalence of women at the top ranks of the party (Frauke Petry, Beatrix von Storch and Alice Weidel – who is romantically partnered with a woman), the platform is misogynist and homophobic – which are all part of the more basic repression in extremist movements to “close down the marketplace of ideas” (Lipset & Raab, 1970) and refuse to accept pluralism.

As the Green Party posted after the close of the party meeting:  “AFD: POLITICS FROM A DIFFERENT TIME. – Back to atomic energy, out of Europe, women in the kitchen . . . the program of the AfD is reactionary.”