Refugees defy limits at Greek/Macedonian Border

There are three events that are of massive importance right now in the interaction between right-wing populism, irregular migration and refugee rights.

First, the EU and Turkey are proposing a “one-in-one-out” deal that will involve a bizarre rearrangement of refugees being returned to Turkey as those in Turkish camps then get passage to Europe. The UN has called this deal illegal and in violation of European refugee law and rights.

Second, the state (provincial) elections in Germany on Super Sunday led the AfD to a huge win in three states: Baden-Württemburg, Sachsen-Anhalt and Rheinland-Pfalz. Sachsen-Anhalt saw the AfD win almost 25% of the vote. The AfD is quickly on its way to becoming a party of hate, with party positions formally against Muslims and LGBT people. The AfD and Donald Trump share rhetorical strategies.

Third, a thousand refugees – among many thousands trapped for days in Greece at the Macedonian border – have defied the border crossing and begun to reach Macedonia. There is amazing footage posted on YouTube from the town of Chamilo as people attempt to cross the river. It’s cold; three people have died trying to cross the river. It’s being called the #marchofhope. Macedonia is not a member of the EU. I am not sure of the legal ramifications for crossing from the EU (i.e., Greece) into a non-member state. *UPDATE 3/16/2016: It seems as if this crossing was primarily motivated by activists distributing leaflets in Arabic trying to convince people to risk their lives for a political statement. The Macedonian police simply held and then deported those who crossed.

Chaos breeds chaos; anxiety produces more anxiety. Where is the leadership whose values are rooted in common sense and a sense of humanitarian urgency?

Clausnitz

There’s a German idiom that may also be similar in British English, but it’s one I’ve never heard Americanized:

“Ich glaub’, ich bin im falschen Film.” Literally this means: I think I’m in the wrong movie. Figuratively, it means that something is out of place. Something went wrong, and you ended up on someone else’s movie set. You’re thinking to yourself, this can’t be happening. This is surreal.

Refugees arrived in the Saxon town of Clausnitz last Thursday, February 18th, late at night. Saxony is the province where PEGIDA was founded, and Clausnitz is right near the border to the Czech Republic. PEGIDA and their Czech counterparts (right-wing populists) have marched together during events held in Sebnitz, about an hour and a half away.

On Thursday, this video was posted to YouTube, which shows terrified refugees sobbing as they exit the bus to chants of “Wir sind das Volk! We are the people!” As Stefan Kuzmany wrote in Der Spiegel on Friday: these demonstrators are not das Volk:

You’re not the people. […]

You’re grown men who make children cry.

I post this video with reservation: the camera is focused on the refugees, but I really wish it were aimed at the demonstrators. They should not be allowed to remain anonymous; a faceless mob. That imbues them with power, and objectifies the refugees who are already nameless and faceless and invisible as individuals. According to the BBC, the state Interior Minister, Markus Ulbig, described [the situation] as “deeply shameful.” All the more reason to shame the perpetrators through identification – rather than the victims.

As this story has developed, some troubling events have come to light. As the SZ reported, the manager of the asylum home is a man aptly named Thomas Hetze, a member of the AfD (Alternative for Germany) Party. He holds what they call “a questionable worldview.” I’ll say. Hetze has publicly hetzte (incited) citizens at events where he’s spoken out against “asylchaos” or “refugee chaos.” Despite his political attitudes, the government office responsible for staffing his position says he can stay:

“As long as he doesn’t break the law, there’s no problem,” says Diester Steiner from the government office of the county (Asylstab). That Hetze applied for this job despite his political convictions shows that he has a good attitude.” (SZ)

This comment itself is surreal. Hetze, with his political ties, seems to have informed others about the arrival and created this PR and humanitarian disaster. According to the MDR, Hetze’s brother was part of the group organizing the mob. I’ve seen tweets implying that Hetze himself was one of only a few people who knew the refugees would be coming. Nighttime arrivals seem to be common practice, perhaps to avoid precisely this kind of politicization. With right-wing violence high in this area, and asylum homes being burned down with impunity as a method of protest, political orientations matter because some of them in this day and age are violent. Humans are social creatures. Our networks may not predict, but they surely influence, our actions.

Even more embarrassing are the comments of the President of the Chemnitz Police, Uwe Reißmann, who defended the actions of the police on that evening and declared at a press conference that refugees would be charged with provocation for filming. One ten year old boy  gave protestors the middle finger as he was dragged crying off the bus, and through the mob into the building designated for housing. That, apparently, was a provocation. Being verbally assaulted by an angry mob? That was a situation that was “unpredictable” and “impossible to contain.” The federal minister of the interior, Thomas de Maziere, defended Reißmann’s actions on Sunday evening on the ARD network:  “I can’t think of any criticism of this police engagement.”

I think I’m in the wrong movie.

 

Update: 2/22/2016 8:45am EST: According to this article in Stern, Hetze has been removed from his post – for his own protection.

 

 

Beware the Alternatives

In the two-party governance system of the United States, graphs like these may seem confusing:

The state news channel ARD tweeted the results of an election poll yesterday with six viable parties, and another column in grey for all the rest. The Christian Democrats, Merkel’s party, lead with 35% of voters; followed by the moderate Social Democrats with 24%. Two left-wing parties, the Left and the Greens, have about 10% each. The neo-liberal Free Democratic Party is barely making the 5% threshold required to enter parliament. Then there’s the shocker: the far-right, nationalistic party called Alternative for Germany is pulling in a whopping 12%. According to the tweet under the image, it seems like AfD is mostly gaining voters who previously voted for the center-right Christian Democrats.

If you want to understand German politics right now, the AfD is probably the most prescient indicator of how the political mood in Germany is changing.

What’s also very important to understand is that this sea change has been gradual, and been in motion for much longer than the refugee crisis. AfD was founded in 2012 and first appeared in the 2013 federal elections, where they ran primarily on a platform of Euro-scepticism. The “Alternative” in their party name is understood as desiring a political alternative to the European Union and shared currency. They are doing well because Europe has started to teeter on the edge of political and economic collapse by being embroiled in two crises: one, the Greek economic crisis, and two, the refugee crisis. They are also doing well because they have managed, as a party, to oust all of their center-right founders. The far-right has taken control of the party.

Which brings me to the initial purpose of this post: the AfD has recently made some terrifying statements that can only be described as morally corrupt. Both the chairwoman of the party, Frauke Petry, and her representative, Beatrix von Storch, called for border guards to shoot refugees as a solution to the crisis in late January.  Von Storch was nothing less than clear in this FaceBook comments thread:

Hans Werner: That’s ridiculous. Are you going to limit access of women with children on the green meadows [border landscape] with armed force?

Beatrix von Storch: Yes.

Katharina König: Shoot at children? Beatrix von Storch, #AfD says “Yes” Does anyone else have questions about this party? #coldcountry

There has been a massive amount of press attention to these statements, as there well should be. Petry and von Storch are trying to distance themselves from their PR disaster, with little success. And yet – for those voters AfD continues to poach from moderate right parties – these statements clearly have appeal. The AfD is becoming the party PEGIDA is legally prevented from becoming. On the rest of the political spectrum – including the centrist and left-wing parties – there must be some serious scrambling going on to find alternatives to the Alternativ.

Cologne – The Facts We Have

A number of Americans have asked me about the events in Cologne this past week. A number of Germans who live in America are reporting that their communities are increasingly divided and agitated about what is happening. The events on News Year’s Eve at the Cologne central train station are a global event, and #koelnhbf is the next hashtag to follow #staddefrance – although the events are quite different in magnitude.

What is difficult about explaining the events in Cologne to a foreign audience is how murky the facts remain. As protests take place in front of the station today, including one by Pegida recently broken up by police, what is clear is that the events of New Year’s Eve have stoked resentments and exacerbated political tensions that have long been present. Reports of sexual violence are being instrumentalized to racialize Muslim populations and stoke xenophobic fears of “invasion.” At the same time, it has become clear that the police response to such a disturbance were ineffective – partly because of the style of criminal behavior. The Cologne Chief of Police has voluntarily entered early retirement – which means he effectively lost his job over his mishandling of the situation. Police initially reported a peaceful New Year’s Eve celebration – until tens of claims of theft and assault were filed, at which point the police created their own commission to handle the investigation.

The basic facts seem to be that a large number of drunk men were shooting off firecrackers in the crowded station, and were groping and encircling young women as a tactic to distract them from noticing that they were also being robbed. According to this article in Spiegel Online, this tactic is not new: they report that more than 11,000 people have been robbed using this tactic in the past three years. This kind of sexual harrassment is – I can well imagine – a successful diversionary tactic precisely because it is physically and emotionally violent.

A wide variety of sensationalist right-wing press attention has exaggerated these reports and attempted to create hysterical panic. Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann has posed in pictures wearing an offensive “rape-fugees not welcome” t-shirt. These stories often portray a violent mob of 1,000 migrants wantonly raping and attacking young women, like the narrative on the website Right Wing News. These reports are exaggerated, if not false. Numbers vary, but the number of rapes reported vacillates between 1 and 2; the number of men at the train station between 500 and 1,000. The state-run news media tagesschau emphasizes that we are not talking about 1,000 perpetrators; rather, the number represents the general size of the entire crowd.

The Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, a local Cologne paper, reported today that the number of reported crimes has risen from 170 to 379. About 40% of these offenses constitute sexualized crimes, like groping. The ethnicity of the perpetrators has been partially identified; an early police report erroneously called all of them “refugees.” According to the NYTimes:

The Interior Ministry identified the 31 suspects as nine Algerians, eight Moroccans, four Syrians, five Iranians, an Iraqi, a Serb, an American and two Germans. Most of the crimes they were accused of involved theft and violence, said a ministry spokesman, Tobias Plate, but at least three acts were considered sexual assaults.

According to WDR, a German state news station, the police had identified 32 suspects, with 29 “foreigners” in the group (the numbers are the same as the NYTimes, with the exception of having 3 Germans rather than 2). 22 of the suspects are supposely seeking asylum. Given the long duration of asylum proceedings, however, we have no information about how long any of these suspects have been in Germany.

According to criminologist Rita Steffens, the use of sexually-based tactics to commit theft is an emerging trend in criminal behavior that is not restricted to Cologne. The intensity and quantity of assaults are new.

In contrast to the attention being paid to determining what happened on New Year’s Eve, most of the press attention has started furiously circulating around questions of race, class, gender and integration. These debates are self-multiplying and prohibit the emergence of a reasoned response to the complex issues at hand. This press attention will be the subject of the next post.

 

 

Merkel’s Speech at the CDU Party Meeting

On December 14th, Angela Merkel gave an hour-long speech to members of her party the CDU. She’s been having quite a run, especially after being named TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year, and the speech has been widely covered by English-language media.

The Washington Post published a piece with the title “Multiculturalism is a sham, says Merkel” on December 14th. There’s not much more to that piece than its title, with one reference to her 2010 speech where she declared that “Multiculturalism has failed.” This article by the Guardian is evidence of much more responsible reporting, including several direct quotations on many issues from Merkel’s almost 80 minute speech. The Guardian also includes the statement on multiculturalism and links it to Merkel’s 2010 speech, but tempers this statement with criticisms of aid organizations as well as Merkel’s attempt to position German politics on the landscape of European integration.

What is missing from this English-language reporting is an understanding of what multiculturalism means in a German context.

Germany has never had a state-sponsored program of multicultural rights. Canada is a much better model of multicultural policy. Germans thus mean something different when they speak of multiculturalism – it’s a mix of having a diverse population, accompanied by the notion that civic participation and assimilation will happen without policies that provide access to populations of color and without having to discuss racism or equal opportunity. Multiculturalism doesn’t mean multiculturalism at all in this idiom: it is German shorthand for a policy of neglect. True multiculturalism seeks to strike a balance between group and individual rights in a way that is legally protected and does not infringe too much on human rights (although the criticisms are prevalent). German Multikulti is as much of a misnomer as using the English word “handy” to describe a cell phone.

Merkel’s speech – as is to be expected – is a political utterance. Because of its length, it also has a political logic all its own.

The speech begins with a list of events, month by month, that affected Europe. Merkel seems to be doing this intentionally: she emphasizes the role of Germany in Europe rather than allowing the nationalism of the CSU to taint her own speech. The banner raised behind her on the stage reads “For Germany and Europe,” the bright orange letters standing out against the blue banner as a political slogan.

The list is overwhelming. January: Charlie Hebdo. February: Minsk negotiations for peace in Ukraine. March: the German Wings crash. April: a special meeting of European leaders in the face of hundreds of deaths in the Mediterranean. June and July: Greek negotiations, a test of strength for Europe that has not yet been passed. June: G7 summit about climate change and the recognition of climate refugees. August: Prognosis of asylum seekers for this year: 800,000. Sept. 4-5: Thousands of refugees were stranded in Budapest, and Germany and Austria’s decided to allow them free entry. Merkel calls this decision “a humanitarian imperative.”  October 4: 25 years of German Reunification. November 13: the attacks in Paris. November 15: Cancellation of the German soccer match in Hannover.

By twenty minutes in, Merkel begins her historical rallying cry. Germany survived the Cold War and rebuilt itself out of rubble after the Holocaust. It is a country which doesn’t hedge its bets. Citing several famous historical utterances, Merkel insists that Germany chose freedom, not *some* freedom. (Wir wählen die Freiheit, nicht *etwa* Freiheit.) The economic miracle which followed World War II brought affluence for everyone, not affluence for almost everyone (Wohlstand für alle, nicht Wohlstand für *fast* alle).

This historical precedent also applies to the refugee crisis. After thanking the volunteers who are serving across the country to assist the processing of refugees, Merkel does the exact opposite of what her speech has set us up to expect. She hedges her bets. Germany can do it, but only if they reduce the number of refugees. According to Merkel, this is in no way contradictory and is in everyone’s best interest: Germany can only integrate so many refugees; Europe can only house so many refugees, and as for the refugees – well, no one leaves their homeland lightly, she says.

Germany can do it, but only with European help and partners like Greece and Turkey securing their borders. Refugees – at least some of them – have to be deported so that it becomes clear that legal protection is a status and laws have consequences.

And all of this takes time. Merkel undergoes a thought experiment about halfway through the speech. She asks her audience to imagine Germany in 2025. Later she will talk about imagining Germany 25 years from now. That repetition of 25, even though mathematically inconsistent, is important. 2015 is the 25th anniversary year of German reunification. It’s a symbolic gesture towards the unforeseeable changes Germany has already undergone since the Fall of the Iron Curtain, and an acknowledgement that just as many changes await them in the coming 25 years.

She uses this thought experiment to point out how young the refugee problem is. In ten years, she posits, Germans will look back on the actors of today and judge them for their lack of imagination. It’s only been four months! How impatient are we if we later look back and realize that we didn’t even allow ourselves the necessary time to arrive at a solution to a massive problem.

Some of her sustainable solutions to the refugee problem have ominous overtones: the establishment of a central database at all levels of civil society for refugees, as well as a two-year waiting period for family togetherness if subjects do not receive immediate refugee status. Merkel lauds Turkey, despite recent claims of humanitarian abuses by Amnesty International, as a primary partner in solving this global problem.  Rich countries are to be criticized for allowing aid organizations like UNHCR and the World Food Program to run out of funding, she says.

The part to her speech which is being picked up in these English language articles is actually a very small portion placed near the end. During this section, Merkel ponders the effects of cultural contact. After such an influx, what will remain of the Germany we know?

After stating her opposition to multiculturalism, she states: “The opposite of that [Multikulti] is integration. Integration that demands the openness to those who come to us, but as well as the readiness of those who come to us to adhere to our values and traditions. […] We will learn from our mistakes. […] Countries always profit from successful immigration, but that requires integration.”

She portrays the CDU as a people’s party; a party that creates bridges; a party that is neither a worker’s party nor a party of the elite, but which can cross borders and recognize individual dignity. The positioning is strategic – and pits the CDU against the SPD (traditionally blue-collar) and die Linke (a socialist party). More importantly, Merkel comes full circle and portrays the CDU as the party which developed the European vision and led directly to the integration of European countries into the EU.

This is, most likely, a simplification – but it is a strategic one.

English-language coverage of this speech misrepresents Merkel’s positioning by focusing on one line with a certain cultural connotation in Germany. Merkel agitates in this speech primarily for the German position within Europe – which, of course, requires an articulation of national identity and preservation of purportedly German values. But she is primarily pushing back against the anti-European sentiments of PEGIDA and the AfD party; she is cajoling her European partners to participate in solving the refugee problem together; and she is no more racist than any other central right party (and probably only moderately racist when compared to the rhetoric coming from the CSU, the AfD and PEGIDA). (It’s also ridiculous that I find myself in a position where I am quantifying levels of racism.) But it’s important to see the shades of intensity when comparing Merkel to some of the more populist elements of her party.

A better title? “Merkel insists on German Role in European Union and Stakes CDU’s Distance from German Far-Right.” But that’s not so catchy, is it?

I guess that’s why I’m not writing for the Washington Post. 

Digital Narratives

North German Radio (NDR – a subsidiary of ARD) has started a new long-form narrative storytelling series they are promoting with the hashtag #EinMomentDerBleibt  (A Moment Which Remains). In twenty to thirty minute videos, refugees to Germany – all shot standing or sitting next to a wooden chair against a white photostudio paper background – tell their stories about how they came to Germany.

Here is the story of Aeda and Bassam, from Syria. They tell their story in Arabic, and are dubbed in German in a way where viewers can still hear their own voices. They are from Damascus, and Bassam came along the sea route to Germany, where he watched another boat perish before his eyes. He himself developed heart problems from the journey. His wife often defers to him, and walks out of the frame at the beginning of the video as the story becomes too painful. The family patriarch standing on the sterile, white background looks lonely. The mood, in this story as well as some of the other videos available, bears a testament to the strengths of the traumatized. His wife walks off the stage, but he remains standing. She rejoins him and finds her voice. Bassam was the first to make it to Greece. After a long time, Aeda decided to take the children and join him, without his knowing, and with the help of a trafficker. There’s a steeliness to both of them. Aeda and the children were imprisoned twice, once on the Turkish coast and once in Greece. They travelled as a family from Greece to Macedonia by train, where they witnessed the death of a forty-year old man on the train. The man’s 15 year old son, who has some kind of mental disability, was taken along by his father on the trip, and was left alone after his death.

The family travelled by foot through Serbia and Hungary. Bassam reports that the Hungarian police were by far the most brutal, and had no empathy for the differences between children and adults making the journey, especially very small children.

According to the NDR schedule from last week, these short narrative films are airing late at night – after 11pm. There are ten portraits listed on the NDR website with refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, and other countries.

Given the escalating violence against homes for asylum seekers, refugee children in schools, and even the violence incurred by the policing of left-wing demonstrations to occupy buildings with the hopes of finding refugees housing, this kind of storytelling is imminently political and a laudable intervention to allow refugees to speak for themselves over a long period of time (rather than in soundbytes) or to merely be spoken about by politicians and journalists. I don’t know if these videos always air at night, but rather than filling airtime after most people have gone to bed, this series should be playing at prime time. Air them in the late afternoon, cut out a rereun of the odious Two and a Half Men, and then show another one after parents and adults get home from work. Cut the piano music that introduces the trailer and story; make the entry into the storytelling as steely as the narrative that follows. Find a way to market not to the volunteers who are already sympathetic, but to the tough brutes who think that the AfD and Pegida offer viable alternatives.

The lines between agitprop, propaganda and publicity are so porous. And in this age of populist Hetze – whether it’s Donald Trump, Horst Seehofer or Marine LePen – the only thing we might have going for the rest of us is spin. So spin this. Spin people’s stories and give them as much agency as possible (at least 30 minutes worth) for them to wind up and come back down.

 

Comparisons

There is rhetoric in the United States that keeps insisting on making the comparison between Nazis and ISIS/Daesh. And as an American Germanist/Auslandsgermanist, I feel compelled to articulate why this comparison falls short.

One of the most disturbing instances I have seen comes from a meme circulating on Facebook. Vice News notes that this image was tweeted by a US State Department Account:

This image has turned into a meme on Facebook. The meme text labels the two images: NAZIS and ISIS. The bottom of the meme reads: UNDERSTAND YET? (This is not the only image – do a GoogleSearch and you’ll come up with hundreds of similar comparisons, some of them German).

Like most slick comparisons, this one falls short – although it has political weight. As VICE reports:

In American political oratory, a Nazi or Hitler comparison is the ultimate in establishing an enemy in need of fighting. After all, who could turn a blind eye to the Nazis?

Both groups are responsible for war and terror, yes. Both have committed acts of ethnic cleansing. But the historical precendents are different. The Nazis were a political party that morphed into fascist dictatorship and relied on a cult of personality. Daesh are religious terrorists who believe the end times are near and are willing to court the apocalypse. The motivating factors for each group are different, as are the structures within their organizations. And as Natasha Lennard points out in her VICE article, comparing Daesh to the Nazis misses the mark because it does not acknowledge the power of Daesh in their own right. Constantly comparing America’s enemies to Hitler prevents us from acknowledging that Daesh (and any other potential enemy) is ruthless on its own terms. No comparison is necessary to understand the level of brutality Daesh is capable of enacting.

In a bizarre twist on this comparison, Donald Trump told Yahoo News today that he would not stop short of targeting American Muslims in ways that resemble the political persecution of the Jews:

Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.

“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.

“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

If you’re looking for a comparison to Nazi Germany – and I want to be very clear, I don’t think we should be looking for such a comparison – then there’s one group I can think of which really does bear some resemblance to fascists: the wonky cast of characters currently seeking the Republican Party nomination for president. As frontrunner, Donald Trump is the most obvious example. Trump, whose campaign the Huffington Post will only cover in the Entertainment Section, has spouted racist rhetoric, developed a cult following, and quite literally, has just been prodded by a Yahoo News reporter into proposing a system of religous persecution that has a historical precedent as part of a fascist regime. Trump’s bombastic rhetoric is insane, yes, but it is also populist to the core, elevating the “people” above all other groups. All political slogans carry with them a hint of nationalism, but “Make America Great Again” is not shy about its narrative. This narrative is also prototypically fascist, calling for a rebirth of the nation after a period of decline (such as World War I or – in more moderate terms – the Great Recession). Trump’s obvious megalomania and large following begs to be described as a “cult of personality,” and his unwillingness to answer any questions that require him to acknowledge his own weaknesses point to the desire to consolidate power.

Comparisons require some level of similarity in order to be apt. Obvious violent acts are not specific enough to prompt comparison. A lot of groups use violence, but their motivations for doing so are almost always different.

But violence almost always starts with rhetoric. By that logic, the prevention of violence can start from rhetorical analysis.

What now?

In the days after the Paris attacks, as France bombs the Syrian city of Raqqa, and American politicians use this tragedy to further their own political campaigns; as family members are called to account not only for the death of their family members, but also for their inability to discern radicalism developing in their brothers, whom they must now also grieve; and as refugees now reckon with growing hate and animosity towards them – if they have been lucky enough to make it to Europe; there is very little I find worthy of saying.

As Sabine Hark, a prominent German feminist, has written on the feministische studien blog, we have a duty to work together to develop a new moral order – one which does not privilege the victims of Paris over the victims of Beirut or Bagdad – in which everyone has the same right to participation; the same right to both share and make the world.

Laurent Dubois has written on the Soccer Politics and Africa is a Country blogs about the historical role of the Stade de France as a place of (literal and metaphorical) refuge.

Mohammed Abdeslam, a brother of two of the attackers in Paris, gave a moving press conference this morning, shown in video by the New York Times. His final words: “We are indeed thinking of the victims, the families of the victims. But you have to understand, we have family, we have a mom, and he remains her child. Thank you.”

PEGIDA marched through the streets of Dresden as usual.

Jilet Ayse / Idil Baydar / Gerda Grischke

About four years ago, the Berliner Werkstatt der Kulturen hosted a reading by the editors and contributors of the encyclopedia project Wie Rassismus aus Wörtern spricht (How Racism Speaks through Words). The bar area of the theater and gallery was packed – people were sitting on the floor, or uncomfortably close on some of the seats and couches, and a variety of contributors placed at microphones around the room read from their entries on words like “race” and “integration” and “foreigner.” The book was available for something like 40 or 50 Euros, and you got your money’s worth: this volume is truly encyclopedic, weighing in at several pounds and several hundred pages. The Werkstatt der Kulturen, the long-standing organizers of the Carneval of Cultures parade and contest in Berlin, had long been a location for topics of race, racism and difference. In light of the Sarrazin debates, the WdK had hosted three panel discussions about race hosted by Michel Friedmann in late 2010 with guests ranging from Shermin Langhoff, artistic director at that time of the Ballhaus Naunynstraße, Naika Foroutan and Kien Nghi Ha, social scientists working on these questions, and Nadja Afouatey-Alazard, the co-editor of this volume with Susan Arndt and a filmmaker and academic in her own right.

Glossar NdMM

An association of journalists called Neue Deutsche Medienmacher has now undertaken a similar project on a smaller scale and directed specifically at journalists. They define their project on their website as follows:

“As journalists we work every day with our tool: language. Our reports are supposed to present the facts correctly, without judgment, and with precision. Frequently, however, words like “immigrant” or “migrant” stand alongside each other in the same text with the assumption that these words mean the same thing. They don’t.”

The NDM has commissioned the comedian Jilet Ayse to perform satirical riffs on various entries in this glossary. In the most recent episode, Ayse defines “Armutszuwanderer” (loosely translated: poverty immigrants; those who are driven to emigrate due to poverty; “Wirtschaftsflüchtling” is another version of this term commonly translated as “economic migrant”).

Ayse’s character for these videos wears a poofed, bleached blong pompadour, with massive (and probably heavy!) hoop earrings, and her trademark t-shirt which says “WALLAH: Ich habe nix gemacht.” Each episode features her sitting on her couch, reading and getting irritated by the journalistic tropes transmitted by unconscious language use. Her performance hinges on the cliche, and subverts the critique of the media she enacts through dialect. Speaking fluent, but strongly accented German, her stereotype of a Berliner of Turkish descent sets her character up as the target of various debates in Germany about the integration of immigrants by encouraging them to master German. That Ayse uses this “imperfect” German to critique the language politics of the German mainstream is a beautiful subversion of the stereotype Ayse inhabits.

What I find really interesting about her performances is the way that they create discomfort through anger. The intensity of her performances fit well within the YouTube genre: this energy is unsustainable for long periods of time. The persona that she has created, because it is a parody of urban youth, plays with racist stereotypes – and that can be dangerous if one privileges appearances over content. This particular video focuses on the irony of calling refugees or immigrants “Armutszuwanderer.” In a moment at the beginning, Ayse calls out the racist undertones of this term and insists on recognizing a politics of self-identification: “They’re called Roma. You don’t need to make economic migrants out of them. They’re called Roma.”  Ayse’s character is designed to play with the grostesque; she exaggerates on purpose.  “Do you think they come here to be poor in Germany? Are you serious?” Ayse demands. Answering her own questions, she questions the motives of politicians who seek to exclude or devalue the potential contributions to society these immigrants could make: “You should call them work migrants, they come here to work!” Ayse ends by making fun of herself: although she has read the academic redefinition of the term from the glossary with no problem before flipping back into an exaggerated dialect, she makes fun of her character’s supposed Bildungsferne (distance from education) by tripping over the term “Bruttosozialprodukt” (Gross National Product).  “Du kannst froh sein, wenn sie kommen, und arbeiten, weil sie machen der sozi-prod-brutto-produkt- SIE MACHEN GUT, ok?”  (You can be happy when they come and work, because they make the g-g-g: THEY DO GOOD,OK?) She ends with a button, by reading once again from the glossary: turns out this migration is often profitable for Germany. She drops the booklet like an MC would drop a mike, opening up her arms and saying: “Live with it.”

Jörg Lau, a journalist on immigration and diversity for Die Zeit, already had “discovered” Jilet Ayse back in 2011 when she produced a YouTube video called “Ey, isch bin so sauer!” Lau called her a “Genius” in his blog posting. In that earlier video, Ayse does a similar character who hits much harder: this woman uses the stereotype of a loud, defiant woman who goes on and on about how perfect her life is while recounting obvious scenes of domestic abuse. The combination of toughness with obvious trauma is difficult to watch, and yet manages to illustrate both the costs of domestic abuse as well as the patronizing behaviors of social workers and possibly feminists intent on dialogue (represented in this video by an invisible sister who is dating a German man lacking the masculinity Ayse wants).

Language matters, but language is more than just words. The exaggerated emotion Ayse portrays here enacts an important element of debates about racism: those who hold dominant power within a society are the only ones who can talk about race as if it is an academic concern. Race matters; racism hurts. It’s visceral.

 

 

 

PEGIDA Builds its Own Border

As I write this, PEGIDA is posting updates to their Facebook feed after today’s march to the Border Crossing E48 near Schirnding in Bavaria. My feed is clogged with their posts of images of people carrying long banners that say things like “Hand in Hand für unser Land” (Hand in Hand for our Country) and “Wir helfen beim Grenzbau” (We’ll help build the border), which is also the name of a new Facebook Community.  According to the post about this event, Czechs will simultaneously demonstrate on the other side of the border. One of the hashtags they are using is #GrenzenRettenLeben – #BordersSaveLives.  According to the MDR, this highway corridor along E48 is not where the most refugees are crossing the border. I cannot find information as to whether this demonstration was registered or not – generally political protests must be registered, but recently people have been demonstrating in Saxony without properly informing the authorities.

Early last month, Wir helfen beim Grenzbau posted a video to YouTube about a similar action. An anti-fascist group in Munich described the protest as follows:

Over a thousand (Sächsische Zeitung), possibly even 2,500 (dpa) racists took part on October 4, 2015 on a demonstration against asylum-seekers called “We’ll help build the border” in the Saxon town of Sebnitz. Originally they announced a human chain at the border crossing that was supposed to form a “living border”, but that was not realized. Instead, the right-wingers marched through the city. The organizers then announced that they would repeat the demonstration […] in Bavaria.

The video of the original demonstration in Sebnitz consists solely of hazy footage of the march through Sebnitz, a town slightly southeast of Dresden on the Czech border.

This footage is highly aestheticized: filtered for light, hovering on children protesting with their families, capturing several residents standing on their balconies applauding the demonstrators. The soundtrack is the kind of urgent light piano accompaniment for a fictionalized drama designed to tug on our heartstrings. The PEGIDA-preferred German flag – a Nordic cross in German colors – features prominently.

I wrote here about the Center for Political Beauty and their push to develop a performative response to the crisis which is ironic, starkly aestheticized, and critical of traditional political approaches to problem solving. This video is the exact opposite: earnest, adamant, reductive.  By lingering on children and large numbers of people marching through the streets, the Sebnitz video calculatingly inverts the footage often seen of refugees crossing the border. The soundtrack and the images romanticize hate by making it seem harmless, just as this propaganda video by a Russian media outlet turns the horrors of war in Syria into romantic battle footage. This inversion represents the foundational twist of PEGIDA-Dresden: their rhetoric is hateful while their self-styling is bourgeois.