Berlin has seen its first snow this winter – a clear sign the football World Cup has begun. The other obvious signal being pro-Alternative für Deutschland groups on the Telegram app filling up with racist posts about our national team.
A photo of defenders Antonio Rüdiger and Armel Bella-Kotchap, midfielder Ilkay Gündoğan and centre-forward Youssoufa Moukoko leaving the plane in Qatar was shared with comments such as “At first I thought it showed a deportation” and “Are Germans allowed to play in the national team, too?” Other posts compared pictures of the all-white 1990 world champions with the current team, garnished with slurs miles below the human decency scale. Not to mention criticism of team captain Manuel Neuer and his “poncy armband”.
I do realise football stadiums across Europe are ridden by racism and homophobia. A phenomenon that long existed before AfD chat groups.
The footsoldiers there, however, are echoing their Führers. Around the last Euros and World Cup, the party elite said things like “the national team hasn’t been German for a long time”, “Do Turks have to be in the Nationalmannschaft?” and “Maybe it’s time for a German NATIONAL TEAM to play again”.
And in case you hadn’t heard: it was Mesut Özil, and Özil alone, who made the German team return embarrassingly early from the 2018 World Cup. An AfD member of parliament tweeted: “Without #Özil we would have won.”
The reasons why, unlike Marine Le Pen, AfD doesn’t manage to hide behind a façade of bourgeois conservatism aren’t limited to social media. Since the general election a year ago, there have been a total of 19 Ordnungsrufe (calls to order, an official rebuke) in parliament, a record since German reunification in 1990. SPD and CDU gained two each. The other 15 were directed at members of AfD who tend to hiss and shout “liar”, “jerk”, “idiot”, in addition to hooting and bawling from their seats.
I should add that the style of debate in the Bundestag isn’t as lively and noisy as in the House of Commons. This may be because in German parliamentary tradition, the debate comes last: after draft legislation has already been drawn up, discussed and edited in parliamentary committees.
Political scientists call ours a (co-operative) working parliament and yours a (competitive) debating parliament. Obviously both work and both debate, just in a different order. Westminster speeches can directly affect the wording of a law; rarely so in Berlin. Debates here more or less serve the need for transparency and public debate. Or in the case of AfD’s Beatrix von Storch, they serve as a way to get yourself called to order by the parliamentary authorities. She cannot help being born the granddaughter of Adolf Hitler’s former finance minister, but no one forced her to be top-ranked in violating the dignity of today’s parliament – five times since last year.
To give you an idea: she shouted “child murderer” at a left winger during a debate on abortion. One of her party colleagues goes after female Green speakers, calling them “extremely stupid” or “dim”. According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a 26-year-old parliamentary novice burst into tears because of his heckling. Another AfD MP was reprimanded for making fun of Covid measures by wearing a perforated face mask (he later caught a life-threatening version of the virus).
It would be unfair though to pretend that improper conduct in parliament has been invented by the extreme right.
In case you wonder: House of Commons Speakers have objected to the words “coward”, “guttersnipe”, “hooligan”, “rat”, “swine”, “stool pigeon” and “traitor” over the years (I assume, however, that these niceties were addressed at the “honourable member below the gangway” or the “right honourable lady opposite”).
The first Bundestag had 156 calls to order (making today’s number look tiny). Back then, with many Nazis (the ones who invented that name) in parliament, it was mostly communists and social democrats vigorously attacking them (“the murderers are among us”).
Minutes from those early decades show insults such as “intellectual hotchpotch”, “disgusting demagogue”, “parliamentary howitzer” and “mini-Goebbels”.
Later, debates calmed down significantly – until the Green Party entered the Bundestag in 1983 and disrupted etiquette. In 1984, Joschka Fischer – before becoming gentrified as the first Green foreign secretary – famously said to the Bundestag’s president after he forbade him to speak: “Herr präsident, you are an arsehole, with respect”.
So, recent headlines such as “parliament is becoming ever more rude” are not entirely true. With the exception of AfD, it actually looks as if with rising aggression on social media, opponents in parliament become better behaved. So the only thing we need now is to win that World Cup. Fingers crossed.