No Riots, We're Soccer Fans


Hate to tell ya, Samuel Huntington, but there ain’t no clash of civilizations in Europe, despite all the race-war hype.

The 2008 European soccer cup, often an event where geopolitical games beat football, featured little racially motivated violence between the supporters of different teams.

One of the most potentially provocative fixtures in the tournament – the Turkey vs Germany semi-final – clearly proved this surprising truth. In fact, it provided a condensed metaphor for race relations in Western Europe’s biggest nation, showing that many places in Europe finally "get" multiculturalism (after only a few centuries of trying!).

The Turks are Germany’s biggest minority. They were allowed in during the West German Wirtschaftswunder – or economic miracle – in the 1960s. Back then, West Germans had full employment and an expanding economy.

So they made a bunch of bilateral treaties with poor countries in Europe to let in "Guest Workers". The idea was that the Guest Workers wouldn’t stay, but in fact, they ended up being permanent migrants.

These days, there are nearly two million Turkish people living in the reunited Germany. Some are citizens, but many aren’t. German law has traditionally required citizens to have German blood, and this only changed in the late 1990s.

So there’s essentially been a permanent foreign minority living as de facto permanent residents in Germany since the 1960s. And the "neither here nor there" legal status of Turkish Germans has often translated into culture dis/integration.

In Fatih Atkin’s movie The Edge of Heaven, for example, Turkey is depicted as an archaic kinda place. It’s represented as the site of political conflict – between modernity and conservatism, between Turks and Kurds, and between the religious and the secular.

Meanwhile, Turkish-Germans are portrayed in the film as integrated into German society to varying degrees. Turkish immigrants can end up as Germanophile university professors, but they can also be the guy who threatens "impure" women with death.

Turkish Germans who want to be themselves still have to deal with these two extremes. They’re either more "German than the Germans", or else a jihadist.

In real life, German newspapers regularly publish stories about the integration problems of Turkish migrants. They’re represented as homophobic and sexist – as people who perpetrate hate crimes (the fact that many non-migrant Germans share these prejudices is often forgotten).

For their part, many Turks feel persecuted by mainstream German society. In February, Neo-Nazis burnt to death a Turkish family in their western German home. And last week a Turkish-German academic compared his people’s contemporary experience in Germany to that of the Jews under Hitler. He later had to apologise for making the comparison.

So all signs before the Euro Cup semi-final pointed to Cronulla Beach in Berlin. There are nearly 200,000 Turkish Germans living in the city. Three quarters are still Turkish citizens.

Most of these folks live in the inner-city, like a lot of migrants in Australia. Riot police were patrolling the Turkish neighborhood of Kreutzberg for two days before the game. On the night of the final, there were so many green, black and white police cars that a traffic jam seemed imminent.

So it was probably natural that I was a bit anxious after choosing to watch the game in a Turkish-run beer garden.

The Turkish cheersquad was already chanting "Türkiye", and occasionally letting off fireworks when I arrived. Meanwhile, the German contingent was made up of a mixture of menacing looking rednecks and op-shop clad inner city kids. The crowd of several hundred people stood tirelessly for the entire two-hour game.

Just before Germany scored its match-winning goal, a fight started between a waiter and the Turkish fans. It seemed like the feared race riot would start right where I was.

But after the final whistle sounded, something amazing and hopeful happened. The Turkish fans took off their Turkish flags en masse. Underneath, they were wearing German flags.

Over the next few hours, I saw this event replay hundreds of times. Despite all the hype, most Turkish-Germans are exactly what their name suggests.

And although it might surprise those who worry about Muslim migrants and Western values, Berlin’s reaction to the semi-final showed that sport can win over politics – and that celebrating a winner together is sometimes more attractive than brawling over whose cultural values should win out.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.