Monday, June 2, 2014

National Anthems: Should Players Be Forced to Sing Them?

The world cup is coming up soon, and there's already tons of drama surrounding the event. What I'd like to focus on for this post, however, is the role of music in international sporting events.  Zoe and I have written pretty extensively on here about the importance of analyzing performances in history, and the usefulness of historical knowledge in hearing/seeing performances. Music, as plenty of scholars have written about, as *we've* blogged about, is essential to identity formation. Period. Schluss. Punkt. The end.

So it's really fascinating to have the interior minister of Germany, then, come out and say something to this effect. Thomas de Maiziere, interior minister, close friend of Angela Merkel, and descendent of a prominent family of French Huguenots that settled in Germany in the 17th century, recently stated that he found it upsetting that some members of Germany's national soccer team don't sing the national anthem before each match. "I would be pleased," he said, "if they would profess the anthem of their homeland." His comments have already led to articles popping up in national newspapers and magazines in Germany.

Why were his comments controversial, you might wonder. I think, in part, that his comments stem from larger national anxieties about multiculturalism in Germany. (For an excellent and recent piece of scholarship on multiculturalism, soccer, and the World Cup in Germany, see Beverly Weber and Maria Stehle's article). How should we handle the fact that there are many different races/ethnicities living in Germany today, some (white, Christian) Germans have been asking. Unfortunately, it seems that the answer to this question is "not well." Questions that ask who gets to call him or herself "German" and who qualifies for citizenship have received a variety of unfavorable, weak, and often hostile responses throughout the twentieth century, obviously, and are still resonant today.

I should also point out that the usual framing of this question - how do we handle different races/ethnicities living in Germany today - is also problematic because it supposes that German multiculturalism is a new (post-1945) phenomenon. Like Germany's never had different ethnicities or faiths living there before claiming German identity. Huh.

The CDU (the Christian Democratic Union) political party in particular has been adamant in its tackling of what it sees as the "crisis of multiculturalism" that immigrants (usually meant to mean those from Turkey, the Middle East, parts of Africa, Asia, and so on) integrate into a "Leitkultur" or "common culture" that is truly, proudly German. Of course, as a German cultural historian, I then cackle with glee as I watch people hotly debate what German culture really is, knowing that they're never really going to reach a consensus on the matter.

What's fascinating here is how music has (inevitably) become a part of this debate on multiculturalism and national identity in Germany. I think some people might be tempted to dismiss de Maiziere's comments as frivolous or silly, but in doing so they're underestimating the power of music as a community builder. And they're forgetting how important national anthems have been to historical processes of identity formation. Singing an anthem in a stadium of thousands is a powerful ritual that creates emotional ties to the nation. You and thousands of others are all temporarily speaking a secret language together at the same time.

For a case study of the national anthem as identity-maker, let's take look at communist East Germany. In her work on state symbols in the German Democratic Republic, historian Margarete Feinstein notes that within months of officially becoming an independent state, the GDR went about commissioning the composition of a national anthem. It was no mere coincidence that East German citizens had a national anthem before they had an official flag. Because GDR officials believed that musical performance was a powerful way to unify communities, creating an accessible, melodic, and memorable anthem was of utmost importance to them. This song had the potential to consecrate the foundation of their newly-formed state. East German officials behind the commissioning of the national anthem understood that the song would be sung in schools, at soccer matches, at official government ceremonies, and in youth camps.

As much as I might be uncomfortable with de Maziere's belief that we should *force* members of The Mannschaft to sing the national anthem, as a German historian who tends to shout from the rooftops that musical performances have shaped German identities in countless ways, I'm secretly pleased to see someone taking the relationship between music and identity so seriously in German politics.

Members of Germany's national soccer team in many ways represent the ever-changing national makeup of Germany today. Lukas Podolski is the son of Polish immigrants:

 Jerome Boateng is Afro-German (his mother's German, his father's Ghanaian):

 Mesut Özil is a third generation Turkish-German.

Sami Khedara is Tunisian-German:

Many members of The Mannschaft have really interesting backgrounds and stories that reflect Germany's multiracial/multiethnic/multicultural makeup. They are what Germany looks like today. Having such visible symbols of German multiculturalism sing the national anthem might indeed send a message of German unity and acceptance.

Here's where I remain skeptical, though, given Germany's rather poor history of accepting different ethnicities into the national fold: even if these players sing the national anthem loudly and by heart, will politicians like de Maziere believe them?

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