The Özil affair: integration problems in Germany?

The debate after star footballer Mesut Özil's resignation from the German national team continues. The public outcry over his controversial photograph with Erdoğan prompted Özil to issue a statement lambasting the German Football Association and to make accusations of racism and lack of respect. The public's reaction to the affair speaks volumes about the situation in Germany, commentators conclude.

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Český rozhlas (CZ) /

Identity stronger than democracy

The Özil affair proves how powerful the sense of identity can be, according to public broadcaster Český rozhlas:

“The Germans are wondering how it can be that people who grew up in an open society can support an autocrat who throws his opponents into prison. There are many reasons why so many Turks remain Turks, even in Germany. The Turkish identity is very strong and unique in Europe. Erdoğan's many voters in Germany and Özil's statement that he wanted to pay homage to the highest authority of his family's country demonstrate that even in the 21st century the need to belong to someone - or something - is so great that it easily exceeds the love of freedom and democracy.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

None of Ankara's business

Erdoğan had a phone conversation with Özil on Tuesday and expressed his support. Ankara would do better to mind its own business, Hürriyet Daily News writes:

“Özil had come under severe criticism in Turkey when he chose to play for German national team. It is natural for certain circles to show support and solidarity with Özil. But this is not a Turkish - German issue. This is an issue between Özil and Germany. Some of the statements coming from Turkish officials might not help but exacerbate the problem and in fact negatively affect the Turkish community in Germany. But worse still, it might prevent a healthy debate in Germany, about concepts like racism, immigration, integration, assimilation, multiculturalism.”

Dnevnik (SI) /

Hypocritical criticism of star footballer

The harsh criticism of Mesut Özil is hypocritical, Dnevnik fumes:

“Don't German politicians also pose for photographs with Erdoğan? The very politicians who still allow companies to export weapons to Turkey? Doesn't all of Europe do business with the Turkish regime - also because in that way they can protect themselves against new waves of immigrants? And aren't the so-called refugee centres, which are to be set up in certain states with an extremely dubious attitude to democracy, an expression of the same hypocrisy that Özil is now facing? In Turkey people now like Özil. But for those who used to parade him around as a national hero he has become a traitor. The multicultural national team is silent, not a single teammate has voiced words of encouragement. And the manager who for the past nine years built up this team with Özil as a cornerstone also remains silent.”

Standart (BG) /

Germans are latent xenophobes

Mesut Özil is addressing a problem that many Germans tend to ignore, the Germany correspondent for the Bulgarian public television broadcaster Maria Stoyanova writes in a guest commentary for Standart:

“'Germans when we win but migrants when we lose.' These words of Özil's are full of bitterness and disappointment. A latent xenophobia that was long suppressed has taken hold in Germany, but every foreigner has felt it at one time or another. The feeling of not belonging is brushed off as a personal problem. Those who make others feel this way don't accept any responsibility at all.”

Yeni Şafak (TR) /

The West's new madness

The Özil case was just the beginning, the pro-government Islamic daily Yeni Şafak believes:

“When a footballer like Mesut Özil who has become a global brand is treated with such racism, then just imagine what this society could do to those who have neither power, nor fame, nor advocates. Racism is always a bad thing, but during World War II the whole world experienced how bad German racism can be. Everyone sees now that xenophobia, isolationism, anger, stress and marginalisation are spreading in Europe in the same way they did before World War II. ... Sooner or later racist and violent government will come to power. This is already the case in Austria, Italy and Hungary. ... Our children or their children will be confronted with a new madness of the West.”

Denník N (SK) /

An embarrassing defence

A footballer who grew up in Germany should know that you don't let yourself be photographed with a dictator even if you have shared roots, Dennik N believes:

“Özil has accused his critics of racism, saying they're only concentrating on his Turkish origins. But for someone who was born in a democratic country, this embarrassing line of defence does not hold water. Dictators and populists like to claim that they personify their nation so that they can then accuse their critics of hating this same nation. But those who were raised with Western values must know that criticism of a dictator and his methods are in no way criticism of a nation. They must know that criticism of such a dictator is justified.”

Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

The blame always lies with the others

Jyllands-Posten finds Özil's decision to leave the German national team incomprehensible:

“With his uncontrolled outburst Özil has underlined the fact that there are serious problems with large sections of the population with Turkish roots in Western Europe. This is unfair with respect to the well integrated people like [former leader of the Greens] Özdemir; and in Denmark too many of those with an immigration background lead a blameless life and contribute to the society in which they live. But they are not the challenge. It's people like Özil who fall into the victim role and reject personal responsibility. For them, it's always others who are to blame.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Integration means tolerance

Özil's resignation is a call to reflect once more on what integration really means, Handelsblatt counters:

“The German constitution is not negotiable. But nor is the media freedom which is enshrined in it. That also encompasses tolerating the opinion of those who think differently; even if they pay respect to a president whom many now reject in Germany. Not everyone has to accept Özil's passionate commitment to his home country. But the fact is that's the way he feels, that his feelings told him that from the perspective of his Turkish identity he was doing the right thing, even if from the perspective of his German identity it was perhaps wrong. This kind of thing is often very difficult for the person in question. Integration in this case means at least trying to understand that person's conflict of priorities. Integration means tolerance.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

What has happened in the space of eight years

Eight years ago when Germany won 3:0 against Turkey, Özil was a hero, La Republicca's Germany correspondent Tonia Mastrobuoni recalls:

“At the end of the game Merkel rushed into the changing rooms and the photographers took photos of her shaking hands with the centre forward with Turkish roots. ... The second photo, from 2018, shows Özil with the Turkish autocrat Erdoğan. ... The two pictures are worlds apart. Because in the meantime the sultan has turned his country into a dictatorship in which inconvenient opponents and journalists are locked up. And in Germany too, which has a large Turkish community, Erdoğan tried to campaign for the presidential election and the constitutional referendum. But above all he is trying to get the Turkish community on his side in his increasingly frequent diplomatic crises with Berlin.”