Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Team Is 'Winning Hearts Beyond Germany's Borders'

This weekend Germans celebrated a resounding win over Argentina at the World Cup in South Africa. On Monday German commentators ponder the young multi-cultural team's success, patriotism and the possible political reverberations. Most conclude that football games like this are about so much more than just sport.

This Saturday Germany played Argentina during the quarter-finals of the World Cup and won with an unexpectedly large margin of 4:0. The team now go on to face Spain in the semi-finals on Wednesday.

Millions of Germans celebrated, including the hundreds of thousands crowded into the so-called "Fan Mile" in central Berlin, an area specially set aside for audiences to watch the games together on giant screens.

On Monday the German media leave no editorial subject uncovered, writing about everything from Chancellor Angela Merkel's trip to South Africa to see the game, which had been criticized as unnecessary and too expensive, to analysis as to how the team achieved such a miraculous score line, to Germany's burgeoning patriotic spirit.

In SPIEGEL ONLINE Stefan Kuzmany writes:

"Chancellor Merkel flew to South Africa specially to inspire the national team. 'A lucky charm,' the spokesperson for the German Football Association (DFB) called her. Even minutes before the game, though her presence was seen as a bad omen."

"If the chancellor's recent 'luck' was anything to go by, then the team should have lost simply because of her being there. But now all the doomsayers are silent and even the critics from the taxpayer's association, who criticized Merkel's trip as too expensive, have logged off. Who would be interested in taxes or the euro crisis or the conflict in Afghanistan when there is football to think about? Nobody."

"And let's not even think about what would have happened if Löw's team had lost against the Argentineans. The weather would have worsened in a flash and the talk would only have been of health insurance, oil leaks and problems with the ruling coalition. Let's face facts: Basically the nation would have been almost completely finished. However with the national team's victory over Argentina, all of sudden everything is possible again."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"It is only football. The effect of the national team on the interior society of the country they represent is often over estimated. After all, if you are black you won't be any more relaxed walking through 'no-go' areas in eastern Germany just because Jerome Boateng is on the German national team. However, the effect on the outside world is not to be under estimated. And there are plenty of examples."

"In 1966 the German team lost the final to England, 4:2. It was a tight, hard fought game and the third goal by England was a controversial one. Today we know what the players knew then: The third goal was no goal at all. The Germans had plenty of reasons to get upset, they could have become angry and their rage could have translated into fouls. But they accepted what could not be changed, took the silver medal and congratulated the English team on their win."

"After the game the German team drove to the official banquet in the team bus and on every street corner there were English fans applauding them for being such good losers. It was 20 years after World War II, it was only a football game but it improved the image of Germans in English eyes."

Conservative newspaper Die Welt writes:

"The way this team plays is to be admired. They have long since conquered the hearts of their compatriots back home and now they are winning hearts beyond Germany's borders. Because various players were missing and because they had a relatively young and inexperienced side, not much was expected of the Germans. But those modest expectations seem to have been a great advantage. So -- particularly before the semi-final -- we should not stray from this path and build up unnecessary pressure on the team. Of course, the World Cup is almost within our grasp and the team could win. But we would do better to leave the team in peace."

"This German team is giving the whole nation a special feeling of strength because they are a multi-cultural team that really plays altogether, something they were not thought capable of previously. The fact that after this World Cup appearance, German football will be talked about around the world using words like creativity, wit, enthusiasm and team spirit is good for all of us."

The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The future was out there on the field to admire. The past was seen sitting in the stands. Firstly, there was Chancellor Angela Merkel, who enjoyed the game as though she were a manic depressive emerging from a bout of angst. Then we saw the German team's injured captain Michael Ballack, who cannot play in this contest because of injury. Both embody old principles. Ballack is the leader of the pack, who tends to command by decree and who prefers a hierarchy: A soldier of football, not someone who inspires with their cool. And Merkel … she knows there is no way that her administration is representative of this productive, forward looking atmosphere."

"On the Cape Town pitch one saw a model future defined (albeit only in terms of football): Young players taking responsibility themselves because the leadership is indisposed, who literally do everything they can to support one another. The star of the show is the team itself, not a command structure based around the skills of individualists."

"Michael Ballack is no longer needed. With the occasional exception, the boys can do it better without him. And Merkel should enjoy her excursion to South Africa. It is a farewell trip. She -- and the style of politics she represents -- are relics."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"We, the Germans, the soldiers of football known for a hierarchical way of thinking, are suddenly a creative bunch of rascals! Obviously we are very, very pleased about this."

"And we feel motivated to bring that youth and spirit into the fight against global problems. Yes, eventually we will start to rescue the world. Climate change, oil leaks, bankrupt states -- these must be beaten too. That is if our Jogi (Löw) joins in -- he is, after all, our mastermind."

"But back to basics: It's fantastic that we are going to play Spain next. We don't need any easy tasks. We want to prove ourselves. And if not us, then who? After this it will be onto the final with Holland. And just between us, if the other teams don't start to try a little harder, it's going to get boring."

-- Cathrin Schaer

Jailed Kurdish children a blight on Turkey's future

Kurdish boys on their push-carts wait for customers in Yuksekova, Hakkari province, southeastern Turkey, on the border with Iraq, in this picture taken on June 28, 2010. Hundreds of children — some as young as 11, according to Kurdish lawyers — have been prosecuted by Turkish authorities fighting Kurdish rebels in the restless southeast. International human rights groups say Turkey's anti-terrorist laws violate UN conventions on children. (Reuters)


YUKSEKOVA, Turkey: Metin, a 16-year-old Kurdish boy with a shy smile and small, vivacious eyes is already a veteran of Turkey's prisons for terrorist suspects.

On his way to school one morning last year Metin, who was 15 at the time, was detained by police in this bleak town in Turkey's impoverished southeast, and accused him of being a member of the PKK Kurdish separatist rebel group.

Metin waited 5 months for a trial in a crowded high-security prison where he shared a bed with two or three other child inmates. He was then released by a judge, only to be detained months later, this time accused of taking part in a protest.

"They showed me a picture of somebody throwing stones but it wasn't me. I have never taken part in a protest," Metin said.

"The conditions were very bad. It was freezing cold in winter and in summer we couldn't take showers. Police were rough and pressured us to confess we were supporters of the PKK."

Hundreds of children — some as young as 11, according to Kurdish lawyers — have been prosecuted by Turkish authorities fighting Kurdish rebels in the restless southeast. International human rights groups say Turkey's anti-terrorist laws violate UN conventions on children.

Activists say the children are sent to adult prisons after receiving long sentences in anti-terrorist courts, where files are secret and lawyers have little access to their clients.

Metin, who has dropped out of school and wanders in dusty, traffic-choked streets, considers himself lucky to have been freed again. But he can still serve up to 15 years if convicted in three pending trials.

A generation growing up in prison

"An entire generation is growing up in prison," said Ismail Durgun, head of the Hakkari Bar Association, which has defended many "stone-throwing children," as they are known in Turkey.

"The state is not punishing the children, but is punishing itself. When they enter prison they are just kids. When they leave they are militants," Durgun said.

Durdu Kavak, the chief prosecutor in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast and where most cases are heard, told Reuters he was not authorized to speak on the cases unless he received special permission from the justice minister in Ankara.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government, which has passed laws to expand the rights of Kurds in the hope of ending a decades-long conflict with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), says such punishments need to be changed.

A bill to reduce penalties for children accused of terrorist-related offenses and stipulating that minors be put on trial in juvenile courts is being debated in parliament.

"We do not want to lose our kids. We want to win them back but families must be aware of the consequences of their children's actions," Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said, repeating an official line that children are used by the PKK.

Activists fear the bill might fall hostage to nationalist passions after a recent upsurge in PKK violence. With elections 12 months or less away and public outcry over separatist violence growing, opposition members have criticized the timing of the legislation and debate has been tense.

No fair trial

Durgun said that merely attending a protest in favor of the PKK is grounds for being charged with belonging to the group and with spreading its propaganda. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and Washington.

"These children don't get a fair trial. The files are secret so we can't prepare the case and sometimes there is no evidence. Children don't even understand whey they are in prison," Durgun said.

The Kurdish children's story is a reminder of the social and economic problems blighting Turkey's southeast, long a hindrance to the Muslim nation's hopes of joining the EU.

Unemployment in the provincial capital Hakkari, where half its 256,000 people are below the age of 19, is 70 percent.

Resentment toward the state runs deep and violent protests in favor of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan are common.

Analysts say the authorities' approach is making the problem worse by fostering young militants.

After being indoctrinated in prison by older inmates, Dilges speaks earnestly of the Kurdish struggle, amnesty and political rights, his braces and acne betraying that he just turned 18.

He said he was handcuffed and hanged from a ceiling to force him to confess to a PKK attack he said he had nothing to do with.

Tough law enforcement helps to swell the ranks of the PKK, seen by many local people as the defender of Kurdish rights, as their hopes of a political solution have faded.

Velat, a lanky 17-year-old boy with freckles, was detained in March in the dead of night at his family home, a dwelling of uneven walls and dirt floors. Outside, hens strutted among barefoot children; a military helicopter roared overhead.

"Police said he took part in a protest and took him away," said Velat's mother, Kudret, fighting back tears and cradling a picture of her son in the prison yard.

"He is a good boy. He never got in trouble. He didn't go to school because he has been working since 10 to support his younger brothers and sisters. His father is disabled."

The family moved to Yuksekova after being expelled from their village by the military in the 1980s, when hundreds of villages were evacuated during the peak of PKK violence.

She said Velat is waiting trial in a prison 300 km (180 miles) away from home. Unable to understand Turkish, Kudret said she is at a loss to deal with Turkey's labyrinthine legal system.

A neighbor said 32 youths recently left the town to join the PKK across the border with Iraq. "They went to the mountains. The parents don't know. What else can the kids do?"