Dr. Karadag Interview

Christen Corcoran


Dr. Roy Karadag is a lecturer and the Executive Director of the Institute for Intercultural and International Studies in Bremen, Germany

Christen: What is patriotism to you?

Dr. Karadag: Well I would say patriotism is, well that is why it is so tricky, do you mean like personally what I have made of it?

Christen: Yes your own personal feelings on patriotism

Dr. Karadag: you don’t need an academic understanding?

Christen: no, imagine everyone listening to this is just a lay person

Dr. Karadag: A feeling of connectedness to the people one grew up with. That would be, for me, patriotism. And of course these people have to be in the same spot, they have to be bounded spatially. And these people, these groups of people, have to have made the same experiences and grow up with the same stories and narratives on what made that group come together. Even though that may be totally contingent and probably came together based on luck and chance-- there was no plan to do this of course. Though plans by governments and by states to create new peoples and attach these peoples with new identities and sense of purpose.

And there is this German word called Schicksalsgemeinschaft, which may become, at some point, maybe as prominent as Zeitgeist and all the others, Schadenfreude.

Christen: Yeah all the hip German words

Dr. Karadag: Because they are not translatable. And Schicksalsgemeinschaft means that being aware of the fact that there are connected futures. So I see patriotic feelings around me means people want to feel they belong to the other piece besides them, to develop notions of trust, trustworthiness, etc. And it will be successful if people feel good about themselves in that particular group. Of course there are many problems attached to that because you can only be patriotic to some kinds of people and not to others. Meaning if you don’t trust people because of their identity and their sense of patriotism, the question is hard to solve peacefully and maintain good relations with others.

But there is a particular German experience. The German experience is that, at least until the 80s and 90s, being patriotic was seriously uncool. I grew up in Kiel in the north of Germany and I went to school in the 80s and 90s and nobody waved a German flag. There were no German flags.

Christen: Yeah that wasn’t until the Weltmeisterschaft in 2006 right that it became acceptable?

Dr. Karadag: Yes that’s when it began, and that’s why my generation was so shocked and a bit appalled by all that was happening there because that was not even thinkable in 2003 and 2004. Patriotism was not something that connected with young people and verses of young people that would not want to look like Nazis.

That was a very easy discourse to patriotism and nationalism before that. It was clear that you could feel pride or so in the country, but even if you felt that you would not publically demonstrate that. That’s a very German thing.

But you asked me and I have a particular identity formation behind me because I don’t really have neither a national nor an ethnic identity, I would say. As you compare my background from Turkey, my parents came here in the 70s to Germany, to then stay here. We did not come here as many of the other Turkish labor migrants because we are part of the Christian minorities in Turkey. For my parents coming to Germany was an act of liberation, not being a just minority in Turkey anymore but being able to live here as proper Christians. There are several struggles to deal with: first convincing the Germans that we are not Muslims, which was very important to my parents and my family in general. Then this notion of explaining what we are then, unique, mostly unique to me. You need to have some academic background to know about Syriacs from Turkey. Not Syrians, not Arabs, but Syriacs—those who go to the Syrian Othodox church etc. The problem is that, within this subset of this particular minority of the situation in Turkey. Even then we were before the minorities, the proper expression is Suryan. With a normal Suryani person, he or she would be in the orthodox church and would speak Syriac Aramaic. Now we, because of luck or chance, or bad luck, we speak Arabic, we speak the Arabic dialect spoken in the southeast of Turkey. And we go to the protestant Church. We have not been Syrian orthodox for the past 150 years.  Which means that even for another Suryani person, I would not be born and properly belong to that group and share that patriotism and nationalist feelings.

So I have this outsider position vis a vis the German population and this outsider position vis a vis the Turks in Turkey and the Turks here in Germany, and then there may be some outsider position to the very small group of the Suryani peoples. So having experienced that all the time, some outsider position, I can choose freely with whom to be patriotic.

At some point I chose to be patriotic, in my sense, with the Germans. But in a distinct way. No flags. I mean I am not that offended by flags as the other leftist academics and intellectuals would be, but that has to do with my family experience.  Germany for us was a place of liberation from –before- majority population. That feeling got transmitted to us, even though one is not nationalistic and patriotic and connected to the minority situation in Turkey—this feeling was transmitted that this is a proper place to be and this is where we can live as we want. Which we could not before in Turkey. So that is why I have very mixed feelings.

I went through this proper German experience of not thinking patriotism is cool. And I know how it is not to belong to any of these other ethnic or national groups out there. This is very disturbing to people. I have found a way to live with that. Usually one makes a lot of jokes if people ask me where I am from. I can tell three stories. Make up three different identities if I chose to. But then people want to know what I am, and I always have to explain that.  It brings a certain impossibility to speak of patriotism in the same sense that proper Germans would. Or even proper Turks would because they have their own migration experiences collectively having span back decades, for whom Turkish patriotism is some sort of safe space or something they can connect or feel good about themselves. Which creates this boundary between themselves and the German population. Which is not the case for me. I have experienced racism by Germans, mostly when it comes to looking for apartments, yes landlords can be openly racist.

Christen: Really?

Dr. Karadag: Yes. That is the reason why I—the only place where I use my title “Dr.” when I communicate with landlords on the phone

Christen: That’s so interesting

Dr. Karadag: That’s the only way because they see my last name, they know its Turkish, so… for them that’ll be one very visible mark that you’re ‘lacking manors’ or something… and they know that, they will even ask you on the telephone. So, its like:

‘Oh what’s the name again? That’s Karadag? That sounds Turkish’

‘Yeah it is Turkish’

‘Okay, um, yeah bye’

That happens, so, other than that no serious Racism has happened towards me. For now. You see there are a lot of issues that come up when you ask me about what I think about patriotism.

And I have experienced this shift now after 2006 it was okay—well at first it was okay—you see people trying to do that in context where it is cool to be German and to demonstrate how cool it is to be German by having the flag.

Christen: Do you think that is healthy?

Dr. Karadag: I am not sure. I do not think it is healthy in the States. It could be healthy if one taught these people what that particular German flag stands for. That particular flag does not only stand for national unity and national belonging, but that is the flag of the ’48 revolution marked by radical demonstrations for liberty and democracy. If one could attach that feeling to that symbol more than it is used by these people, that would be something

The troubling thing is not that the flag is racist. The flag is not racist. One can attach new meanings to that symbol. Most political parties and the government and civil society organizations try to do that, and that is fine. But the flag can turn into a fetish that intends to overplay all of the differences in one population. Meaning that in the end, it could become dangerous if one could not argue critically against the flag in public anymore. And that has become an impossibility in the States I would say.

Christen: Oh yeah, definitely not.

Dr. Karadag: And that is why I fear it could be the case in German in two generations or so. I would say that is an American thing. This reemergence of the flag in Germany may have to do with the fact—you know we grew up with an American culture industry—the flag being everywhere, in every movie, a cultural expression, positively or negatively.

In 2006, this public gathering of thousands of people, even that did not occur before then. So even that was the first time that had occurred. There wasn’t this national responsibility to look welcoming, to look cool, and to look patriotic. We did not like that. So when I watch football (soccer) I do not support the German national team, so I kind of reserve that non-patriotic behavior. I think at some point people should just not go along with that behavior and it’ll fine. That was okay in the 80s. In the 80s it was okay to not be “for” the German national team. And even in media coverage the 80s and 90s were much more reserved not to have this sense of national pride and make it something visible on TV.

There was this one guy, during world champion finals in ‘86—it was Germany against Argentina. Argentina had a 2-0 lead. Then German scored, then equalized it to 2-2 with only moments to play or something. The commentator, you know, he was freaking out because it was 2-2 and he was like: “Okay now one more!” and he continued on and then reflected on what he had said. Then apologized, saying “Oh, too much, I am sorry, it was too much in terms of…” so you see he could not dare to be too passionate.

That was the 80s, only years ago. And that has totally changed. So now of course you have to cheer for your national team. You may have other sympathies, you can be for the Netherlands, or Argentina, Brazil, etc. but not when they play against Germany. And people tolerate that. It is not that it is too aggressive, but I think we may be in the process of losing that. Being attached to various countries, in that sense, in the world.

Christen: I think that something that other people writing on the newsletter were very curious about is, I think that, obviously in Germany there is a lot of guilt for the past that makes its way into how people view patriotism. In the US we do have a checkered past of slavery, of genocide of the Native American population, a lot of other things, but we do not incorporate that into our self-identity.

Dr. Karadag: That is a great mystery how that is possible. For me, I would say that is a great expression of power not to have to deal with that.

I mean just last week I saw this new documentary about a black activist, intellectual from the 60. “I am Not Your Negro” is the name of the documentary.

Christen: Isn’t that about Malcolm X?

Dr. Karadag: No it is about a guy called James something… he was in Europe at that time. In Paris and then Istanbul. And there is a documentary about him and his work.

Of course, as an academic, one has read a lot about American history and about slavery and about the relationships with people: blacks and whites and other ethnic minorities. That there are no—that there are just so few instances of some symbolic, collective recognition. Recognition in terms of ‘yeah we did that, and that was bad’ and for a German that is unthinkable, for a German after 1945. In a Germany after one or two generations that have processed the War, the genocide, everything-- it is unthinkable to have that American kind of experience with its past. Past aggressions, past prejudices, past genocides, past mass killings. You know slavery was not a thing of one generation; it was there for decades and hundreds of years. Its horrifying to even think of that, that political elites in the United States obviously thought that we can just forget about that. And that is what one would not understand from this German position.

The German position is a very particular position, lets be fair. If the Germans had not lost the war in such a destructive manor and had not been forced by the occupiers afterwards, and the victors afterwards, to actually be confronted with that-- that is to reimput the genocide against the Jews in Europe—they would probably have found some variety of the British version [of patriotism] or the French version, I don’t know the Polish version or so. You would concede yes, it was not a cool thing, but lets focus on the future. Which is what America is so great at [laughs] focusing on the future and forgetting that.

So this is not something that the Germans did as Germans, but something that Germany was forced to do because it lost that war in such a destructive manor. One could not find one reason not to do that, not to confront oneself with that. But, that was that generation, the generations afterwards were, of course, ashamed of what has happened. And it is more shame than guilt because you cant feel guilty for something maybe you or your parents had done, but shame… that something in your name has been done. That shame may not go away. Even in 50 or 100 years, we hopefully will still grow up in public schools and every institutions that we deal with in everyday life, that reminds us what can happen if these patriotic passions take over.

Christen: I have one last question because eventually this is going to lead into a newsletter where we talk about military. Because for us that is very much connected: patriotism and military. But what do you think the German public’s relations with the Bundeswehr is?

Dr. Karadag: There were two transformations. After the war and the founding of the Bundesrepublik and the German Democratic Republic in the east, I would say that the Bundeswehr was a very conservative, very patriotic institution, on the one hand. On the other hand there was this constant reproduction of this self-awareness that there will never again be a war triggered by this country and fought by German soldiers for the sake of Germany. That gave way to a more proper, pacifistic attitude that existed from the 70s to the 90s.

And then its your position in the social structure and society which determine how you feel about it. So yes, for many business careers and professional careers, yes having been in the Bundeswehr, having gedient, having done your service-- that was a status-marker entry-point for many careers. Whereas others, academics and those in more intellectual fields, more leftist, more social-democratic, would go into the civil service and be appalled by the idea of going into the Bundeswehr. Because, you know, in our circles the Bundeswehr was this place where young people with a lack of proper cultural education would come together collectively and just drink alcohol and hang out. And have this weird sense of nationalism and patriotism out there and celebrate that…. Against the dominant view that the Bundeswehr culture sucks, basically. See I did not for once feel that I should do that, and that was at the time when it was still mandatory.

Since it is not mandatory anymore it may turn into something like the US as a venue for social mobility-- giving education and training opportunities to people who would not otherwise have that. I am not as critical of the Bundeswehr right now as I was 20 years ago. Because that is part of the normalization. You see that everyone else has [a military] and you think, ‘why shouldn’t we have it’?

Obviously Germany has only ever been involved in multilateral interventions with backing of any other western, and in some cases even non-western countries. So you can feel good about that, and there is always the bad conscience one may have when admitting ‘okay the French do the fighting, the British do the fighting, the Americans do the fighting—come on Germans, why don’t you contribute anything in terms of proper human sacrifice?’ and not just money and infrastructure or things like that. That’s a tricky turn that took, that one may feel obliged to demonstrate how military capable one is. Which led to several fiascos in Afghanistan in 2009 or so.

You see this is very fuzzy? Every question you ask, you get these fuzzy answers. Because national identity is such a tricky thing in Germany, because of their particular experience and because there are these transformations, these cultural transformations could make the future of the Bundeswehr turn into just a normal public institution. It will never be the source of this passionate belonging that is probably not felt in the military, but that is displayed publically. Because of that attachment to American culture industry. I mean you don’t have “cool” Bundeswehr movies in Germany. This may come in the next decades or so, but so far it hasn’t.

Now that it is not mandatory anymore people, even more social-democratically inclined people would say, ‘Okay, but we need some kind of service that, for once, combines these people and connects these people and that creates this community effect, this Vergemeinschaftung.’ Especially people from different social classes, they should be forced in some ways to be with the others—and be in one space with one kind of responsibility. Not have that disconnect at an early age. But, yes, I would prefer a civil kind of service.

On the other hand, by engaging in International Relations and Political Science and Conflict Studies etc., I see how messed up things have become in the world. I know that there will be more and more calls on Germany to fulfill its obligations, to provide collective types of security. So yes, there will be more German interventions, only multilateral of course. The good this is that there will never be the sense of ‘we have to protect Germany now’ but I still don’t know how to feel about that. There is more war coming. There are more interventions coming. The good this is that we do not look as bad in terms of nationalism and patriotism as many others. So these passions are more out there in Britain and in France, well maybe not Britain, but France and the United States. Russia. So compared to that, we will see, up until now, we will see what the AfD will do in the next generation or so. At least for now, we do not look as endangered by these passions as many others, which is a good thing. For now.

Christen:  Thanks so much for your time, that was so interesting

(Published May 10, 2017)