The right is the new punk, the German edition


i confess to guiltily liking heavy music from Germany, from Rammstein, which is just nasty, to In Extremo, which combines thumping guitars with bagpipes and draws from varied sources, including medieval, folk and religious music in addition to original material. The German language is quite harsh and shouty and so it lends itself perfectly to some hard music (in the immortal words of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, “I speak in Latin to God, Italian to Women, French to Men, and German to my Horse”). Hence I found this piece in “The New York Times” about the new crowd favourite Frei.Wild:

By the time Frei.Wild took the stage at Alpen Flair, a three-day music festival in northern Italy, the sun had disappeared behind the forested peaks of the surrounding Alps. Most of the 20,000 audience members had traveled over 100 miles from Germany to see the band. The crowd was overwhelmingly white and largely male, and many fans shouted along as the band launched into one of its most controversial songs, “Südtirol.”

The song celebrates Frei.Wild’s home region of South Tyrol, where the festival was taking place, a largely German-speaking enclave that was passed to Italy from Austria-Hungary after World War I. “I won’t tolerate any criticism of this sacred land, our homeland,” the band’s heavily tattooed singer, Philipp Burger, sang. An eagle like the one on the region’s flag flashed on a large screen onstage.

Having been born in Poland only 27 years after the end of war (I’m showing my ancient age here), I don’t need the European Union officials to remind me to get just a bit jittery when Germans start venturing beyond their standard post-1945, New Age (Hu)Man condition to explore the long-forbidden fruit of nationalism. But neither am I surprised when a few people between the Rhine and the Oder start waving flags again; partly because the pendulum eventually swings back, and partly because Europe’s ultra-woke elites, with their profound disdain for the common man and woman and their cherished traditional values, beliefs and sentiments, have created the populist/nationalist monster they are now panicking about. The European Project has been all about banishing forever the dark and primeval forces, which made the continent’s history, and its first half of the 20th century in  particular, so bloody (“keep the Brits in, the Soviets out, and the Germans down” to recall an old Cold War formulation). I have some sympathy for this view – Europe has, after all, enjoyed its longest period of peace and unparalleled prosperity on record (though it has had as much to do with the superpower rivalry and the American security umbrella as with the sincere efforts of the boffins in Brussels) – but a group identification is so deeply ingrained in human psyche that any project to completely cosmopolitanise a few hundred million people in a space of a generation or two is bound to be only partially successful (and partially hubristic). By treating patriotism as indeed the last refuge of a scoundrel, the elites have blurred the line between the quite legitimate love of one’s own country and the more questionable old-style nationalism. Needless to say, the latter often becomes a counter-cultural “fuck you” to the transnational crowd in charge.

With songs like “Südtirol” and “Land der Vollidioten” (“Land of Complete Idiots”), which rails against the removal of crosses from schools out of respect for non-Christian children, critics in Germany have argued the band helps to foster anti-immigrant sentiment and right-wing nationalism. The musicians argue they are merely singing about their personal experiences, and that their reputation as a far-right band is a media distortion.

In one song, “Wahre Werte,” or “True Values,” Mr. Burger sings that “language, traditions and religion are the values of the homeland/Without them we will go under.” In an interview, Mr. Burger said he had titled one recent song “Antiwillkommen” (“Anti-Welcome”) to be provocative. After Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow large numbers of refugees to come to Germany in 2015, the government encouraged a “willkommenskultur,” or “culture of welcoming.”

Needless to say, the article goes to say “The group’s success has been met with outrage from musicians, activists and politicians in Germany. In 2012, a journalist accused Frei.Wild on a TV talk show of acting like a neo-Nazi band, setting off a wider discussion about the band’s ideological position. When the band was nominated the following year for an Echo Prize, the German equivalent of the Grammys, other acts threatened to boycott the ceremony and the nomination was rescinded.”

We’re now in the ever-familiar territory where “everyone I don’t like is Hitler”, which of course has the extra piquancy in Germany.  In reality, when everyone to the right of the left is considered a dangerous Nazi, the term itself loses meaning, which is unfortunate enough,  but it also cheapens the political conversation. Classical liberals, conservatives and libertarians (or for that matter even populists) are not Nazis, but the problem is that the cultural and the political left through their disdain of the mainstream and its values as well as eschewing legitimate debate might one day end up with some real Nazis to contend with.