Brazil 2014

The Bigger Meaning Of Germany's National Team

The Mannschaft's World Cup winning team was the perfect embodiment of what Germany hopes to be perceived as — a mix of artistry, perseverance, solidarity and individual freedom.

Coach Löw shakes hands with veteran Miroslav Klose during Sunday's match
Coach Löw shakes hands with veteran Miroslav Klose during Sunday's match
Ulf Poschardt

BERLIN — Our national soccer team's appearance Tuesday with the World Cup trophy at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, their triumph will also move to the core of the Republic.

The summer of 2006 — when Germany hosted the World Cup and finished third — was a fairy tale for the country. It resulted in a sort of miracle: Germans made peace with themselves in the face of a young soccer team, whose charm and joyful playing style had little to do with the scrappy, uninspired play of its predecessors.

The team became a medium for a general loosening up among Germans. It led them to build a relatively un-neurotic relationship with the symbols of their national identity. Black, red and gold were finally O.K. — whether on flags or painted faces. Singing the national anthem even emerged from the patriotic underground.

Nowhere in the world did anyone fear this outbreak of joy for the German Fatherland. On the contrary, they shared the rejoicing.

An economic — and national — contribution

Coach Joachim Löw, the manager of the team, was at the time an assistant to Jürgen Klinsmann, and players like Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger were already seen as major talents. When Klinsmann left in 2006, the Deutsche Fußballnationalmannschaft (DFB) — the national football team in Germany — chose to promote the soft-spoken Löw to head it. This was a clear tribute to his role as the team behind-the-scenes genius during the 2006 World Cup.

Following that decision, Löw and his concept of a modern, highly-imaginative and elegant game prevailed, despite criticisms and setbacks like the team's elimination six years later, in the 2012 European Championship.

The fact that he stayed the course paid off on Sunday night. Up to two billion people were watching as the young Mario Götze knocked in his thrilling, winning goal in the closing minutes of overtime.

Just like the semifinal game against host Brazil, the German football team made quite an impression not only on the pitch but before and after the game. They were unassuming and focused before the whistle blew, smiling and empathetic with the losing team when the game ended.

When the players' wives and children came out to join the exultation that followed the match, and a tearful Miroslav Klose — that magical player and melancholy hero — picked his children up to hug them, even the crustiest anti-German sentiment must have melted away.

The Mannschaft did just as much for Germany's inner and outer perceptions as Willy Brandt’s "Warsaw Genuflection" and Helmut Kohl in Verdun did to deal with the ghosts of the two World Wars. The team has become the most popular embodiment, both at home and abroad, of the perception of what modern Germany has become.

London's liberal newspaper The Guardian gushed about the "intelligent design" of the German game, and bowed unusually low to the virtuosity of a professionalized, active promotion of young players, that has done so much for German soccer these past two decades.

Without the fantastic German centers for young talent, players like Götze would have never emerged. Education policies in this country should be optimized in that same, goal-oriented way.

In the end, the German national team is less a confirmation of German politics — or a charming doppelganger, as some would say — than an exciting counterpoint.

Löw’s 11 offered an ideal mix of team spirit and individuality. The collective won from maximizing each player’s freedom. The lesson to draw from the political liberal minority here is that solidarity with the weak and vulnerable helps not only the team but individuals as well. The one to remember from the social-democratic mainstream is that nothing sparks individual strengths like competition.

A lot of humanistic wisdom goes along with this triumph, too. It is a victory of a coach and captain who, rather than playing authoritarian cards, see the best in the players even when they don't see it themselves. As “united artists,” the German national team made it clear that artistry is much more than a mere, seductive decoration for a solid craft. It is a prerequisite for winning in the 21st century.

Thank you, dear team, for this unforgettable World Cup championship.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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