During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Germans loved to refer to themselves as das Volk der Dichter und Denker (the people of poets and thinkers). Indeed, my home country is the birthplace of many ideas that went around the globe, some of them great: letterpress printing, quantum physics, and German beer. Some were not great: communism, Nazism, and Cultural Marxism. So while German thinkers did quite well in the field of technology and engineering, they failed miserably when it came to political thinking.
Say what you will about my fellow countrymen, but whatever they start, they’ll bring to an end. Despite their continued failure in developing reasonable political ideas, they just don’t quit trying to tell everybody what to think and how to live. We like to call that aus der Geschichte lernen (learning from history). Although we didn’t invent political correctness—that’s one of the few stupid ideas we had to import from abroad—we can proudly claim that today no country on Earth is as politisch korrekt as Germany.
In Germany, PC is so important that we developed a whole language around the concept. We—meaning our politicians, teachers, and journalists—took words from our dictionary and, step by step, shifted and changed their meaning completely. If you learned German in school outside Germany, hardly anything a politisch korrekter German says will make any sense to you. (Even for most Germans it’s hard to understand.)
A great opportunity to study PC German is the ongoing outrage about the athlete and Olympic participant Nadja Drygalla. The young woman from Rostock was part of the German rowing team—until the zeitgeist got her. Her case is quite similar to that of Voula Papachristou, and yet it’s completely different. The similarity: Both women got verboten for some korrekt reason. The difference: Papachristou got sanctioned for saying something stupid, while Drygalla didn’t say or do or—as far as we know—even think anything unkorrekt.
Drygalla’s boyfriend was a member of the right-wing extremist party NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany). When several German journalists realized this, the ex-Nazi had already left his party a few months previously. But too late: Drygalla’s Nazi Apocalypse had already begun. After a talk with several German Olympic functionaries, Drygalla left freiwillig (voluntarily).
For all those lucky specimens who are not familiar with that madhouse we call Politik: To Germans, the NPD isn’t merely an unappetizing bunch of racist weirdoes. They are pure evil. And every member of this party, everyone who ever voted for them, everyone who is friends with them, and everyone who ever listened or talked or spoke to them is an Adolf Hitler clone.
However, there is one way to at least partly clean your soul from the touch of evil: sich distanzieren (distancing oneself). To do so, you have to confess your sins to the general public—in newspapers, on television, via the Internet. You have to declare that you were wrong—terribly wrong—but that you have come to your senses. Confess that the right-wing Gedankengut (mindset) now disgusts you. You love democracy and multiculturalism.
Drygalla distanced herself from the NPD. So did her boyfriend. But not everyone is granted forgiveness. In many cases, even if you distance yourself from evil thoughts, you will stay umstritten (controversial). Being umstritten means that at some point some journalist or politician found it appropriate to throw some dirt in your face. In Germany this means you are marked—for years, maybe for life. From this day on, you may never be Herr Michael Müller again—you’ll be der umstrittene Michael Müller.
Things look bad for Drygalla. While wikipedia.de documents her Distanzierung, several German newspapers (Berliner Morgenpost, Stuttgarter Zeitung) and magazines (Stern) have already labeled her umstritten. One reason is that some Experten (experts) think that the Distanzierung of her boyfriend is not completely convincing. Die Welt cites one of those experts who calls his leaving the NPD an act of “foolish trickery.”
What makes someone an Experte on other people’s thoughts? To understand that, you have to know that being against the political right is a profession in Germany. Our government spends 24 million euros annually on a heroic Kampf gegen Rechts (struggle against the right). A nice share of this money is used to pay Experten who tell us if we should let an umstritten person return into demokratische Gesellschaft (democratic society) or not.
We might not have invented political correctness, but we mastered it. There is an old joke from the times of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) that illustrates our innate mastership:
Socialist party functionaries interrogate a young comrade. After one hour of talking, the chairman interrupts him angrily and asks: “We know all the things you are telling us, it’s the usual propaganda! Don’t you have an opinion on your own?”
“Yes I have,” answers the young comrade. “But I distance myself from it!”
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