In the News: Starving Journalists and Nazi Music Raids

November 4, 2007

I try to read at least one German newspaper every day. In the last few days, there have been two articles that really got my attention. The first was a long article in Die Zeit about how depressing it is to be a freelance journalist in Germany. Written by a woman with more than 10 years experience, it basically warned young people from trying to pursue journalism as a career. Consider these numbers:

There are currently 70,000 journalists working in Germany. Only a third of them have full-time jobs at media outlets. Each year, the universities crank out 2,000 journalism students onto the job market. In short, not the most encouraging thing for a recent J-school graduate searching for an internship in Germany to read.

The second article was buried on a back page of the local newspaper. The title read, “Federal Investigators Strike Against Far-Right Music Scene.” Apparently police raided a bunch of apartments of Nazi party members and musicians. They were charged with producing right-extremist music, which is illegal.

I was pretty shocked. How can they arrest people for what they sing about? When I think about police going through apartments looking for CDs, I think about the Stasi (East German Secret Police) looking for “capitalist music” and McCarthyism of the 1950s where people could be arrested for owning a Paul Robeson record. Putting people in jail for singing about the “wrong things” just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. Because who gets to decide what is “acceptable” and what isn’t? Where do you draw the line?

Ok, I’ll admit, the lyrics are pretty disturbing. “Die BRD ist viel zu klein, mein Vaterland muss grösser sein” (Germany is too small, the Fatherland must grow), and some pretty nasty things about immigrants and Jews. I don’t agree with the lyrics, obviously, but I do think people should be allowed to express their opinions, no matter how disturbing. I would compare it to the KKKs right to march and sing in the US. What I think is amazing and special about the US is that we defend everyone’s right to free speech, even the KKK.

Germans have a different take on free speech. Here, it is illegal to say or publish certain things, like “The Holocaust didn’t exist.” (Actually, I am wondering if I am even allowed to write that here on my blog…I hope I don’t get arrested.) It is even illigal to write the letters S.S., which makes for strange situations. For example, when my friend, Silvia Spille, had to register her bike with her initials, the official told her that her initials were illegal, and she had to add her middle name. This seems totally ridiculous to me.

When I brought it up with my roommate, I realized that Germans and Americans have very different perspectives on the issue of Free Speech.

“We have a unique history, so we have to have these laws,” said my roommate. In her (and the German courts’) eyes, it is too dangerous to allow people to make racial slurs and talk about Nazi ideals. People who do are arrested for “Volksverhetzung,” or incitement of a people.

To me, that is what was so awful about the Nazis. They arrested (and killed) people for what they believed and what they thought. It seems hypocritical to me for a government to arrest people for what they sing about in the name of protecting democracy. What is worse is that I think it just makes the music more appealing to people who are allured by doing something illegal. Banning music isn’t going to keep people from believing in something. It will just push the movement underground.

I think that the best way to fight against such ideas is with facts, the truth, and by being a model of tolerance. I think that by allowing and protecting the right to free speech, even for the Nazis, would be the best example of how to fight against their ideologies.

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