Christian Streich – “We all used to be refugees”

This week, the headlines in the German football press have been all about St. Pauli’s refusal to take part in the “Wir helfen, #refugeeswelcome” project which has been created by Germany’s biggest tabloid Bild. After the paper’s editor in chief started to attack the Buccaneers viciously on Twitter, several other clubs decided to pull out of the event, among them SC Freiburg.

The issue was brought up in the club’s pre match press conference, and after Freiburg’s press officer rendered an explanation for the club’s refusal, Christian Streich delivered a monologue for 8 minutes laying out his thoughts about the current crisis. Once again, Freiburg’s coach showed why he’s one of the most outspoken and intelligent men in football.

The 50-year-old started his remarks by explaining how European countries and other richer nations had identified the crisis at hand far too late:

As a matter of principal countries that have the financial resources to do so, and not only European countries, should have provided more humanitarian aid where it is needed. That would have allowed several people to stay with their families and in places where they do have emotional and family connections. I think decisive errors have been made in the past few months, because this issue has been brushed aside and funds were even reduced by countries like us, other European Union members, but also countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Those are countries that aren’t lacking in funds, and I think this was a crucial error.

Streich went on rendering explanation why some people may have difficulties to welcome the newly arrived refugees:

Now it’s about to be welcoming to those people, to take them in. Fear (within the population) has to be reduced. Oftentimes things revolve around fear, it’s about the fear of the others and the fear of the unknown. One can observe these things when it comes to oneself. I’ve been to Yemen with the U19 of SC Freiburg for instance, and before that I’ve travelled a lot, simply because I’m interested, I always found experiencing something else very exciting. I’ve looked around the corner, when I was in Jakarta I took even closer look at the backyards. I’m simply interested, I wanted to know what is going on. It’s about seeing something else and to get familiar with other ways of thinking. Other cultures are thinking differently, they speak differently and they approach matters in other ways, and because we are socialised in our own way we often times cannot imagine those things.

According to Streich, since mistakes have already been made, credible solutions need to be found for those who had decided to make the journey to Europe and to Germany more specifically:

Now it’s about meeting those who have arrived, and maybe it’s even about re-distributing some of our wealth in the short run, from the people who have a lot to those who have very limited resources. On top of that we have people within our economy who say that we need workers. We need skilled employees. If you take a look at the skilled labour force, and I would include butchers and cooks in that description, there are fine restaurants and hotels, that are closing their kitchen one day per week because there aren’t enough cooks around to keep the place open. That applies to places not that far away from here. So, allow people to arrive, offer them decent surroundings, of course they need to learn the language straight away, because there’s no other alternative than learning the language, and then they need to be integrated into the work force. If you do not allow young people to work, doesn’t matter if they are from Syria or Germany, if you hadn’t allowed me to work at 30, if you had kept me in some place together with a lot of other people and I hadn’t been allowed to work for years, I honestly wouldn’t know what I had done. I don’t need to explain that any further. In any case, my threshold to be aggressive would have been lowered, and I would have gotten into fights with other people and I would have been ashamed, because I couldn’t have bought my kids small scooters or something else. That is simply a shameful experience for you as a human being. Therefore, allow them to work, develop programs to help, do everything to integrate those people. We need those people.

And whilst most football fans have made it clear that refugees are welcome in Germany, there is no denying that Germany has a segment of the population that is very much against more integration. In his final remarks, Streich addressed this segment of Germans:

I want to say one more sentence about this. All of those people who are trying to increase the fear within the population, are most likely people who themselves were refugees one, two or three generations ago. Those people have come from East- Europe or other areas, because of war, unemployment or other suffering. If everybody in this room goes back a few generation they’ll discover that they have a migrant background with a likelihood of 80-90%. It could be the mother, the father, the great-grandfather. Everybody has come from somewhere and they arrived at this place, we haven’t always been here. That is where people need to be educated. All of us have been refugees at some point. There has always been a migration of people. There’s never been a stop to that. What is going on at the moment has always been that way. That was the case after World War I and after World War II. 8 million people were shipped(out of Germany) from Bremerhaven after those two world wars. 5 million people were shipped out of Hamburg. Those people left for America, Australia and South America. And that is what people need to be made aware of. We’ve all been people who landed somewhere after getting there from somewhere else, because of famine, war or out of other necessities. And that is exactly what is going on at this very moment. My final remark about this: The foreign minister of England said after the World War I, I can’t recall his name at the moment, when a lot of Europe was in ruins, he said, that Europe may be the lost continent and he doubted if life was worth living on this continent. And he was partly right, the second world war was just around the corner. Europe was a lost continent for decades, with millions of deaths and horrible events taking place. One should be aware of that, it hasn’t been that long ago. Now it is difficult to live in Africa and the Middle East. There are reasons for that, many mistakes have been made. Another reason for that is the fact that Europe has exploited these continents for centuries. This needs to be communicated and if it is, maybe attitudes are going to change. I’m German and right now I’m very happy about many of the things that are currently happening here, because something has been learned. On the other hand side there are horrific things going here as well, but most people have shown great solidarity and I’m very happy about that.

In a day and age, when most footballers and coaches typically have media-friendly answers consisting of two or three sentences designed to not insult anybody, it is refreshing to see a coach who is capable of talking intelligently about one of the most important issues facing the German society at this very moment.

Furthermore, Streich even managed to show a sophistication, which has often times been lacking from the political discourse over the last few months. His German dialect might be difficult to understand at times, but nobody from the world of Bundesliga football has found such clear words about the current refugee crisis as Christian Streich.

Below is Streich’s entire statement in German.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.