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The photo of football star Mesut Özil together with Turkish President Erdogan sparked a controversy in German media with a political backlash in 2018. Criticism was manifold and linked to the athlete’s representative function and the authoritarian style of Erdogan. However, the reasons for such strong reactions are much less superficial. Deep cultural reasons lay the ground for criticism on Özil. German identity has assumed a patriotic representation of athletes before the founding of the state itself and is deeply integrated in today’s identity. How does this cultural-historical aspect matter today? The early 21st century has been a partial break with this tradition and a shift towards a more inclusive identity. However, since the European refugee crisis the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) demands a revival of traditional German identity. Insecurity in public opinion went beyond the AfD. Other parties have recognized the need to defend German identity and values vis-à-vis authoritarian ones. The general clash of identity, culture and politics heavily influence the backlash on an apparently unpolitical photo by Mesut Özil, who has been used as a political scapegoat.

Keywords: Özil; Erdogan; migrant crisis; integration in Germany; German identity

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