The things European politicians have had to listen to from Recep Tayyip Erdoğan! Over the 14 years of his administration, this charismatic Turkish leader has managed to tally up a long list of the sins committed by the European Union and has often promised to make the EU pay a price for each of them.
European politicians have not yet recovered from the spiritual traumas he inflicted on them with his insults last year. Erdoğan had a very blunt reaction to their condemnation of his harsh suppression of last year’s coup attempt in Ankara. And the Germans got their comeuppance for the resolution passed by their Bundestag recognizing the Armenian genocide from the early 20th century.
And then a new bomb went off. Now the Turkish president has overreached himself, and the Germans were once again the first to fall into his cross-hairs. Germany’s leaders have been accused of acting like Nazis!
Last Sunday Recep Erdoğan assembled thousands of people at a rally in Istanbul, where he told them, «I’m going to get the whole world stirred up! Germany, you’re nothing like a democracy, and you should know that what you’re doing now is no different from the Nazi practices of the past. You lecture us about democracy, but then you won’t let our ministers speak there. We will discuss Germany’s actions in an international forum and we will shame you in the eyes of the whole world. We don’t want to see Nazis in Germany anymore. We thought that was a bygone era, but apparently it isn’t. I’ll go to Germany when I want, and if you don’t let me in, I’ll make the world rise to its feet!»
This whole uproar arose because of the Turkish referendum scheduled for April 16 on the transition from parliamentary to presidential rule. The idea of the referendum does not enjoy widespread support in Turkey, where many believe that Erdoğan is seeking to consolidate his own power.
In the run-up to the referendum, the sizable Turkish diaspora in Europe holds quite an important position. They maintain close ties with their native land and fuel the opposition within the country. Future voters in the referendum include the 1.5 million German Turks. There are about six million ethnic Turks of varying legal statuses who live in the EU, and they, like most other Muslims, are largely unassimilated. A new generation of «Turkish Europeans» has grown up and entered politics. In Germany, one of the leaders of the Green Party is Cem Özdemir, who is the son of Turkish immigrants, and other popular politicians who are making a name for themselves are: SPD member Vural Öger; Aygül Özkan, the former Minister of Social Affairs, Women, Families, Health, and Integration in the state of Lower Saxony; and Left Party MPs Hakkı Keskin, Hüseyin Kenan Aydın, Hakan Taş, Sevim Dağdelen, plus others. The Bundestag already has a total of 11 deputies of Turkish descent.
Erdogan’s desire to win over the Turkish diaspora in Europe is easy to understand – and suddenly Turkish ministers are showing up in EU countries, urging the local Turkish population to say «yes» to the proposed constitutional reform.
Europeans, however, are not enthusiastic about the upcoming changes to Turkey’s constitutional framework and endlessly wring their hands over the human-rights picture there. Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern has urged a Europe-wide ban on campaigning by Turkish politicians. Austria and the Netherlands have already declared such visits undesirable. In Germany, local governments decide whether Turkish officials may speak publicly, but Berlin has also taken measures to ensure that a number of speeches have been canceled. «Those who want to speak here… must respect our rules», stated Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. «The rules of the law and equally the laws of decency. And moderation is part of mutual respect».
Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag was prohibited from speaking in Baden-Württemberg out of «security concerns», and an address by the minister of the economy, Nihat Zeybekçi, was banned in Cologne and Frechen. These measures also prompted an outburst of indignation from Erdoğan, who then flung the accusation of resurrecting the Nazi regime right in Germany’s face.
Angela Merkel is responding with her customary silence, but her fellow party members are on a tear. Speaking on ARD’s main television channel, the leader of parliament’s CDU faction, Volker Kauder, stated, «It’s incredible and unacceptable for the president of a NATO country to speak this way about another member country, especially someone [a head of state] who has significant problems with the rule of law… If we hear such statements again, our reaction must make it clear that we do not tolerate this on German soil.» And the deputy chairwoman of the CDU, Julia Klöckner, told the Bild newspaper, «Mr. Erdogan is reacting like a defiant child who cannot have his way. The Nazi comparison takes overkill to new heights. This is shameless».
Germans were also outraged, both when Erdoğan accused Deniz Yücel, a correspondent from the newspaper Die Welt, of being a German agent representing the interests of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), as well as when he claimed that German authorities were abetting international terrorism by banning speeches by Turkish officials in Germany.
Moreover, the Turkish minister of foreign affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said that Turkish politicians will continue to speak publicly in Germany: «None of you can stop us. We can go anywhere we want and meet our citizens.»
Germans are traditionally not tolerant of such behavior. By accusing contemporary Germany of Nazism, Erdoğan has – figuratively speaking – tarred and feathered the Bundestag. German umbrage is growing. The tone, as often happens, is being set by the Bavarians. «I vehemently disapprove of Turkish election campaigning on German soil», said Joachim Herrmann, the interior minister of Bavaria.
The scandal just keeps heating up. All of Germany got a public slap in the face. And like it or not, the German chancellor must reply. And in fact, there is an answer that can be made. Germany’s well-oiled propaganda machine could respond to Erdoğan very effectively, if a political decision is made to use it. But Merkel is unlikely to do this: after all, Turkey’s position in NATO and the legion of refugees in Germany are simple facts that must be faced. It is unlikely that any signal will be given for a counterattack, which – in an election year – will be a new PR blow for Merkel.