Germany calls Turkish president’s Nazi comparisons ‘absurd’
Row comes as German mayors cancel rallies over appearances by Turkish ministers
German chancellor Angela Merkel has conceded “deep differences of opinion” with Turkey and dismissed Ankara’s claims that “Nazi” practices were at play in restricting Turkish political rallies in Germany.
On Sunday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said hindering ministerial appearances at rallies in Germany was “no different” to tactics used by the Nazis. “We don’t want to see the Nazi world again, not its fascist deeds. We thought this era was over but clearly not,” he said.
Germany dismissed the remarks as targeted provocation which, even in the heat of a political campaign, were “absurd” and trivialised Nazi crimes. “One cannot seriously comment on such off-the-mark utterances,” said Dr Merkel, her strongest words yet over Germany’s bilateral meltdown with Ankara.
Last week Germany’s regional mayors cancelled two political rallies, citing crowd safety concerns. They accused event organisers of keeping them in the dark about the fact that Turkish ministers would appear at the rallies ahead of next month’s constitutional referendum in Turkey.
A third rally went ahead in the western city of Leverkusen on Sunday night. Mr Erdogan will decide this week whether to pay a visit to the 1.4 million registered voters in Germany, the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey.
This creates a no-win situation for the German leader. Like other European leaders, Dr Merkel is deeply worried about the consequences of voters backing Mr Erdogan’s plans to boost his powers and downgrade parliament and the judiciary.
Still, while the idea of offering the Turkish leader a stage for political rallies on German territory rankles, Berlin knows it cannot afford to outlaw such gatherings and risk alienating Ankara entirely as a partner on refugees, Syria, the Middle East and Nato.
Dr Merkel is also under pressure to assist the imprisoned Die Welt journalist Deniz Yücel, facing trial on terrorist chances and denounced by Ankara as a German “agent” – claims dismissed by Berlin.
A high-level meeting of Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union agreed on Monday that an outright ban on campaigning Turkish politicians, a line pushed by Dutch and Austrian leaders, would be counter-productive.
But senior Merkel allies were furious at Mr Erdogan lecturing Germany on freedom of speech after imprisoning some 100,000 opponents, judges, academics and journalists after last July’s failed putsch. “There is absolutely no reason to allow ourselves to be reproached over this,” said Peter Altmaier, Dr Merkel’s chancellery chief of staff.
German opposition politicians were even more outspoken, demanding that Dr Merkel draw a red line under Mr Erdogan’s campaign to “eliminate the press . . . the purge of the state apparatus and his hateful tirades”.
“If anything recalls fascism of previous eras, then it is the Erdogan method,” said Sevim Dagdelen of the Left Party.
In Brussels, German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said he was anxious to “bring an overheated debate into calmer waters” on Wednesday, when he meets with his Turkish colleague, Mevlüt Cavusoglu, in Berlin.
Following Turkish economics minister Nihat Zeybekci appearance in Germany on Sunday, Mr Cavusoglu plans to hold another campaign rally on Tuesday in Hamburg.