Turkey/Germany: a breathtaking hypocrisy
European capitals, like opposition in Turkey, are disturbed by the authoritarian lurch
Unlike this country’s refusal to enfranchise its diaspora, Turkey’s millions abroad retain the right to vote, and will be crucial to determining next month’s controversial constitutional referendum on extending the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Polls predict a neck-and-neck race – hence his AKP party’s concern to campaign freely among Germany’s 1.4 million and Austria’s 116,000 Turkish voters.
Last week’s cancellation by German local authorities for “security” reasons of two AKP rallies prompted an extraordinary, Trumpian broadside from Erdogan, outrageously accusing Chancellor Angela Merkel of “Nazi” tactics.
Erdogan elaborated at a dinner party in Istanbul that “I was thinking that fascism is over in Germany, but it is still ongoing ...” The rhetoric, which will go down well among supporters, is breathtakingly hypocritical from a man who has imprisoned tens of thousands of democratic critics, allegedly, but spuriously claiming they supported the failed military coup in July.
And he has effectively muzzled the press – 152 journalists are in prison, including 11 from Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s oldest paper. Some 170 titles have been closed. One of the latest jailings, of German-Turkish reporter Deniz Yucel, has gone down particularly poorly in Berlin.
“No” campaigners say they have enormous difficulty getting their message out. Critics complain that Erdogan wants to use the freedoms of democracy to consolidate his anti-democratic powers, using the right to free speech in Germany yet denying it in Turkey.
And, while there have been calls for bans on foreign – i.e. Turkish – politicians campaigning in the Netherlands and Austria, these have not been matched in Germany which insists Turkish politicians may speak at rallies if there is no danger of disorder. They regard the “Nazi” slur as deeply offensive but have responded with diplomacy, no doubt because of a fear of jeopardising the important EU-Turkey deal on migrants.
But the latest row with Germany is really something of a sideshow. European capitals, like the opposition in Turkey, are profoundly disturbed by the authoritarian lurch the referendum represents. The Council of Europe has expressed “serious doubt” about the vote’s fairness, and a report due to be published next week by its Venice Commission, a watchdog on constitutional law, will reportedly warn that the proposed changes will put Turkey “on the road to an autocracy and a one-person regime”.
While Erdogan complains the EU is no longer serious about embracing Turkey’s accession vocation – and he may be right – his government remorselessly demolishes a central prerequisite of such accession, any democratic credentials the country may have. Opponents in the EU of Turkish accession have their best ally in Ankara itself.