Po­lit­i­cal free­dom and Turk­ish ex­pat vot­ers in Europe

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Opinion - *Di­rec­tor, the Daily Sabah Cen­tre

Turkey’s com­ing pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions on June 24 are not only a ma­jor topic for Turkey but also for Turk­ish cit­i­zens abroad, es­pe­cially in Ger­many. Ger­many has the largest Turk­ish di­as­pora that con­sti­tutes a siz­able amount of vot­ers abroad – a to­tal of 3 mil­lion Turk­ish cit­i­zens are el­i­gi­ble to vote abroad, 1.5 mil­lion of whom live in Ger­many.

Turk­ish politi­cians have a nat­u­ral ten­dency to reach out to those 1.5 mil­lion vot­ers, which is a group larger than some Euro­pean coun­tries’ whole pop­u­la­tion, and are be­ing con­fronted by dif­fer­ent types of ob­sta­cles and also banned by the Ger­man and some other gov­ern­ments. Be­cause the num­ber of Turk­ish vot­ers in Ger­many and Europe has come to a point that no po­lit­i­cal party in Turkey can af­ford to ig­nore the size of this con­stituency, a heated dis­cus­sion on the le­git­i­macy of Turk­ish politi­cians vis­it­ing and cam­paign­ing on Ger­man soil has bro­ken out re­cently. Some other Euro­pean coun­tries, such as Holland and Bel­gium, have also erected some bar­ri­ers to cam­paign­ing by Turk­ish politi­cians as if they are com­ing with weapons or threats in­stead of words for prospec­tive vot­ers.

The dis­pute be­tween Turkey and Hol- land dur­ing the April 2017 con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum in Turkey is still fresh in peo­ple’s minds. Turk­ish politi­cians were banned from mak­ing campaign speeches, there were ver­bal dis­putes ex­changed be­tween the lead­ers of a num­ber of coun­tries, and some con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sions were made by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in Europe. It was all a mess at that time, which only ended up harm­ing bi­lat­eral re­la­tions and caused vis­i­ble and per­cep­ti­ble di­vi­sions within com­mu­ni­ties.

Ger­many, in the run-up to the 2017 ref­er­en­dum in Turkey, blocked some Turk­ish min­is­ters and deputies of the Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AK Party) who wanted to meet with vot­ers and hold in­for­ma­tive gath­er­ings with the lo­cal Turk­ish so­ci­ety. This block­ade made Turks in Ger­many feel iso­lated and dis­crim­i­nated very se­ri­ously shak­ing their con­fi­dence in the Ger­man state. Var­i­ous own­ers of meet­ing halls abruptly can­celed pre­vi­ously agreed-upon con­tracts for the ref­er­en­dum ap­pear­ances of Turk­ish politi­cians af­ter the topic was in­flated in the me­dia.

Ac­tu­ally, it was not the Ger­man fed­eral gov­ern­ment ban­ning these meet­ings, but in­stead the cen­tral gov­ern­ment shifted author­ity for these de­ci­sions to the lo­cal level. With this diplo­matic move, they en­forced the in­tended bans with­out even hav­ing to take di­rect re­spon­si­bil­ity for them.

How­ever, one could not say that this dis­agree­able at­ti­tude was ex­tended to­wards all Turk­ish politi­cians. Un­for­tu­nately, it was only di­rected against the rul­ing AK Party rep­re­sen­ta­tives. On the other hand, op­po­si­tion politi­cians of the Re­pub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party (CHP) and the Peo­ple's Demo­cratic Party (HDP) were able to gather with their sup­port­ers with­out in­ter­fer­ence. This po­si­tion was taken up by the Ger­man me­dia with en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port – al­most as if it were a nat­u­ral oc­cur­rence. Ger­man me­dia al­most seemed like a part of the Turk­ish op­po­si­tion par­ties, and this at­ti­tude is still vis­i­ble.

GER­MANY’S STATE OF EMER­GENCY

The source of fur­ther ten­sions in re­gard to re­la­tions with the EU is the state of emer­gency that is still be­ing im­ple­mented in Turkey. The state of emer­gency was pro­claimed af­ter the failed Gülenist Terror Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FETÖ) coup at­tempt of July 15, 2016, which has since been re­peat­edly ex­tended. In Western me­dia, peo­ple were quick to speak of the “death of democ­racy” in Turkey or how “Er­doğan leads Turkey into dic­ta­tor­ship”. The crit­i­cism, how­ever, was not di­rected against the par­lia­ment, which had ul­ti­mately de­clared and ex­tended the con­tin­u­a­tion of the state of emer­gency, each time with a large ma­jor­ity, but di- rectly against Pres­i­dent Er­doğan. The fact that the so-called “wilde Mann vom Bosporus” (The wild man of the Bosporus) has large pop­u­lar sup­port be­hind him – earned by his re­fusal to sub­or­di­nate Turkey to the sta­tus quo of world pol­i­tics dom­i­nated by Western pow­ers – is of­ten hid­den in Western me­dia cov­er­age.

THE UN­WANTED RE­SULTS OF GOV­ERN­MENT POLI­CIES

The fiery, dis­pro­por­tion­ate and bi­ased crit­i­cism in the run-up to the ref­er­en­dum by Western politi­cians against Turkey ul­ti­mately spilled over to the so­ci­ety at large.

The in­creas­ing skep­ti­cism to­wards Turks es­ca­lated the ha­tred in some places, lead­ing to at­tacks against Turk­ish in­sti­tu­tions, mosques and peo­ple. This at­mos­phere even­tu­ally blended with the so­cially-ac­cept­able Is­lam­o­pho­bia that is ram­pant among Euro­pean right-wing move­ments. The on­go­ing anti-Turk­ish me­dia pro­pa­ganda con­tin­ues to pose a threat to Turks as it could in­crease hos­til­ity to­ward them in the fu­ture.

Whether this trend will change af­ter the early elec­tions on June 24 is doubt­ful. As can be seen, the blocks on Turk­ish politi­cians are al­ready be­ing dis­cussed again – both in pol­i­tics and in the me­dia.

In Ger­many, there is a sig­nif­i­cant Turk- ish mi­nor­ity with the right to vote in elec­tions in Turkey, and it seems that the Ger­man state can­not main­tain a ra­tio­nal and ob­jec­tive state at­ti­tude to­wards those who are pro-Er­doğan. The gov­ern­ment is marginal­iz­ing its own peo­ple, who are also tax­pay­ers, be­cause of their po­lit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion and is forc­ing these peo­ple to choose be­tween the Ger­man state and po­lit­i­cal par­ties in Turkey.

In light of these facts, Turkey has proposed a dif­fer­ent so­lu­tion – so as to pro­tect its cit­i­zens from get­ting stuck in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion and put an end to spec­u­la­tions – by declar­ing that so far, only one ap­pear­ance in front of a Turk­ish au­di­ence in Europe is planned; on May 20 in the Bos­nian cap­i­tal Sara­jevo. Be­fore that an­nounce­ment, the pres­i­dency had been bom­barded with thou­sands of emails in which cit­i­zens ex­pressed their de­sire to re­ceive the pres­i­dent in their coun­try. This was also no­tice­able on so­cial me­dia. It seems there will be more than 20,000 par­tic­i­pants from across Europe who will come to Bos­nia to see the Turk­ish pres­i­dent. Even if a trip to Bos­nia is not pos­si­ble for all of the sup­port­ers and sym­pa­thiz­ers of the AK Party and the pres­i­dent, many hearts will surely be beat­ing there on May 20.

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