President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has begun his familiar campaign in the run-up to the parliamentary and presidential elections he plans to hold on May 14, 2023, to mobilize his supporters and win their support by convincing them that he is fighting against outside forces that are trying to destroy the Turkish state. As in previous elections, Turks living in Germany, like in the 2018 referendum, will be one of the focal points of Erdogan’s campaign. However, it is unlikely that Germany will allow Erdogan to use its territory for election propaganda this time.
According to a report by RedaktionsNetzwerk (RND) Germany on January 24, the planned working visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin will not take place, according to information from AKP party sources. The Chancellor’s foreign policy adviser, Jens Ploetner, and Erdogan’s adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, could not agree on topics and a date for the meeting. Such a decision may have been influenced by the speech made by Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmaker Mustafa Açıkgöz during a meeting with Grey Wolves in the German city of Neuss.
The Grey Wolves are seen as the paramilitary wing of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), an ally of President Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), whose ideology is mainly based on Turkish nationalism. Therefore, Kurds, Armenians, and other minorities in Türkiye have occasionally been their targets. In 2020, France officially banned the Grey Wolves after a memorial honoring Armenians killed during World War I was defaced with graffiti that included the Grey Wolves’ name.
Video footage on social media shows AKP deputy Mustafa Acikgoz speaking at a Grey Wolves meeting in Neuss. “Just as we will not grant them the right to stay in Türkiye, we will deny them the right to reside in Germany. We will defeat the PKK and FETO terrorist organizations no matter where they hide in the world,” Acikgoz said.
After the incident, the German Foreign Ministry summoned Turkish Ambassador. It issued a warning, saying that “hate speech has no place in Germany” and that what Açıkgöz did at the Neuss event “must not be repeated.” “We have made it clear that we must approve foreign campaign events in advance. If Turkish representatives do not abide by the rules, we must determine the consequences,” the ministry said in a tweet.
In Germany, a law introduced in 2017 prohibits non-EU politicians from campaigning on German soil within three months of elections in their country. Foreign officials must also apply to the German government to hold a political event in Germany. The law was enacted after a handful of Turkish politicians campaigned in Germany ahead of a 2018 referendum on constitutional amendments that would strengthen Erdogan’s presidential powers. Turkish residents in Germany were allowed to vote in the referendum. However, many local German authorities barred Turkish lawmakers from speaking, citing security concerns. Erdogan was angered by this measure, which he called a “Nazi-era tactic.”
Since coming to power, Erdogan has actively campaigned to encourage Turks residing in Germany to identify with him and Turkish values. This attitude further divides an already very heterogeneous community. Furthermore, Erdogan’s election campaign, which focuses on nationalist rhetoric, deepens the division among the Turkish minority living in Germany.
The Turkish minority, which has problems integrating into German society, is moving away from integration as it becomes more involved in Turkish domestic politics in line with the Erdogan government’s political goals. For this reason, Germany must take measures for its security to protect the Turkish minority from becoming the object of Erdogan’s political goals. The cancelation of Erdogan’s working visit to Germany, likely to degenerate into an election campaign, can be considered a correct decision.
Moreover, German leaders need to recognize the following. An autocratic leader like Erdogan ruling Türkiye will lead to a deterioration of relations in the long term, even though it is easier to compromise as long as let him has his way. For example, the German government may think it can stop the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe in the short term with the money it provides to Erdogan’s government through the EU. But for autocratic leaders like Erdogan, their political future is essential. Therefore, they can turn any issue into leverage and make various demands. In the long term, therefore, it is in the interest of Türkiye and all EU countries that a democratic leader governs Türkiye.
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