Among the Turks living in Europe, President Erdogan and his ruling AKP party received more support than in Türkiye. The elections were a referendum with the following options: a return to democracy and the rule of law – or a definitive drift into a national-Islamist-tinged, kleptocratic dictatorship. The result is known.
In the spring of 2017, Türkiye experienced the referendum that elevated Erdogan’s autocracy to constitutional status. Even then, Erdogan was campaigning not least by stirring up anti-Western resentment. The then family minister, Fatma Sayan Kaya, made a guerrilla tour throughout Western Europe, including to the Netherlands, although the authorities there had requested that such appearances be refrained from before the forthcoming parliamentary elections. A few meters from the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, the convoy is stopped by the police, causing riots and a diplomatic scandal. During this tumult, a video was made that is still often viewed on the Internet: Erdogan supporters went to the consulate to support the family minister and are being harassed by the police: “They’re going to throw us in jail,” one exclaims excitedly, another replies harshly: “Nonsense, jail, is this Türkiye or what?”
A rare and almost funny scene that shows that many of these people who support Erdogan in Türkiye secretly know the difference between democracy and autocracy. They just don’t care, especially since there is one in Turkey that they think is theirs. They are also not bothered by the catastrophic economic situation for which Erdogan is responsible; this only makes the holiday cheaper.
Of course, it is not the majority of Turkish citizens in Europe who have opted for Erdogan-style nationalism and Islamism. The results from the more conservative Turkish communities in Europe are clear: in Austria 73.7 percent voted for Erdogan, in Germany 67.4 percent and in France 66.6 percent. But the situation is different in other European countries: the Turks who were eligible to vote in Sweden voted for Kilicgaroglu with 53 percent, in Great Britain it was 80.4 percent, in Italy 74.1 percent, in Spain 71.1 percent, in Switzerland 57 2 percent.
Also, we are only talking about the votes cast here, it is by far not the “Turkish community” as a whole that elected the Sultan of the 21st century: In Germany there are about 3 million fellow citizens of Turkish origin, 1.5 million of them eligible to vote. About half of them took part in the elections, of which 67.4 percent voted for Erdogan. As a result, only 17 percent of all Turks living in Germany voted for him, the majority were either not entitled to vote because they no longer have Turkish citizenship or were not interested in the election for various reasons. But they weren’t visible on this election night, they left the stage to the minority. Once again the German Minister Özdemir: “These are not celebrations of harmless supporters of an authoritarian politician, it is rather a rejection of our pluralistic democracy and a testament to our failure among them”.
Erdogan achieved his worst result in Germany with 50.8 percent in Berlin, while he ended up with 78.7 percent in the Western Ruhr area. On the other hand, one has to assume that Erdogan is also popular among those German Turks who no longer have Turkish citizenship. Experiences in the diaspora are less decisive for the voting decision than the milieu and identity affiliations in Türkiye.
A large proportion of the former guest workers come from the milieus that also vote for Erdogan in Türkiye: They are less educated, poorer, more pious. Of course, not all AKP voters are uneducated – just as not all are poor.
That is why the claim, popular in the integration debate, that racism and “Islamophobia” are driving people into Erdogan’s arms is untenable. And even where Erdogan fans say they feel discriminated against in this country, it’s worth taking a closer look. In Germany, the Social Democrats and the Greens were long in the favor of the German Turks who were eligible to vote in Germany. The SPD continues to be so, the conservative CDU has now caught up significantly, and the Greens have lost heavily. The reason: Many nationalist-minded German Turks resent the Greens – and especially Minister Cem Özdemir, who they see as a “traitor” – for the Bundestag resolution on the genocide of the Armenians.
What means are there in Western Europe to show Erdogan’s identity-creating propaganda an alternative? It was and is a mistake to court the Turkish associations controlled by Ankara and allow them to run AKP campaign offices disguised as mosques. All cooperation with the religious authorities, which are under the control of the Diyanet in Ankara, must stop, the associations must be put under surveillance and the imams who work as officials of the Turkish state in Europe must be expelled.
Elections in consulates should also be prohibited across the EU. That would not be undemocratic, on the contrary. The French Revolution started with the thought: “I pay taxes, so I want to have a say in what my taxes are used for.” Türkiye’s right to participate in decision-making without having to feel the consequences of their choice contradicts the idea of democracy. There is also no international agreement that allows states to carry out a sovereign act such as an election on foreign territory.
This would only have a minor impact on results in Türkiye (without the votes of the diaspora, Erdogan’s result would have been only 0.3 percentage points worse), but that too would be a sign of solidarity – and setting boundaries.
And it is also the media that should be placed under more scrutiny: In times of satellite television and the Internet, the constant stream of Turkish propaganda stations cannot be prevented, especially since freedom of the press includes the right to all kinds of nonsense. But there are limits! For example, hate speech that Erdogan and his media used during the election campaign against the Kurdish minority in the country, against Syrian refugees or the LGBTQ+ community and will probably continue to do so, anti-Semitic tirades or the uncommented playback of speeches by Islamist hate preachers from the environment of the Muslim Brotherhood.
One should neither, as is popular in the identity-left milieu, constantly and exclusively look for the faults in the majority society, nor, as has often happened with German and Austrian politicians, pander to win over Turks.
On the other hand, the commitment to the immigration society is correct – and an attitude that a Dutch politician formulated in 2015 after the jihadist attack on “Charlie Hebdo” as follows: “If you don’t want freedom, for heaven’s sake pack your bags and go!”
The originator of these words was not the right-wing populist Geert Wilders, but the social democratic mayor of Rotterdam, who had the minister’s convoy stopped at the time. His name: Ahmed Aboutaleb, Dutchman of Moroccan descent who became the first Muslim to be elected leader of a major Western European city in 2008.
A constitutional state cannot deport anyone who has spent their entire life in the country, regardless of whether these persons have citizenship or not. But the open society should not court its enemies – regardless of whether they are Turkish or Russian.
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