Sunday evening in Vienna-Favoriten: By sheer coincidence, I was waiting for my bus on Reumannplatz, the center of that district of Vienna that is characterized by the Turkish community like no other in the Austrian capital. It was exactly when the election results from Türkiye were announced. At the call from Ankara, columns of cars suddenly set off, huge flags with crescents and stars, Erdogan posters were held out. If no merchandise was available, cell phones were pulled out and the scenes filmed for family and friends at home and abroad. I also occasionally saw the forbidden wolf salute, a hand signal that is forbidden in many European countries.
The atmosphere was heated, not aggressive. Four Syrian migrants stood with me at the bus stop: They looked rather embarrassed at the Erdogan show, knowing what the result could mean for their compatriots in Türkiye. They were also shocked by the “display” of Turkish nationalism in Vienna, proudly celebrated another five years of nationalism in Türkiye in their Mercedes, Audi and BMW. “What are they actually celebrating? Living here in freedom and prosperity, while their relatives at home with 80 percent inflation don’t know how to buy their bread and critics have to go to jail for years. I don’t understand the world anymore!”, said one of the Syrian to me after noticing how a man of Turkish origin asked me from his car, not exactly friendly, what I was looking at him and his 3×3 meter Erdogan flag. I just replied – in a more polite tone – that I was just observing what was going on. He first wanted to get out and continue the discussion with me, but then the horns of the vehicles behind him prevented the conversation. He also said goodbye with a wolf salute in my direction.
The Syrian’s statement underscored exactly what I was thinking when the bus finally arrived at Reumannplatz, 20 minutes late. For a long time I couldn’t get the images out of my head: the nationalist pathos in the middle of Europe, from citizens who are part of our community, who don’t care how human dignity, freedom of the press, the protection of minorities are trampled on in Türkiye, what responsibility Erdogan and his AKP have for the dead in Eastern Anatolia who had to lose their lives in the devastating earthquake, how poverty is rampant in the country thanks to economic and financial policy.
“How can it be that Erdogan shapes and shapes Muslim life in many parts of Europe more intensively? What lessons do we and our politics draw from this?” These words reached me via Twitter from Murat Kayman, a German publicist and co-founder of the liberal Muslim Alhambra Society. He is right, as was German government member Cem Özdemir, who in interviews on Sunday called for Turkish ultra-nationalism to be countered by European politics. He spoke of a “turning point” that must finally be completed after Erdogan’s re-election.
Even though I watched the masses of Erdogan admirers with amazement and concern, the bare numbers should speak for themselves: Of course, it is not the majority of Turkish fellow 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”.
In my on-site observations, it wasn’t just women wearing headscarves with their bearded husbands who were part of Erdogan’s contingent. From a purely external point of view, I also saw many women who I would rather put in the liberal drawer because of their appearance. The Erdogan standard voter does not exist! The AKP can now mobilize voters both in working-class milieus and in better-off households. One should therefore not draw hasty conclusions. AKP supporters are more motivated to vote and are better organized abroad than the opposition. Erdogan and his AKP have a sophisticated organizational structure in many major European cities. These include the mosque associations controlled by the Diyant in Ankara, which is considered a major source of AKP support. In addition, many immigrants still consume mainly Turkish media. Erdogan controls the media, including the private ones.
Those who voted for Erdogan wanted to send a signal with their strong identification with the society of origin and as a reaction to the president’s mobilization efforts. But there are also many voices from people who came to Germany in the early 1960s as part of labor migration; they and their families come from the religiously conservative heartland of Anatolia. Corresponding values were then passed on to the next generations. And the many young Erdogan admirers? It was probably a kind of defiant reaction: They still have the feeling that the status of Turks or Muslims in parts of Europe is low. And then comes a president who gives them the feeling of recognizing this value, emphasizing their belonging to Türkiye and, last but not least, speaking to their emotions, to their hearts.
Erdogan’s success with the Turks abroad is also a lesson for European politics. We obviously failed to convey the fruits of a liberal society and failed to make people feel fully welcome here. If Turks living here in the second or third generation do not yet feel recognized by the host society, this can lead them to think back to Türkiye and to this authoritarian leader.
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