It is a mystery to many Turks living in Europe why the majority of their Turkish residents in Germany, Austria or the Benelux countries voted for the autocrat Erdogan in the last elections. They too must at least have heard how the Sultan in Ankara and his system deal with critics!
Just imagine, a government scandal would be uncovered in the well-known political programs on European TV – and the makers would then have to leave their country. This is what happens to many journalists in Türkiye. They can no longer return to their homeland and have been living in western exile for several years. Why? They dared to do their job.
Many of these exiles had high hopes for Türkiye’s recent elections. They were sorely disappointed. Erdogan received up to two-thirds of the votes from those voting in central Europe as Turkish citizens. They elected a despot, while in this country they take for granted all the advantages of liberal democracy. Both are their right. But they consciously accept that many more people will come to Europe in the coming months and years because they will be harassed, threatened or accused on flimsy grounds in Türkiye. Because even after this election, Erdogan did not say a word of reconciliation, on the contrary. That bodes badly.
In the West, awareness of the problem of this mixed situation is rather modest. In fact, the situation is not easy. On the one hand, the Turkish government is trampling on democracy and freedom of many people. On the other hand, the country is part of NATO and an economic partner. But that can’t mean closing both eyes, it would be a start to at least open one eye.
That would be sorely needed to protect the opponents of the Erdogan regime living in Europe who are working for a democratic Türkiye. Erdogan’s long arm must not reach them here. The likelihood of meeting Erdogan’s supporters, including fanatical ones, in western European cities and being insulted, threatened and attacked by them is by no means small. Even those who get into the “wrong” taxi in Berlin can experience their blue miracle. Should you actually avoid taxis in Germany – just because you stand up for democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of the press? More and more citizens of Turkish origin are asking themselves whether they have to censor themselves here, also to protect their families.
In fact, social divisions are not only increasing in Türkiye, but also here in the West. People of Turkish origin are attacked and threatened as soon as they move with a critical opinion in the structures of Türkiye-affiliated associations or clubs or in predominantly Turkish-dominated social areas. Or they run the risk of being denounced as alleged terrorist supporters via a notorious app from the central authority of the Turkish police and arrested the next time they enter Türkiye.
There are de facto parallel societies that challenge our democracy and our freedoms, whose protagonists threaten, insult or denounce others. It would help if the state and authorities were aware of this and looked closely. The impression that the security of those who feel firmly rooted in Europe and at the same time work for democracy in Türkiye is only secondary compared to the security of anti-democratic agitators would in any case be fatal for trust in our European fundamental rights.
It is not about convincing fanatical supporters of nationalist and fascist ideas of democracy and humanism. Where it succeeds – great. But one should not be naive and rely on it. Our responsibility is first and foremost to those who are threatened. It must be clear at all times that only the secular constitutions apply in Europe – and we also do not allow double security standards between Europeans and migrants. Anyone who works with Turkish nationalists and racists here, doesn’t assert themselves against them or holds back – like the city of Cologne, which wants to have a memorial to the Armenian genocide removed for fear of ultra-nationalists – is opening Pandora’s box. Because the enemies of the open society understand such actions as an invitation to continue.
We must also stop supporting and legitimizing the system of Muslim associations, which represent more political interests than religious communities, with naïve cooperation. Dialog? Yes, of couse. Cooperation? No, not under these circumstances. We must not accept that Ditib, Atib and Milli Görüş mosques have been turned into the Turkish government’s campaign headquarters where the opposition has no place. Nor does the fact that the associations always merely assert their independence and, if in doubt, implement the interests of Ankara. Are all decision-makers in Europe aware that the next generation of imams from Türkiye will be even more nationalistic and fundamentalist than today’s? Does everyone who is open to state treaties with Ditib, Milli Görüş and others or who wants to make other agreements know that they are bringing Erdogan directly into European schools?
Not being naïve also means wrestling for the heads and hearts of those of Turkish origin – just as it is necessary with those of Russian origin if we don’t want to lose them to Putin. This means that we must do more to oppose Ankara’s diaspora policy. Above all, an active religious policy with clever financing and training concepts, for example, which shapes Muslim life in Europe with Muslims who are convinced of freedom and democracy.
Last but not least, we need counter-offers on social and traditional media. When others engage in open propaganda, our naïve response cannot be to sit back and hope that they will go to the library every day to stock up on quality newspapers. In many households, television stations that are close to Erdogan are mainly on. Young people of Turkish origin in particular are being ideologized on social media such as Twitter and Instagram by influencers from the milieu of the AKP and the fascist Gray Wolves.
Why don’t we use opportunities to counter the heated propaganda against all the values of our country? An EU-Turkish Arte-TV, which could also produce low-threshold entertainment offers in addition to news, is still an idea that is worth putting into practice – by the way, an idea that always receives a lot of approval in theory. Still, nothing happened, certainly also because it would cost something. Now we’re paying a bill that’s no cheaper.
When dealing with radicalized supporters of the AKP and MHP in Europe, there is either helplessness or people want to sugarcoat reality. The attacks on our democracy, on our cohesion, on our civil liberties will not decrease. We must not be naive.
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