The row between Turkey and Germany has become extraordinarily bitter with the German government of Angela Merkel pushing back angrily at being called “Nazis” by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan needs to choose his words more carefully and with a better regard to reality. Hitler’s Nazi Germany would never have opened its arms to a million desperate migrants. Chancellor Merkel’s response to the tidal wave of human misery from Syria and Iraq has shamed her country’s European partners. It has also, for that matter, arguably been more generous and humane than the welcome offered by Turkey, which has sought to confine Syrian refugees in huge camps along the border.
The reason for the spat was the decision, apparently taken by local municipalities, to withdraw permission for the Turkish government to hold rallies in Germany. These were designed to drum up support for a “Yes” vote in next month’s referendum on the transformation of the Turkish presidency by giving it a far more powerful executive role. There are 1.4 million Turks in Germany who are entitled to vote.
The local authorities concerned withdrew permission on the grounds of security. The Merkel government in Berlin insists that it had nothing to do with the decisions. But Erdogan senses a conspiracy. Germany has expressed its concern at the crackdown following last year’s failed coup. Some 100,000 people have lost their jobs and many have been detained allegedly as part of the conspiracy to overthrow the government. A German reporter has been detained in Turkey accused of spreading terrorism propaganda. The increasingly authoritarian Erdogan brooks no opposition either at home or abroad.
Yet there are good reasons to believe that the planned Turkish rallies in Germany were a mistake in the first place. The security concerns by the Germans were real. There is a rising tide of bigotry in the country with far-right politicians exploiting worries among ordinary people at Chancellor Merkel’s generous and humane response to the refugee crisis. The fear of terrorism is being played up. Attacks on migrants and migrant hostels are increasing. For the Turkish government to organize large rallies to promote its referendum back home and clearly to promote a “Yes” vote as well would have provided a focus for physical and verbal attacks.
Of equal importance it was always going to highlight the fact that a large number of the Turks living in Germany hold dual citizenship. The xenophobes have been given the opportunity to question the loyalty of these people. The obscene argument has been primed that if they still want to be part of Turkey, they can go back home there.
The campaign for Turkish voters in Germany to take part in the referendum could perfectly well have been conducted by mail shots, TV advertising and Internet promotions. It did not have to be via high-profile rallies that would expose German Turks to further racist attacks and scurrilous xenophobic campaigns.
Moreover, Erdogan’s rallies plan has actually undermined Merkel’s wise and open-handed treatment of refugees, of his fellow Muslims. And insulting the Germans by calling them Nazis is a lack of judgment. The real neo-Nazis in the country will be rejoicing at his ill-conceived plans and his response when they were frustrated.