President Erdogan of Turkey crossed a red line last week when he likened Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany to a Nazi. In simple English, that is what he said. He also used that abhorrent epithet against some of the key EU countries which did not allow his ministers to campaign for him in their respective countries. The idea was to garner support for enhancing presidential powers of the Turkish President amongst the overseas communities of Turks living in the European Union.
There is nothing more shocking and malevolent to the EU countries than calling them out loud publicly as Nazis. And, it hurts the Germans in a visceral fashion. Germany is probably the most democratic country in all of the European Union, and has come a long, long way from the clutches of Nazism. The use of the word Nazi is a serious insult not only to the memory of the victims of Nazi rule, but also to the survivors of the holocaust.
While the responses from several European nations were muted, the German reactions were severe enough to stop President Erdogan on his tracks. He, however, continued his hurtful tirade against the EU, going as far as to say that Europeans won’t be safe on their streets if the situation continues. That was an intolerable statement from a power-hungry dictator who has suppressed human rights in his country. I was surprised to see muted reactions from the EU even to this serious slight, and wondered what was going on.
The EU and the European Parliament should now seriously question Turkey’s accession to the EU. President Erdogan is going to rescind the ban on the death penalty after winning the referendum for more dicatatorial powers, and that, in itself, should stop the accession. The human rights violations involving the sacking of thousands of government workers and jailing of security forces as a result of the July 2016 coup still rankles the EU, and many nations have started granting political asylum to Turks fleeing the government repression.
I was sad to read about all of these happenings. My view of Turkey was shaped recently by the Ottoman TV Serial “The Magnificent Century” showcased on Netflix. I even wrote a blog post on this serial, and am waiting for Netflix to start the next Season. I was thoroughly impressed with the Ottoman history, culture, traditions, et al, only to be shocked by the violence let loose in Turkey by various factions. Turkey is a great country which was once the epicentre of civilizations, and remains as a cultural and geographical bridge between Asia and Europe. It should not derail into anarchy and dictatorship. President Erdogan might be a great president for Turkey, but he needs to understand that, to be part of the EU, he has to adhere to certain well established principles which cannot be compromised. The EU is not a joke, and the Europeans are not unreasonable. To take Turkey into Europe, President Erdogan has to establish good relationships with all the key countries of the EU and cannot continue to bad-mouth them. There has to be a spirit of collaboration. Strongman arm-twisting will not work with the EU. If President Erdogan is styling himself after President Putin of Russia or President Trump of the U.S., it will be huge mistake.
On the part of the EU, a more robust reaction would have positioned the unmistakeable stature of the EU in the eyes of the watching world. I think the EU missed a big opportunity to assert its strong position against the mistaken assertions of the Turkish President and his Foreign Minister. There has to be a cost for such deliberate provocations, and I wonder why the EU wouldn’t show the stick when the situation demands.
May be the EU is worried about a NATO ally. May be the EU has come under pressure from Mr Trump not to exacerbate an already volatile situation. May be the EU is worried about loss of trade with Turkey. May be the EU is worried about the millions of Turks who live in its countries across Europe – what their allegiance is like towards Turkey, and what their reactions would be if a tough stand is taken by the EU against their President. A strong man evokes passions for sure, and President Erdogan must be stirring nationalistic emotions in overseas Turks, may be.
Sober minds have to prevail to recover the bad situation of the EU – Turkey relations. And, there is no better politician to deliver a very strong message and lead the road to recovery other than the Chancellor of Germany. And, President Erdogan would have his final chance to listen and make amends to his despicable utterances involving comparisons with Nazis.
26th March 2017