Will Merkel follow in Trump’s footsteps?
German politicians have no intention of ending the ongoing spat with Turkey. By claiming that “economic pressure” was working, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel undermined Turkey’s efforts to reduce tensions and took the crisis to a whole new level. Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s call for Turkish citizens in Germany to not vote for “political parties that are hostile toward Turkey” revived the debate on meddling in Berlin’s internal affairs.
Openly supporting the “no” campaign ahead of the April 16 referendum in Turkey, German politicians could clearly stomach Berlin’s efforts to meddle in Ankara’s internal affairs. Just months later, they have expressed concern about Turkey’s “intervention” in German politics.
To be clear, the Turkish government has been trying to save its relationship with Berlin despite repeated efforts by Germany to fuel unrest in Turkey since the 2013 Gezi Park revolts. However, the Germans provided a safe haven to PKK and Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) members and refused to contribute to Turkey’s counter-terrorism efforts. As such, the disagreement between the two countries is much bigger than the upcoming general election in Germany.
Berlin wants to mount pressure on Ankara through various channels including EU institutions. As competition replaces cooperation in the relations between the two countries, which have strong trade and demographic ties, tensions are getting out of hand.
Turkish-German relations are suffering from a serious shift in perspective, as structural, strategic and economic issues are becoming increasingly personal. According to German politicians, the “Erdoğan question” lies at the heart of the ongoing crisis. But personifications of this sort threaten to inflict permanent damage to bilateral relations. This approach turned Turkey into “Germany’s other” in the eyes of German citizens. More importantly, the anti-Erdoğan campaign in the German media and politics could undermine the country’s political culture.
The most recent developments in Charlottesville established just how fragile Western democracies actually are. What happened didn’t just showcase the violent tendencies of extremists, racists and neo-Nazis. At the same time, it became clear that the rage of White America had reached a frightening new level.
As Kadir Üstün recently pointed out, American democracy could face a crisis of government unless U.S. President Donald Trump finds a way to draw a thick line between the white population’s anger toward the system and racism. Charlottesville shows us that problems that a superpower could easily handle (i.e. the Daesh threat, minorities and immigration) politicized the whites beyond the limits of populism and turned this tension into a fault line.
In my opinion, German Chancellor Angela Merkel needs to learn certain lessons from Charlottesville. Mrs. Merkel, who lays claim to the leadership of the free world in the face of Mr. Trump’s populism, could be following in his footsteps without even knowing it. Clearly, she hasn’t been promoting populism and xenophobia openly. But Mrs. Merkel, Mr. Gabriel and others have been planting the seeds of anger among Germans against Muslims and Turks by fueling anti-Erdoğanism. For the sake of teaching Mr. Erdoğan a lesson, she has been creating an environment of which white supremacists – or, to call them what they really are, neo-Nazis — among her people could take advantage. Needless to say, the idea of ‘Islamist terror’ and ‘the immigration threat’ are much more popular in Europe than the United States. The Turks – Europe’s most integrated and least radicalized community — are being alienated by European leaders themselves.
The new wave of racism and neo-Nazism could put Mrs. Merkel, who claims to represent liberal values, in a difficult position. To be clear, the German economy’s strength won’t be able to save her country from that wave. Need I remind anyone that the German democracy is particularly fragile when it comes to xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism?
This article was first published on Daily Sabah on August 23, 2017.