SHOULD FOREIGN POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS BE BANNED IN EUROPE?
Written By Antun Katalenić
Godwin’s law is an Internet adage which asserts that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches — that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or his deeds. That some laws in fact do apply to all men equally was on display when the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Germany and the Netherlands, you guessed it – Nazis.
Rewind to early March 2017. A team of Turkish ruling party’s ministers were due to hold rallies in Germany a month ahead of the Turkish constitutional referendum in which the people were made to decide whether they agree with the changes to the Turkish political system transforming it from a parliamentarian to a more presidential one, giving Erdoğan even more power than ever before. The referendum was a success from the government’s perspective but the campaign abroad did not pass as smoothly.
Some of the rallies were called off by the local municipalities stating technical and security concerns but Erdoğan, along with his minister of foreign affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, were not having any of it and accused German state authorities of interfering and aiding the Turkish opposition ahead of the vote. The pair however failed to mention that other similar rallies were allowed elsewhere in Germany. Of the approximately three million Turks living in Germany, about half have the right to vote in referendums and elections.
Is it OK to deny freedom of speech to a government that does the same to its citizens, journalists and academics?
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quick to downplay these decisions and calmed the rhetoric however the belief that these cancellations were politically motivated remained. Not least because only a week prior, Deniz Yücel, a dual citizenship journalist of Die Welt & taz was arrested in Turkey on the accusations of supporting terrorism. As of 28 June 2017, Yücel is still detained in Turkey. 134 days and counting.
The situation escalated in neighbouring Netherlands only a week later when the aforementioned Çavuşoğlu’s airplane was denied landing in Rotterdam airport due to security concerns regarding his planned rally. The date of the rally came at a right time for the Dutch PM Mark Rutte, just ahead of the general election. The liberal PM willingly grabbed the opportunity handed to him, to appear tough. Doing something that was beforehand in the domain of Geert Wilders resulted in the opposition candidate demanding an absolute ban of all Turkish politicians from the Netherlands.
Following Çavuşoğlu’s verbal attack on Dutch authorities most European states backed the Netherlands with Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen calling for a postponement of a planned visit by his Turkish counterpart Binali Yilderim. Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, known for his tough stance on the Turkish government, went a step further and called for a Union-wide ban on foreign political campaigns which would in his opinion make it more difficult for Turkey to pressure individual states.
Dictatorship-esque rule, purges in state apparatus and universities, arrests of journalists, war against the Kurds. All these are at least in some part allowed to take place due to the migrant deal.
The Turkish government stated its belief that these bans constitute a violation of freedom of speech. Seriously though, is there a more democratic way to run a country than to organise a referendum and let the people decide? This begs the question: Is it OK to deny freedom of speech to a government that does the same to its citizens, journalists and academics?
Would a ban of all rallies or even calling Erdoğan a persona non grata as proposed by Wilders achieve anything?
Judging by the polls in Europe the answer is a resounding yes. When asked whether Merkel was too indulgent to Erdoğan, four in five Germans said yes. This relationship can be explained with the German government’s fear that Turkey might resign its signature from the migrant deal between EU & Turkey if the former would be too hard on the latter. Explained in the most simple way possible, the deal ensures that Turkey keeps the hundreds of thousands of refugees within its borders and in return Europe provides it with financial support and turns a blind eye to the ever increasing authoritarian nature of Erdoğan’s regime.
Let’s look at this situation from the eyes of a Germany. Would a ban of all rallies or even calling Erdoğan a persona non grata as proposed by Wilders achieve anything? For the most part it’d be a populist move for the home crowd making unnecessary grudges among the numerous local Turkish population.
Dictatorship-esque rule, purges in state apparatus and universities, arrests of journalists, war against the Kurds. All these are at least in some part allowed to take place due to the migrant deal. At least in some part. Germany’s issue is therefore not in the rallies rather somewhere else. Banning a speech by some Turkish minister in some German state will not increase the chances of Deniz Yücel’s release, threatening to revoke the migrant deal just might.
A version of this article was first published on Radio Študent.
Cover photo credit: Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters