Commentary, Politics

Does Europe see Turkey as its ‘other’?

On March 25, Switzerland joined the anti-Turkey chorus by allowing an openly pro-terror rally in Bern. Supporters of the outlawed PKK not only held a “no” rally against the constitutional referendum to be held in Turkey on April 16 but also displayed posters propagating terrorism. One poster had a picture of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with a gun pointed at his head and with the words “kill Erdoğan.” Since when has it become normal in a European country to call for the murder of a president? Has the anti-Turkey animus and the anti- Erdoğan paranoia really reached this level of insanity?

The Swiss authorities first defended the rally as a “peaceful protest.” After a strong reaction from Turkey, which summoned the Swiss ambassador, they launched an investigation. We will follow this case very closely. But the larger problem remains: how can European democracies allow terrorist groups to operate in their midst in the first place? Who can defend an outlawed terrorist organization’s activities as freedom of speech or assembly? Is not a gun pointed at an elected president also a threat directed at European values?

Some European politicians appear to be so obsessed with the April 16 referendum that they openly support the “no” campaign. They are not simply having an opinion about an important constitutional change in a NATO and EU-candidate country. They are taking a position on an issue over which the Turkish people, not them, will decide. While they accuse Turkish politicians of bringing Turkey’s internal politics into Europe, they themselves take sides in a political debate in Turkey. Some politicians of Turkish origin run “no” campaigns by using their political offices. Some European state media outlets broadcast biased and one-sided programs to give a push to the “no” campaign. Why? Is that because they really care about Turkey or is there something else here?

If these Europeans had really cared about Turkey, they would have taken a clear and unambiguous stance after the July 15 coup attempt. They would have sided with Turkey against the Gülenists as well as the PKK terrorists, many of whom now operate in Europe. They would have stopped paying lip service and supported Turkey in its fight against terrorism with concrete action and steady solidarity. They would have provided real support in Turkey’s fight against Daesh in Syria with Operation Euphrates Shield rather than providing training, intelligence and weapons to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the PKK’s Syrian branches.

Furthermore, they would have made a serious effort to move the EU accession process forward by opening new chapters and thus strengthen Turkey-EU relations since the accession talks began in 2005. (A quick reminder: only one out of 36 chapters has been opened and closed over the last 12 years. Is this the pace with which the EU wants to formalize relations with Turkey?) Far from that, the EU has not even made good on its promise to provide financial aid for the Syrian refugees and accept Turkey into the Schengen visa system as part of the Turkey-EU migration deal.

The critical question is what benefit Europe will derive from losing Turkey. Some populist, far-right and racist groups may see short-term gains in pushing Turkey out. But do they really consider the long-term consequences of such a policy for relations with a strong NATO ally, regional security as well as the integration and social cohesion of millions of Turks living in Europe? Do they ponder over or even care about the message this course of politics is sending to the larger Muslim world?

Sadly, they see President Erdoğan and Turkey as an “other” through which to deflect their internal problems onto a distant and imaginary enemy. They use the “Turkey question” to avoid looking at themselves in the mirror and reckon with their image. They turn their distorted image of the Turks into “barbarians” so that they feel good about themselves and get away with such real problems as rising xenophobia, unemployment, inequality, domestic violence, crude individualism, racism, sexism, class struggle, multiculturalism and the overall weakening of Europe as an idea.

Turning Turkey into a hostile “other” may bring in short-term gains for political opportunists and far-right racists in Europe. But it neither solves Europe’s own problems nor provides a political and moral roadmap for the future. Demonizing Erdoğan might be used as a distraction from the deeper problems Europe is facing but cannot be a serious, rational approach. It only deepens the sense of mistrust that is already poisoning relations between Turkey and Europe on the one hand and Islamic and Western societies on the other.

This collision course must be rejected by Europe’s mainstream political leaders who care about the future of Europe and its place in the world. A relationship based on trust, mutual interest, equality and respect is possible and necessary between Turkey and Europe. There is enough social and political capital and economic benefit to making such a relationship work. But Europeans cannot claim to promote democracy in Turkey while allowing scores of anti-Turkey groups and individuals including outright terrorists to use European soil as a launching pad to attack Turkey every single day.



İbrahim Kalın is assistant to the Turkish President and the current Press Secretary in the Turkish Presidential Complex