— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) September 14, 2017
On 14 September, Reuters reported on the upcoming German Federal elections on 24 September, by paying attention to Germany’s Turkish conundrum. As an illustration, Reuters points out that Turkish language broadcasters have an 84% market share among Germany’s three million people of Turkish descent, with 40% watching no German television at all. This has politicians worried, fearing that Turkish citizens are being caught in a tug-of-war for their loyalty, as German politicians fear they are losing out on influence to Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan. German political parties worry that Erdogan has more access to Turkish-speaking German voters than they do.
The conundrum started with a change in the German law of citizenship in 2000, which nearly doubled the number of the ‘Turkish’ vote. Polls consistently show most Turks in Germany back Erdogan when voting as expatriates and Erdogan sees this influence over German voters as a chance to settles scores, while acting as the defender of Turks all over the world at home.
Erdogan, always the moderate diplomat, makes a habit out of criticising European countries and is very open in his disdain for their sovereignty. It comes as no particular surprise, that Erdogan has called on what Reuters describes as “German voters of Turkish background” to reject Germany’s mainstream political parties, claiming they are “unfriendly to Turkey.”
In the pamphlet shown below, Merkel’s CDU is campaigning in the Turkish language, while promising to raise child benefits.
Merkel spreekt Turkse electoraat (Duitse staatsburgers) in het Turks aan en belooft verhoging van de kinderbijslag. pic.twitter.com/DgI720Mo1J
— Engin Evren (@EnginEvrenN) September 14, 2017
In an interview with German newspaper Rheinische Post in March, Green Party co-leader Cem Ozdemir offered the kind of solution more European Green parties come up with. He called for Germany’s public media to start broadcasting a Turkish channel, for the benefit of Turks, both in Germany and in Turkey:
“We need a German-Turkish broadcaster. For years we’ve neglected to help people from Turkey find a new political homeland, also politically, and now we’re seeing the fruits of that.“
Reuters neglects to ask how this will help the integration of ‘German voters of Turkish background’ into the mainstream ‘German voters of German background’.
Ozdemir’s call might be a little selfish. Reuters points out, that “Turks in Germany” traditionally have voted Social Democrats (SPD) and Green Party, who are well known for their stance on immigrants. Erdogan, however, has repeatedly urged them to reject both those parties, as well as Merkel’s CDU. According to Joachim Schulte, head of Data 4U, Erdogan’s call might well sway a quarter of ‘Germans of Turkish descent’:
“The majority, because they only watch Turkish TV, are informed very one-sidedly.“
It seems that these voters, if indeed convinced to stay away from Social Democrats and Greens, have few choices for now. Schulte reckons they are more likely to just stay home. In a close-run election, that might still affect the outcome of the election. For the Social Democrats and Greens even a small swing could weaken them in potential talks with the CDU about forming a coalition government after the elections. And there are long-term competitors on the horizon. In recent weeks a new party, the Alliance of German Democrats, led by ethnic Turks, has campaigned with a poster of Erdogan. The chances of the party making it into parliament are slim, but its danger to SPD and the Greens is clear. The Alliance spokesman Ertan Toker:
In recent weeks a new party, the Alliance of German Democrats, led by ethnic Turks, has campaigned with a poster of Erdogan. The chances of the party making it into parliament are slim, but its danger to SPD and the Greens is clear. The Alliance spokesman Ertan Toker:
“Our poster was a quote from Erdogan: he was criticizing German politics and saying we should vote for parties that are our friends. Unlike the other German parties that are always negative about Erdogan, we are not. We saw this as him encouraging us to vote.“
While the Greens’ co-leader is calling for German public funds to be spent on foreign-language television and broadcasting propaganda abroad, Turkish community leaders from big political parties are complaining about the Erdogan’s success in doing the same thing. Cansel Kiziltepe, SPD candidate in Berlin’s Kreuzberg District – where all major parties are fielding Turkish-root candidates – complains:
“The political climate is poisoned by this. President Erdogan has torn down what we have built up over decades. We get threats, e-mails as ethnic Turkish lawmakers saying we aren’t sufficiently loyal as ‘Turks’, but I am a German politician and I do politics for Germany and for all people who live here.“
It is almost as if an ethnically based strategy for the large German political parties is backfiring, because of pressure from the country that demands more loyalty than a vote every several years.
SPD leader Martin Schulz, formerly at the European Parliament, hasn’t quite understood this yet. When asked what can be done to stop parallel societies from emerging, he answered:
“It’s not bad, or even hard, to have two identities. Why should you deny your roots?“
It seems like he didn’t truly understand the question. But sooner or later, the answer will come knocking on his door.
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