Balancing act

Let's get real about the Erdogan hysteria

News Bilder des Tages Deutschland Berlin Bundeskanzleramt Besuch des türkischen Präsidenten Recep
He's got a lot of fans in Germany. Source: Imago

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has left. What can we learn from his visit? I see three takeaways: one concerns foreign policy, one domestic policy and one is about German media.

Let’s start with the vehemence surrounding the president hosting him at a state dinner and the military honors to greet him as well as other diplomatic niceties that launched his visit.

These are standard protocols but the barrage of criticism about these events shows how much Germany struggles with a strategic foreign policy that’s informed by shared interests. Sure, Erdogan behaves like an autocrat, oppressing his opponents and dividing his country. But it should go without saying that Berlin has an interest in dialogue, given the war in Syria and migration policy. Alone given Turkey’s geographical location as a bridge between east and west, Berlin should maintain diplomatic contact with Ankara. Moscow is just waiting to edge the country out of NATO.

So you might disagree on whether it’s appropriate to put on a banquet for him, but you can’t seriously argue that the chancellor and the president went over the top to please a despot. Both took Erdogan to task on major questions. That’s what robust foreign policy does: It takes advantage of the moment.

The spat with the US, the crash of the lira: Erdogan’s problems are home-made. Yes, he needs our help, but relations will not return to normal as long as he continues his autocratic policies. Currently, the prospect of joining the EU is more distant than ever. That’s the message Berlin served to Erdogan. And the volatile egomaniac stomached it, even though it wasn’t to his taste.

The second thing we should take away from his visit is about domestic policy. We need to accept that Germany’s relationship with Turkey isn’t just about foreign policy. Hundreds of thousands of Turkish Germans support Erdogan. That might be unsettling but it’s a reality that Berlin has to face. All these harsh comments about Erdogan just exacerbate the feelings many people have of not being accepted here. Nor is it lost on these people that the Alternative for Germany (AfD) uses criticism of Erdogan as a way to stir up grudges, aided by their media offshoots.

That brings us to Michael Spreng, former chief editor of the Bild am Sonntag. Hardly a day goes by when the newspaper doesn’t pour scorn on the country’s democratic organizations and representatives, Mr. Spreng said of the so-called “state visit of shame” campaign the paper ran. Given Mr. Spreng’s former job leading the Sunday edition of Bild, he clearly knows what he’s talking about. Unable to see beyond their own militant prejudices, Bild’s current journalists fail to notice what they’re becoming: The forward assault gunners of the AfD.

To contact the author: koch@handelsblatt.com

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