Uneasy relationship

Germany braces for a stormy Erdoğan visit

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Mr. Erdoğan's not-so-welcoming committee in Berlin. Source: Imago

When the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, touches down in Germany this Thursday for his first state visit in four years, officials will be ready for a rumble.

Mr. Erdoğan’s whirlwind trip includes a working breakfast with Angela Merkel in Berlin and an official opening of a mosque in Cologne. During his two-day visit, local police have been forbidden from taking vacation, as more than 100,000 protestors are expected in either city. Officers are welding manhole covers closed, posting marksmen and otherwise securing the streets.

Hundreds already turned out in the German capital last week to protest the Turkish premier’s visit, and there were smaller demonstrations in the cities of Bielefeld, Dusseldorf, Essen and Hanover.

Politicians, meanwhile, are warming up to give Mr. Erdoğan the cold shoulder. Many, reportedly including the chancellor, have withdrawn their RSVPs to attend a state dinner with Mr. Erdoğan and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. But some others, notably Cem Özdemir, a Green Party leader of Turkish descent, are determined to go. He sees it as his democratic duty to convey his critical views.

Mr. Özdemir has had run-ins with Mr. Erdoğan’s government before. At the Munich Security Conference earlier this year, the Turkish delegation expressed their disapproval of Mr. Özdemir by telling the hotel that there was a “terrorist” on the premises. As a result, Mr. Özdemir wound up with an extra security detail.

Nonetheless, there is plenty for Berlin and Ankara to discuss, and much of that is mutually beneficial. Germany wants Turkey to keep acting as a gatekeeper for EU-bound refugees, while Ankara will be angling for more economic help from Berlin. US sanctions are battering the Turkish economy and its currency, the lira.

But Mr. Erdogan is a contentious figure, and in the German-Turkish relationship, there is plenty simmering below the surface. Germany is Turkey’s biggest trading partner, and the largest population of Turks outside Turkey lives in Germany. Many of them voted for Mr. Erdoğan in the last election.

This is Mr. Erdoğan’s first state visit to Germany since 2014, and the period since has been turbulent. In 2016, a satirical poem by a German comedian mocking the Turkish president virtually became a state incident; in the run-up to last year’s constitutional referendum in Turkey, Berlin banned Turkish campaigning in Germany, leading an incensed Mr. Erdoğan to rail at a “Nazi” German government. In an apparent tit-for-tat, a handful of Germans were temporarily arrested in Turkey in the aftermath.

In Cologne, Mr. Erdoğan will open Europe’s largest mosque, one of hundreds funded by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs in Germany, known as DITIB. The group is one of the largest Islamic organizations in Germany, and has been criticized for its cozy relationship with Ankara.

Last year, DITIB’s clerics were suspected of acting as spies for the Turkish government. They were believed to be monitoring individuals that the Erdoğan administration has accused of plotting against it. Now, Germany’s domestic intelligence service, responsible for the surveillance of extremists, is considering monitoring the group.

Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and the German Journalists’ Union are up in arms over the suppression of opponents in Turkey, including the dual German-Turkish nationals Deniz Yücel and Mesale Tolu. Suffice to say, the image portrayed by German journalists of Mr. Erdoğan’s visit will be anything but flattering.

 

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