Even without the Soma disaster, Erdogan's trip to Cologne would have been controversial. The Turkish prime minister is under pressure, but that probably won't stop him becoming president, says DW's Daniel Heinrich.
It was the worst accident of its kind in Turkey's history - the Soma mining accident cost the lives of more than 300 men. Recep Tayyip Erdogan did what might have been expected: he visited the site, he cancelled a foreign trip, he tried to make a media-friendly appearance to express his condolences. But the visit became a disaster. Erdogan faced angry crowds who loudly demanded his resignation. The situation became so tense at one point that he and his entourage had to seek shelter in a supermarket.
The most serious protests took him and his companions completely by surprise. Erdogan was seen hitting demonstrators, while one of his advisors was pictured kicking a man being held down by two riot policemen.
The prime minister was rightly heavily criticized for the trip. A prime minister who physically attacks his own citizens deserves little respect. His appearance before the media almost became absurd when he compared the Soma disaster's victim figures to those of the 19th century. "Things like this happen," was just one among many less-than-sensitive remarks. It was at least as unbelievable that he failed to sack the advisor who kicked the protester.
Working his way up
Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have lost all contact with reality. His twelve years as Turkey's leading politician have corrupted and deafened him to all criticism. He considers himself in the right, all the time. He is no sophisticated intellectual from the bourgeoisie - he is a self-made man who spent his life fighting his way to the top. He grew up as the son of a sailor in Istanbul's port neighborhood of Kasimpasa - the underclass. He is a conservative, practicing Muslim who has fought his way into a political elite that usually left no space for someone of his background. This still affects him today. No leader since Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, has marked the country as much as Erdogan has - both positively and negatively. He polarizes people both at home and in Germany.
This is exactly why the protesters are sure to come out again this weekend when Erdogan comes to Cologne. And yet, even though his opponents are planning a major demonstration - as is their right in a democracy - they won't dent his popularity with large sections of the Turkish people. Instead, the passion of these demonstrations will merely highlight the deep cleft in Turkish society - for, and this is often overlooked in the media, Turkey is not a country where the urban, western-orientated elites, who mostly oppose the prime minister, make up a majority.
Opposition: too weak, too diverse
Turkey is a great, wide, and very conservative country, with a great, hospitable, very conservative population. And to a majority of them Erdogan is and remains "one of us," or at least "not one of them." In other words, not one of the opposition. The problem of Turkey's political landscape is not Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan is neither the liberal free-thinker who has restricted the power of the military or the dictator that sections of the opposition like to paint him as. He is a professional politician with an unscrupulous will-to-power, and like all people in power he is interested in one thing: gaining even more power. That is why he is going to Cologne - because for the first time in history, the Turks living in Germany will also be allowed to vote in the presidential election. And just like in Turkey, there will be those who cheer him on and others who demonstrate against him.
The real problem of the political system in Turkey is not the presence of a power politician like Erdogan - it's the absence of a competent opposition with a credible spokesperson. The opposition that exists now has few ideas for dealing with Erdogan. Its only recourse is to criticize and discredit the prime minister and his entourage wherever they can.
Moreover, this opposition has shown that it is not above using a tragedy like Soma for its own political agenda instead of defining its political positions. This is an opposition that lives on the memories of times long past, and which merely helps to cement the polarized status quo between various political groups - instead of dissolving it, both in Soma and Cologne.