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Opinion

Opinion: The verbal battle between Erdogan and Berlin

The German government has strongly condemned recent statements made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The tense situation calls for a clear stance, DW's Christoph Strack writes, but not a hard line.

"Nazi comparisons are always absurd and misplaced," said Steffen Seibert, the German government's press secretary. They only serve to "trivialize Nazi crimes against humanity." That clarification was among the longest that Seibert has ever made on a foreign policy incident during the course of his seven years on the job. That in itself shows just how concerned Berlin is with the propaganda peddled by Turkish politicians in and against Germany.

Seibert also spoke about possible appearances by Turkish politicians in Germany. He warned that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his allies should be "open" about their intentions - ie., not renting large event venues under false pretenses.

Strack Christoph Kommentarbild App

DW's Christoph Strack

The press secretary's warning, however, also implicitly suggests that Turkish politicians should naturally be afforded the courtesy of being allowed to give addresses in Germany. That is a rejection of politicians' demands for a general ban on speeches by their Turkish counterparts in the Federal Republic. 

Many of those politicians are closely allied with the chancellor. As Seibert held his press conference, Jürgen Hardt - the foreign policy spokesman of Christian Democrats and Christian Social Union's parliamentary bloc and a friend of Angela Merkel's - was saying political speeches by members of Erdogan's government were unwanted in Germany.

Seibert told reporters, however, that Germany's federal government was not trying to put together a travel ban, and that it would not even attempt to stop rallies aimed at drumming up support for a referendum that could greatly expand Erdogan's power in Turkey. The press secretary even said a recent speech by Turkey's economy minister had "passed without the minister having violated Germany's free and democratic basic order."   

Merkel's balancing act

Germany's federal government finds itself trying to finding a balance between taking a clear stance on democracy and permitting expression - a core tenet of democracy. Diplomacy and harsh words among political partners are nice in peaceful times, and important in turbulent times. The world, and Europe, are turbulent at the moment.

The long-term question is where Turkey is heading, and how Germany should react to that. Ultimately, the discussion could come down to the alliance capacities of a NATO partner. It is a bitter pill that the European Union, and especially Chancellor Merkel, reached a business agreement with this particular Turkish government on refugees. Talk of excellent German-Turkish relations is a thing of the past. In fact, questions concerning the fate of the imprisoned journalist Deniz Yücel have even sparked debate over the point of dual citizenship.

That is all rather serious. Regardless of how Turkey's constitutional referendum turns out in April, the Germans must not shy away from clear, perhaps even very clear, language. And they should show just what value democracy, and the right to peaceful assembly and free speech have - everywhere, not just in Germany.

But Berlin, for good reason, will also have to be aware of just how much help Turkey - shaken by coup and countercoup, and with or without President Erdogan - needs from a stabilizing European partner. Therefore, it is better to keep a cool head and not overreact in times like these.

 

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