Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu plans to join a ceremony to commemorate a racist attack that occurred 25 years ago in Solingen. German politicians warn that the appearance could be used as a campaign event.
No other foreign official has had German politicians across party lines rushing to find a microphone like Mevlut Cavusoglu. The Turkish foreign minister caused a stir this week after he announced plans to travel to Solingen next month to commemorate the five Turkish victims of a racially motivated firebomb attack in the western German town in 1993.
"Solingen has a dignified, reflective commemoration planned for May 29," said Jürgen Hardt, the foreign policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), along with their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). "It would be very unfortunate if the event were overshadowed and the peace disturbed by Turkish domestic disputes."
He warned that Cavusoglu's planned attendance could be viewed as a campaign event ahead of Turkey's snap elections. Last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he was bringing forward a presidential vote by a year and a half — from November 2019 to June 24, 2018.
"There is no room for Turkey's election campaign in Solingen on May 29," Hardt said.
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, of the laissez-faire Free Democrats (FDP), said Turkey and Germany could work side by side to combat racism and commemorate events such as the Solingen attack, but added that such cooperation stopped at election promotion. "The German government needs to take a clear stance," he told DW. "There can be no Turkish election campaign on German territory."
Dilemma for German politicians
According to Yasar Aydin, a sociologist at the Hamburg-based Protestant University for Social Work and Deaconry, uninviting Cavusoglu from the service would risk harming relations between Germany and Turkey. Nevertheless, he does understand Berlin's dilemma. "Democracy has been declining in Turkey for years, the country is moving away from Western values and human rights abuses are on the rise," Aydin said. "That's why German politicians are opposed to senior Turkish politicians making appearances in Germany — they don't want to stand accused of supporting the Turkish government's election campaign."
In April 2017, Turkey held a controversial constitutional referendum granting sweeping new powers to the presidency. Ahead of the vote, a bitter dispute broke out between Berlin and Ankara over Turkish campaign appearances in Germany that hogged the headlines for weeks. A month before the referendum, Cavusoglu used a visit to the Consulate General in Hamburg to lobby in favor of the referendum. In June 2017, Germany's Foreign Ministry stipulated that foreign officials are banned from campaigning in Germany three months before an election or referendum in their country.
Not just another mourner?
Now politicians in Germany are concerned Cavusoglu might use the Solingen remembrance event to dodge that regulation. "I hope Mevlut Cavusoglu is aware of where he is on that day, and why people are getting together," Cem Özdemir, a German Green party politician, told DW. "He shouldn't use this memorial service to stage an election campaign."
Rolf Mützenich, a foreign policy expert for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), told DW he expects that out of respect, the Turkish foreign minister will consider remembrance of the victims and the consequences of the bomb attack. "In that case, I'm not worried about further strains in German-Turkish relations," he said.
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Aydin, however, is convinced the Turkish foreign minister will not be regarded as simply another mourner. "Even if Cavusoglu participates as a mourner, he will still be seen as a politician; you can't separate the two," he said. "Even if he doesn't mention the Turkish elections, it will be an election campaign appearance."
With 1.4 million Turks living in Germany who are eligible to vote, Cavusoglu's planned Solingen visit will likely be seen as a win-win situation for Turkey's ruling AKP party and President Erdogan. Turks living in Germany are expected to cast their ballots in the presidential poll in the first half of June.