Turkey's president needs enemies to mobilize supporters, says journalist Baha Güngör. Erdogan's influence on Turkey is the topic of his latest book, "Ataturk's Angry Grandchildren." But where does this anger come from?
DW: There are barely any limits to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's power. But as you write in your book, this power didn't just materialize overnight. How did it come to this?
Baha Güngör: You'd have to go back 50 to 60 years. The modern secular circles in Turkey have always been able to rely on the army. When things got critical, the military was ready to restore order. With this kind of self-assurance, people didn't take proper notice of the suffering of the rural population. They were forced to work for cheap wages and were not properly insured. The dominance of the Kemalist elites led to a situation where the religious forces were increasingly gaining in strength, and it's these forces that Erdogan has been exploiting. We can now assume that he will remain in power in Turkey until his death.
What does Erdogan want to do with his power?
We Europeans always fear that Turkey will turn into a Sharia state or a theocracy. I think that's unlikely, because Erdogan won't be able to do that with the Turks. But he no longer needs the European values that he once referred to. That's partly due to the Europeans, who repeatedly threaten to break off EU membership negotiations, because Turkey is undemocratic.
But that's exactly what he's aiming for: to get the Europeans to end the process. Because then he can start pursuing new goals. Now, he's trying to form new alliances with Russia and China. That would open up huge markets. Ideologically, he's doing many things that would appeal to religious people, but Turkey is not going to become a Sharia state.
At the same time, though, Erdogan is pushing the Islamization of Turkey. In your book, you talk about a decree that says every community of more than 5,000 people has the right to religious schools. Previously, that applied to places with a population of more than 50,000 people. What's he playing at?
It's about getting people behind him. You can reach a lot of people via these schools. They teach people to live their Muslim faith more deeply on a daily basis. But he's also reaching out to other groups. The discussion about reinstating the death penalty for example – that's to attract the right-wing nationalists. He baited them in this way, and got their support for the constitutional changes.
You also outline the long history of German-Turkish relations in your book. Those relations are extremely strained at the moment. What course should Germany take?
Germany shouldn't react to everything that Erdogan does. He's always on the lookout for an enemy, and Germany is the best possible enemy at the moment, because it's home to the largest population of Turks outside Turkey. The constant attacks on Germany are his way of currying favor with those people. But Germany should not debate questions such as whether or not Turkey belongs to Europe, whether to stop membership talks, etc. That's what Erdogan wants.
But if Turkey actually were to join the EU, the bloc would suddenly have around 40 million new citizens whose commitment to democratic values is now subject to considerable doubt. Surely Europe can't want that?
It's a fallacy to assume that Turkey would become an EU member anytime in the near future. Turkey is not going to join the EU in the next 10 or 20 years. But it's about the principle. You can't just write Turkey off. Of the 33 membership chapters, only one has been completed – the one on science and research. That was in 2006. All the other chapters are still in screening, or are being blocked by other states, such as Cyprus. Some haven't even been tackled yet. But they include things like democracy, the rule of law, human rights, freedom of opinion, etc. These are things that we have to talk about. If Turkey really does want to join the EU, then it has to take a stand on these issues, and for that to happen, Turkey has to be in membership talks. If we write it off, it'll be, "Europe didn't want Turkey, the Europeans didn't even want to talk to the Turks about human rights." It’s easy for someone like Erdogan to get a lot of people behind him by attacking another nation and calling all of its citizens Nazis. The Germans have a problem with their past, and that's what Erdogan is exploiting.
Journalist Baha Güngör was the head of DW’s Turkish desk until 2015. His book "Ataturks wütende Enkel. Die Türkei zwischen Demokratie und Demagogie" (Ataturk's Angry Grandchildren. Democracy and demagoguery in Turkey) has just been published by Dietz Verlag.