Conduct Unbecoming a Guest

The current sojourn by German President Joachim Gauck in Turkey has turned out to be far from your garden-variety Head-of-State visit (quite apart from the strange paranoia against mobile telephones exhibited by security services there that I tweeted about earlier). These sorts of occasions tend to be scheduled quite far in advance, but in this case you wonder just how far ahead – before the Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan started to see videos pop up on YouTube implicating him and those around him in corruption, before he started to get all sorts of nasty back-talk on Twitter, for example? Before he went so far as to ban – or to try to ban – both YouTube and Twitter in Turkey, for example?

Yes, before all those developments, you’d have to think. But the show must go on, and Gauck is a trooper for Germany. Let me hasten to add: not THAT kind of trooper for Germany, not at all, really rather a trooper for Truth and Justice. I am serious, he was a civil rights activitist in the former East Germany, which is one of the most unpleasant, pain-inducing job-descriptions you can come up with. But this also means that, although Gauck easily agreed to fulfill his previously-scheduled duty to visit Turkey, he did not intend to shut up about what he found there.

And so we have this:

Gauck in Turkey
“Erdogan rejects Gauck’s criticism.” Mind you, this is while Gauck is still in Turkey.
And the situation is rendered even more awkward by the fact that Prime Minister Erdogan is just one of a pair of Gauck’s official hosts for his visit, the other one of course being Turkish President Abdullah Gül, once almost as politically close to Erdogan as a brother, but now clearly worried about the anti-democratic direction his prime minister is taking the country. (And in addition, completely dismissive of Erdogan’s attempted Twitter-ban – an attitude he communicated via a tweet from his presidential account.)

As bad enough as all that is, it does not encompass everything that weighs on an occasion such as a German state visit to Turkey. For hanging over everything is the question of EU membership. The official EU position is that the process of enlargement of the EU to include Turkey is still going on – from its beginning with the first Turkish application to join back in the 1950s! In reality, though, that prospect has been dead for a long time – and Erdogan’s antics against YouTube and Twitter, not to mention his violent crackdown on demonstrators in Istanbul’s Gezi Park last year, are surely prima facie justifications for scuttling Turkish membership for good.

Remember, should the Turkish membership process even ever get that far, a “No” vote from just one of the other 28 member-states would be enough to bar the way. That “No” would not likely come from Germany – and Gauck has to pretend during his visit that Germany still has no problem with Turkish membership – due to the sizable Turkish-German voting block back home (and indeed, President Gauck included on his itinerary a visit to a Turkish-German university in Istanbul). But other countries would be glad to take care of that veto dirty-work: Austria certainly (“German” there too, but not so many Gastarbeiter), probably also France.

It is likely that the whole issue is academic, anyway; as Turkish prospects for the EU began to fade – I believe it was back when Sarkozy became French President and made it clear he would not have it – that’s when articles started to proliferate about how the Turkish body-politic actually was not interested in accession any more after all. Still, this whole underlying dynamic of “Sure, I still welcome you in my club! (Not!)” and “Well, I don’t want to be in your club anyway!” cannot but detract further from a state-visit atmosphere of a Communist-era human rights fighter going to meet a tinpot dictator-in-waiting. In this context, one should not be surprised that Erdogan is willing to blast President Gauck in the domestic press even as the latter remains on his home soil. There’s no doubt that Gauck is a big boy and can take it, with ease; for someone who was called in multiple times for interrogation by the Stasi of yesteryear, it’s no sweat.

President Travelling Gadfly

In fact, wouldn’t it be great if Gauck actually took perverse pleasure in traveling to politically disagreable lands and taking advantage of his Head of State status (they certainly can’t arrest him; if they insist that he leave immediately, it becomes a huge scandal and relations of the host country with the entire EU collapse) to start spouting unpleasant truths? Although the man is getting up in years (he is 74 years old, most of those taken up in a tough East German existence), from his crusading psychological make-up there is reason to hope that might be the case. If so – next stop, Budapest! It’s a very close-to-home problem there – where, having manipulated the political system to ensure that he could not lose the national elections that just happened, Viktor Orbán is also well on his way towards authoritarian rule – where at least there’s no unpleasant pungency about EU accession, because that has unfortunately already been gained. As for North Korea: well, Kim Jong-Un is at least smart enough to never allow him in.

Gauck was called upon to hone that admirable crusading zeal in his very first – and longest – job, that of a Lutheran pastor. In his recent criticism, Erdogan actually picked up on that point, declaring in a televised speech “He must still think he is a pastor. He was once a pastor. He looks at things from that perspective. But that won’t do. That’s an ugly thing.”

As the head of an avowedly religious (i.e. Muslim) political party, we can’t expect Erdogan to appreciate at all the function of a Christian man of the cloth, but anyway, he’s dead wrong. The East German example – only 25 years back in the past – still retains tremendous value of what not to do, what never to allow to happen again – and this goes for the sort of industrial spying that the American NSA is trying to perpetrate world-wide in addition to the way Erdogan is trying to stifle his citizens’ freedom of expression. And therefore someone like President Gauck, who lived it, is perfect as a watchdog to detect when it is happening again – and to raise the alarm. Long may he live, and long may he speak out!

(Long-time EuroSavant readers – Hi Mom! – will know that the question of Turkish accession is one to which this blog has returned repeatedly. And we’re agin’ it, for the record. Those who do not make up that particular élite might consider this blog’s old but classic post about how admitting Turkey to the EU makes just about as much sense as making Mexico the 51st American state.)

UPDATE: Here’s an enlightening video on this matter from Euronews. Erdogan: “We can never tolerate interference in our domestic affairs” – oh, indeed!

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