What Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to accomplish is perfectly clear: He wants to win the April 16 referendum on constitutional reform and thus gain the enhanced powers his ambitious nature so covets, some of which he already enjoys after turning last summer’s failed coup into an opportunity. His strategy is also clear: criminalizing any opposition, be it in actions or mere words, mainly at the expense of journalists and the Kurds, as well as condemning in summary fashion anyone perceived as being pro-Gulen. The second part of his strategy involves exporting his edginess and bullying rhetoric, first and foremost to the Aegean at the expense of Greece, and then to the European Union in a bid to win favor among Gray Wolves voters.
The Turkish president is also trying to strong-arm Western Europe into recognizing his prerogative (and that of his subordinates, though only those who vote his way next month) to a right that he himself openly scorns and denies his opponents.
History is full of such paradoxes. Another is that while Erdogan accuses the West of Islamophobia, he is doing everything in his power to strengthen this sentiment because it will benefit him at the polls, as for years he has been cultivating the myth that he is the leader of all of Islam, both in the East and the West.
In contrast to Erdogan, what the European Union is trying to achieve vis-a-vis Ankara is not so clear, neither in terms of strategy nor even in tactics. Overall, it’s hard to know what it’s thinking about Turkey’s “European prospects” and, more specifically right now, about the pre-election speeches of Turkish pro-Erdogan officials in EU member-states. Pre-election anxiety strengthened by the rising popularity of anti-systemic, anti-migrant, far-right forces, has been instrumental in Europe as well, especially in the Netherlands and Germany. It has resulted in bans against Turkish officials that demonstrate fear rather than faith in the strength of democracy, even when it is exposed to the test of regimes which are hardly democratic, such as Turkey.
Meanwhile, fears that the European Union’s refugee deal with Turkey may collapse have prevented the German and Dutch leaderships from openly condemning the human rights violations in Turkey, resulting in them basically swallowing profound insults from Erdogan and some of his ministers referring to fascists and Nazis. Here’s another paradox: Turkey, which didn’t exactly shine in the war against Nazism, condemning the Netherlands, a victim of Nazism.
And the last of the paradoxes is that Turkish electoral law prohibits pre-election rallies abroad.