Germany and Turkey: No More Appeasement
No one interested in political affairs is likely to forget the nature and the consequences of the appeasement policy in 1938 of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, a policy of making political concession to Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany in order to avoid conflict. Today, it is the German leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose policy on a current issue resembles a policy of appeasement as well as a qualification of the principle of the right of free speech.
Merkel cannot claim, as Chamberlain did, that the problem was the Czechs, “a faraway people about whom we know so little.” She is dealing with Turkey and its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about whom we know a great deal. Chamberlain sought, foolishly or otherwise, friendship with Hitler. Merkel has perhaps not sought friendship with Erdogan, but she has acted toward him in a manner more subservient than required in polite diplomacy.
Merkel might heed her political mentor, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who had held the office for 16 years. On Sunday April 17, 2016, he warned his country and the world. Europe cannot become a new home for the millions of people in need throughout the world. Peace and freedom were at risk through the mass migration that is taking place. He was clear about the dilemma. “For the most part,” he asserted referring to Muslim migrants, “they have a belief that is different from the Judeo-Christian beliefs which form part of the foundations of our social order and our values.”
Though Kohl’s admonition is directed at the fact that Germany has admitted 1.2 million, nearly all Muslims, in the last 16 months, it is germane to the general issue of different cultures with which the present German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been confronted regarding Turkey, and on which she has made a controversial and for many an erroneous decision.
The issue concerns a popular German comedian named Jan Bohmermann who, on his TV show, read a poem insulting Turkish President Erdogan. Among the more enticing accusations was one that Erdogan had sex with sheep and goats, watched child porn, kicked Kurds, and beat up Christians.
It is unlikely that this is a true depiction of Erdogan’s sexual habits, especially relating to bestiality and paedophilia, though Bohmermann, as the British say, “got his goat”. But it was more logical for Bohmermann to mock the president’s extravagant lifestyle, in a palace with 1000 rooms, his suppression of free press, his persecution of journalists in Turkey, and Erdogan’s preference to bomb the Kurds rather than “his brothers at ISIS.”
The Turkish foreign ministry protested at Bohmermann’s “insult”. Erdogan and the Turkish government went further and officially demanded that he be prosecuted under an existing German law. Indeed, there is such a law, one dating from the German Empire of 1871. Paragraph 103 of the German legal code states that whoever insults a foreign head of state or an official representative in Germany of a foreign government is liable to a prison sentence to up to three years. This law has rarely been used, though the Shah of Iran used it and successfully won a case against a Cologne newspaper in 1964.
Any legal action regarding Paragraph103 requires government authorization. Merkel did not voice any judgment about Bohmermannn, but she authorized a criminal investigation of him, leaving the legal examination and decision to the state prosecution and the courts to weigh the issue of personal rights.
Even recognizing that Merkel has a problem partly because of the 3 million residents in Germany of Turkish origin, half of whom have Turkish nationality, and partly because of the migration issue, Merkel’s action is a mistake for three reasons.
First, allowing possible prosecution of a satirical program, is a surprising incursion in democratic Germany of the principle of free speech, even when it is slanderous and defamatory and deliberately offensive.
Secondly, Merkel’s action illustrated the unfortunate arrangement made between the EU and Turkey on the migration issue. The EU, and especially Germany, is accordingly dependent on the good will of Turkey to stop or limit the unending flow of migrants into Europe. On March 18, 2016, the agreement made was for Turkey to accept migrants from Greece in exchange for European resettlement of one Syrian refugee, for each one returned to Turkey.
Moreover, Turkey will receive from the EU about 6 billion euros in aid, in addition to possible visa liberalization for the 75 million Turks, and the reopening of talks for Turkey to join the EU. The main concern in all this is that Turkey can open or close the tap on the flow of migrants at its will.
Thirdly, Merkel made an unfortunate concession to an individual with little heed for personal or political freedoms. Erdogan may be one of the world’s authorities in imposing limits on free speech. As an authoritarian ruler, Erdogan has deprived other people of their rights, including intellectuals, celebrities, business people, civil groups, and media organizations. His police and military have raided media offices, accused reporters of being spies, seized an opposition newspaper, and expelled foreign correspondents.
There are already 2,000 cases in Turkey against people accused of insulting Erdogan, making him the person who may set the world’s record for receiving insults. The non-political PEN organization states that in Turkey 30 journalists are in jail, 100 more are detained, there are 1000 bans on publications, and access to 42,000 websites is denied. And as the ultimate irony, the most popular comedian in Turkey, Cem Yilmaz, is on trial for insulting a provincial governor.
Can Merkel’s action be regarded as “appeasement”? One hopes she stops short of that. Perhaps the most potent comment on her comes from an unlikely source. Laura Chaplin, one of the grandchildren of the great Charlie, compared Merkel’s behavior with that of the U.S. government that tried to hinder the showing of Charlie’s film The Great Dictator when Germany threatened sanctions against the U.S., because of its alleged insult to Hitler. The German prosecutors and courts should not allow the blackmail of an undemocratic ruler to prevail now that Merkel made the wrong decision.