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Turkey

Opinion: Erdogan is hardly a good host

The German President's comments about Turkey have met with criticism. DW's Baha Güngör says the Turkish Prime Minister's response was heavy-handed, but Gauck can hardly be surprised.

Baha Güngör
(Photo: DW/Per Henriksen)

Baha Güngör heads DW's Turkish service

According to Turkish custom, every guest is a sign of recognition from God, a philosophy that could be at the root of Turkey's reputation for hospitality. And when guests come from "Almanya" - from Germany - they are traditionally considered friends.

But that assumption seems set to change. Diplomats on both the Turkish and the German side will now have to concentrate on damage control, especially when it comes to the damage that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did to bilateral relations during President Joachim Gauck's trip to Turkey. Erdogan has certainly come across as a bad host.

Erdogan's riposte has now lost him any sympathy he might have had over his annoyance at Gauck's comments. Gauck, on the other hand, will have to face questions about whether his criticism of Erdogan was just a bit too extreme and a bit too loud in volume. Could Gauck not have criticized the undemocratic conditions that reminded him of his decades in the East German GDR somewhere other than at an elite university in Ankara? He might have done it during a speech at one of the festive dinners held in his honor, for example.

In any case, the German-Turkish well has now been poisoned, at least for the time being. Erdogan's unacceptable torrent of hatred against Germany's highest ranking state representative has unfortunately overshadowed the opening of the German-Turkish university in Istanbul. To accuse Gauck of thinking he is still a pastor borders on diplomatic tastelessness.

There will be a "rematch" between the two sides in Cologne on May 24, when Erdogan comes to the tenth anniversary festivities of the "Union of European Turkish Democrats," an organization that is close to Turkey's governing AKP party. The plan is for Erdogan to give a speech to 18,000 of his compatriots in a Cologne arena. Apart from advertising himself as a potential presidential candidate, there is reason to fear that Erdogan will also bring out the big guns against Germany and its politicians.

One can only hope that the harm that has been caused can be managed, especially with a view to harmonious relations between Turks and Germans living side by side in Germany. The scars left by the right-wing NSU murders on their delicate coexistence still haven't healed. Problems between individuals shouldn't be abused as fodder for political and religious extremists in either country.

It's a factor Gauck probably should have thought about before he voiced his rather indelicate criticism of Erdogan's dictatorial style of rule - even if his criticism was justified. After all, the NSU scandal and the many blunders that surrounded it hardly bathed Germany and its investigating authorities in glory. Instead they have made Germany vulnerable in any verbal exchange of blows with Turkey.

One solution to this diplomatic spat could be increased efforts on Germany's part to bring Turkey closer to the EU. After all, an alignment of values will be impossible until Europe lessens the obstacles for Turkey's accession. Turkey's democratic movement, its civil society groups and opposition activists could certainly do with the support in their attempts to free Turkey of censorship and political despotism.

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