“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize”
For long, Europe had stood as a bulwark against the Ottoman Empire — repelling invasion after invasion, in a drawn out series of conflicts that lasted centuries. The latter ultimately crumbled; meeting its demise in 1922. It was subdued at a time when European nations were willing to assert themselves, and protect their sovereignty.
Now this dream of Turkish supremacy has been reignited – under the megalomaniacal rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The man dubbed ‘Sultan’ not just by his staunch critics, but by his own supporters, Erdogan has increasingly tightened his grip on political freedom in Turkey. From Kurdish demands for more sovereignty, to journalists attempting to uncover and reveal uncomfortable truths about the nation — anyone opposing his regime faces a harsh punishment, along with censorship of course.
Even his own Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was recently pressured into resignation, for the crime of disagreeing with the direction in which the government is heading. No doubt Erdogan will now be free to pick someone more compliant; someone who will cooperate with his re-modeling of Turkey.
In any case, Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian regime has a distinct neo-Ottoman vibe about it. Ruled by the ironically named ‘Justice and Development’ party (AKP), Turkey has been dragged from the secular republic – left behind in the ashes of the fallen caliphate – back down a regressive path.
This is most certainly discouraging for a nation that had made such laudable progress in the other direction. To make matters worse, Erdogan has now begun to flex his authoritarian muscles over Europe — something he can attempt thanks to Turkey’s ever-increasing closeness with the European Union.
Moving from clamping down on Turkish dissidents, Erdogan has now embarked on a crusade against European comedians and poets who have ridiculed him. A notorious case was the recent prosecution of satirist Jan Bohmermann – enforced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel – for writing a defamatory poem about the Turkish president. Not only that, Erdogan also targeted the chairman of Axel Springer for daring to laugh at this poem. Yes that’s right, Europe in the 21st century is having its freedom of speech curtailed. It’s clearly not just Turkey’s liberty that is being jeopardized; Europe’s progress and democracy is evidently crumbling too.
Angela Merkel is clearly being held to ransom by Erdogan; the refugee crisis is his weapon of choice in doing so. Turkey currently acts as the barrier between Europe and the Middle East. 2.7 million refugees currently reside in Turkey too. Erdogan is perhaps using the threat of opening the floodgates, and sinking Europe even further, to get what he wants — EU membership is evidently his long term aspiration.
As with any bully, Erdogan needs to be stood up to. The ‘give an inch, take a mile’ principle suggests he will continue to abuse any power he has over Europe. Leaders within the EU therefore need to avoid succumbing to his demands – and take a stronger stance on the refugee crisis, which Erdogan is clearly using to his advantage. Not being firm will disintegrate Europe’s democratic values, which have taken so long to build.