The World From Berlin: Erdogan's Visit Leaves German Conservatives Fuming

Conservative German politicians have accused Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan of interfering in German affairs and harming efforts to integrate the country's Turks. Are they really that angry or do they just want to whip up sentiment against Turkey's bid to join the EU?

Erdogan's speech in Germany has not been universally well received.
REUTERS

Erdogan's speech in Germany has not been universally well received.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservatives have heaped criticism on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for telling Germany's 2.5 million Turkish immigrants that "assimilation is a crime against humanity."

Erdogan, speaking in front of almost 20,000 people†at a stadium in the German city of Cologne on Sunday, called for people of Turkish descent not to give up their cultural heritage.

He encouraged Turks abroad to integrate in their new home countries, learn new languages and apply for political representation -- without forgetting their Turkish background. "It is important to learn German, but your Turkish language should not be neglected," he said. Erdogan had already caused controversy on Friday by calling for Turkish-language high schools†to be set up in Germany.

His four-day visit to Germany was overshadowed by the deaths of nine Turkish immigrants, five of them children, in an apartment block fire in the southern city of Ludwigshafen. Speculation has been rife in the local Turkish community and in Turkish media that it was a racially motivated arson attack, but the cause of the fire has not yet been found. The blaze awakened memories of a fire in the western town of Solingen in 1993†in which five Turkish women and girls died. That fire was caused by German youths.

Prominent German conservatives have rebuffed Erdogan's comments.†Erwin Huber, the head of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union, went as far as to call for a review of Turkey's EU accession talks. "Erdogan preached Turkish nationalism on German soil. That is anti-European and confirms our misgivings regarding Turkish EU membership," Huber told the†MŁnchner Merkur newspaper. "One must now consider and examine whether it makes sense under these circumstances to continue accession talks with Turkey."

The deputy parliamentary group chairman of Merkel's conservatives, Wolfgang Bosbach, called on Erdogan not to interfere in German affairs. "A Turkish government shouldn't try to conduct domestic policy in Germany," Bosbach told the†Westdeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Merkel also criticized Erdogan's comments, saying anyone with German citizenship was a full-fledged citizen regardless of their roots. "Their loyalty then belongs to the German state. That's why I think we need to further discuss the view of integration with the Turkish Prime Minister," she said.

The governor of Bavaria, GŁnther Beckstein, told N24 television: "The task (for Turks) is to be good citizens in Germany, to learn German, to speak German in their families." Beckstein called Erdogan's remarks "nationalistic" and "highly displeasing."

Conservative newspaper Die Welt writes that Erdogan has done integration in Germany a disservice:

"He acted rashly (and) with demagogic intent by comparing the Ludwigshafen fire to that of Solingen in 1993. He alleged a racist motivation for which there are no indications so far."

"This is the message that will stick: The Germans don't want integration; they want to rob the Turks of their Turkishness, of their culture. That is grist†for the mill of the not especially small number of Turks or Turkish descendants who aren't very interested in integrating and who try to blame the Germans for that."

"Integration also involves assimilation. A person who grows into another culture changes by doing so. He leaves much of the culture he descends from behind. He gives up the old to become someone new. It's a beautiful, painful process. In the long run it makes no sense to refuse to accept that."

Business daily Handelsblatt writes that Germany's conservatives have seized on Erdogan's integration comments to push their own long-running opposition to Turkish EU membership:

"A strange debate has broken out after the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to Germany. Chancellor Merkel feels the need to speak out after the prime minister warned of an undesired assimilation of his compatriots, and Bavaria's governor (GŁnther) Beckstein even claims to have detected nationalist tones. It seems as if an artificial conflict is being launched here."

"It's clear what purpose that debate could serve. The conservatives -- not just in Germany -- are suspicious about Turkey's determined march into European institutions. So every word uttered by Turks is examined to see whether it meets European standards."

"The word assimilation might have been unfortunate. But Erdogan basically called for support for a sensible integration of the Turks living in Germany. His proposal to set up Turkish schools here isn't that far-fetched. What makes Erdogan's idea any different from Berlin's efforts abroad? A frightening portion of the federal government's cultural budget goes toward setting up German schools. And German teachers work there. So why all the outrage?"

"The only explanation for all the fuss can be that emotions always run high regarding Turkey's efforts to get closer to Europe -- whether Turkey tries to become a member of the EU, or loosens its ban on headscarves, or promotes preserving its own cultural identity in Germany. All too often the Turkish government is presumed to be secretly motivated by a creeping Islamization. It's time to deal with Turkey more soberly."

-- David Crossland; 1 p.m. CET

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