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Turkey and the Refugee Deal
If You Give an Erdogan an Indictment…

Angela Merkel announced that the German government is going to proceed with the prosecution of a comedian who read a poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan having sex with goats. The Turkish government had formally requested the prosecution earlier this week, igniting a political firestorm. reports:

Merkel, announcing her decision, said that in the specific case of a paragraph in the German criminal code against insulting representatives or symbols of a foreign state, it was up to the government to grant permission for prosecutors to go ahead. After examination of Turkey’s request by the foreign, justice and interior ministries and her own office, the decision was that “the government will grant permission in this case.”

The case has left Merkel in both a political and legal bind. While Germany needs Turkey’s support to slow the flow of refugees coming to Europe, Berlin doesn’t want to be seen sacrificing its own values in the process. Yet the German law cited by Erdoğan, which dates back to the 19th century, may give Merkel the cover she needs to weather the uproar.

The chancellor’s message on Friday appeared to be that while she was compelled by the law to allow the case to move forward, she disagreed with the statute and planned to overturn it before elections next year. Many German legal scholars have also argued there was little legal basis for Merkel to block the case.

That said, given the broader concerns about media freedom, Merkel could have also argued that since Erdoğan has filed a separate defamation complaint, the government saw no need to invoke the law on offending foreign leaders.  More than 80 percent of Germans are opposed to the investigation, according to a poll published by Die Welt. Most Germans see it as a transparent attempt to appease Erdoğan.

It seems Mrs. Merkel trying to have it both ways. That’s probably because, as Leonid Bershidsky recently pointed out:

Public opinion is firmly on Boehmermann’s side. A YouGov poll released Tuesday showed that 77 percent of Germans didn’t want the comedian to be prosecuted, 68 percent opposed Merkel’s semi-apology to Davutoglu — and 48 percent found the poem itself “reasonable,” while just 29 percent held the opposite view. A hashtag emerged on Twitter, #JesuisBöhmi, after “Je suis Charlie,” the slogan that was used to express solidarity after terrorists attacked Charlie Hebdo last year.

On the other hand, as we noted last week, she needs Erdogan’s cooperation to keep the EU’s deal with Turkey on refugees intact. There are lots of problems with this. Even within Germany’s relatively restricted free speech traditions, the measure has sparked an outcry. Boehmermann’s comments were clearly political in nature, and went beyond just bestiality references. Erdogan is, for instance, oppressing his country’s Kurds, as Boehmermann alleged, and the German public rightly questions getting into bed with such a man.

Furthermore, the deal with the devil on immigration may not even prove that practical: already, large numbers of refugees are streaming toward Italy (where the EU is yet again ill-prepared.) What if the Europeans sold their soul and didn’t even get the price they’d asked for?

But finally, if someone is thin-skinned enough to want people prosecuted for insulting him in another country, and he gets his way, it’s unlikely things will stop there. Erdogan increasingly acts like a caliph at home, and it seems he wants to be treated like one abroadThis is unlikely to be the last time someone in Germany says something pointed about Erdogan. And if or when the refugee deal becomes onerous on Turkey, the Turkish President may come back to ask for an alteration—threatening to open the floodgates if he doesn’t get his way. What will Erdogan ask for next—and what will Berlin do then?

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  • Beauceron

    “Berlin doesn’t want to be seen sacrificing its own values in the process”

    Can the West be said to have any values anymore?

    From incidents like this, to the broader inability to stand up to mass immigration in both Europe and the US (and many actually welcoming it), to the madness sweeping our university campuses, can it be said there is anything left of Germany or American or Western values? It seems to me our sole organizing principle is to be a whipping boy.

    • Jim__L

      “48 percent found the poem itself “reasonable,” while just 29 percent held the opposite view.”

      Germany still has values, but they’re getting less common.

      The problem here is in how we’re compromising. We have a gaping chasm that we’re futilely trying to bridge, instead of shoring up the reasonable middle ground that previous generations of moral people (in both the Christian West and the Islamic world) could meet on.

      Frankly, the poem was repugnant. Not for its criticism of a foreign leader, but for the language it used to do so.

      The fact that at least 71% of the Germans can’t see that, and instead supports a radical view of speech norms (as distinct from speech laws), shows that a “via media” solution is no longer likely because there are no longer reasonable people to pursue it.

      To some extent, the Europeans and the Middle Easterners deserve one another.

  • WigWag

    Merkel has lost her mind. She needs to be stopped before it’s too late. That is, unless it’s already too late.

  • ValleyBargue

    Thank God for people like Böhmermann who are willing to cast the die and show whats really at stake. I’ve done nothing but sit at my computer and groan about the whole situation. Merkel, I think, will suffer the fate typical of cowards who try and have it both ways. Anger both sides, appease nobody.I think the age of her style of politics is coming to an end.

    And Erdogan. Who the hell does this Turkish clown think he is? Did he cure cancer? Send humans to Mars? Why is this bozo supposed to be immune to criticism? Absolutely pathetic. And this man is apparently winning elections left and right. Says a lot about the Turkish people I think.

    I feel disgusted with myself for thinking the only thing that will lead to Europe waking up is a major terrorist attack. Lets hope they all see whats in front of their noses before such a travesty takes place.

    • Angel Martin

      “I feel disgusted with myself for thinking the only thing that will lead to Europe waking up is a major terrorist attack.”

      They have already had big terrorist attacks. I don’t think terrorist attacks of any magnitude will change the trajectory that europe is on.

  • Blackbeard

    And if the Germans elect someone who won’t put up with this nonsense the world intelligentsia will announce that right wing fanatics have taken over in Germany.

    The Fall of the West, Chapter XXIII.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Maybe Merkel’s best “out” would be to announce that there might have been a prosecution under existing German law and German sensibilities, BUT, since Turkey has demanded one under Islamic sensibilities, the answer is firmly no—-because Germany is German and will not be strong-armed by any outside forces.

  • vb

    Although this is a horrible law, it is on the books. Is it better to show that you follow the laws of your land, or is it better to have a pen and a phone? I#m torn on this. I sure hope the whole parliament repeals the law to show Erdogan that the whole country thinks he is a fool and a bully.

  • ddh

    “And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
    But we’ve proved it again and again,
    That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
    You never get rid of the Dane.”

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