Speaking to more than 10,000 supporters in Duesseldorf on Sunday night, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was once again the source of some controversy across Germany when he called on his “compatriots” – many of whom hold German passports and were born there – to strongly resist assimilation and to make sure that their children master Turkish before they learn German. Even prior to the event, the appearance of hundreds of big Turkish and German language posters promoting the Erdogan speech with the words “Our Minister-President is in Duesseldorf” proved to be rather controversial as they seemed to imply that Turks (or Germans of Turkish descent) living in Germany did not recognize the current (female) minister-president of North-Rhine Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft, but rather Prime Minister Erdogan as “their” legitimate political representative. In German, the terms minister-president and prime minister can be used interchangeably.
To add insult to injury, the German-language posters used the male expression “Unser Ministerpräsident” (and not the female term “Unsere Ministerpräsidentin), thus leaving no doubt as to the highly provocative nature of Erdogan’s ad campaign. No wonder that the left-leaning SPD-Green minority government of Hannelore Kraft took great pains to distance itself from the Erdogan event, even though they are usually eager to promote their close ties to the large Turkish community in North-Rhine Westphalia.
During a previous visit to Cologne back in February 2008, Erdogan had already provoked sharp criticism from Germany’s entire political class when he referred to assimilation as a “crime against humanity.” After basking in his rock star reception on Sunday, Erdogan’s speech quickly demonstrated that he’s a savvy, populist campaigner, trying to boost his AKP party’s standing ahead of parliamentary elections set for this summer:
I am here to feel your yearning with you, I am here to enquire about your welfare. I am here to show that you’re not alone! They call you guest workers, foreigners, or German Turks. It doesn’t matter what they all call you: You are my fellow citizens, you are my people, you are my friends, you are my brothers and sisters!
In addition, Erdogan also warned of the dangers posed by Islamophobia, which he compared to anti-Semitism. As Germany’s conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote in an editorial on Tuesday:
Erdogan’s appearance creates the impression that Turks living Germany are in danger of becoming a persecuted minority. He again spoke of the threat of forced assimilation and Islamophobia that can be compared to anti-Semitism. Does Erdogan even know what he is talking about? As little as the rally had to do with the realities of German integration policies, it did show a man who divides the world into good and bad but is unable to even differentiate between the two at home. The ways in which Erdogan’s party deals with Christians in Turkey approximate what he is accusing Germany of doing.