Gauck has questions on Turkish democracy
Turkish Presiden Abdullah Gül (R) and German President Joachim Gauck attend a joint press conference in Ankara following their meeting. REUTERS PhotoVisiting German President Joachim Gauck’s strong criticisms against the Turkish government’s recent moves to block Twitter and YouTube and its increasing control over the judiciary has not gone unanswered by his host, Abdullah Gül, who recalled the killings of immigrants in Germany at the hands of extreme rightist groups.
“Friends may be able to tell each other about unpleasant things that the other does not want to hear. We are not asking questions that have never been asked,” Gauck said at a joint press conference with Gül on April 28 as part of a four-day official trip to Turkey.
Gauck listed his questions: “For example, should Twitter and the YouTube be banned? Why did the head of the Constitutional Court speak that critically [in an April 25 address directed at the government]? Why intervene in the judiciary when you have so much power after an important election victory? Will this really strengthen democracy?”
Upon a question from a German journalist as to whether he regarded Gauck’s questions as a suggestion or an insult, Gül said no country should claim that it is perfect.
“We all recall the embarrassing situations in Germany after the massacres committed by extreme right groups and how the families of the victims were accused of murder. Racial enmity was committed. As these are the realities of European countries and we denounce them when asked whether these are compatible with the EU, we also have some negative [issues]. We have to see these from this angle.
The most important thing is to be aware of discrepancies and to be determined to correct them,”Gül said.
Although he was critical, Gauck underlined that Gül has his own point of view but recalled the existence of thousands of active associations against xenophobia. “I would expect to be questioned in the event of their absence. Our openness and friendship should not be endangered. I regard Turkish democracy as being in a process of maturation just like any democracy,” Gauck said.
Expressing that he would be delighted to meet a successful politician like Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the German president said he would also raise his questions with Erdoğan as well. “I don’t think this [Turkish] government is under threat. There is a government that won legitimacy through the elections and it has to be in comfort. I will surely talk about it,” he said.
The meeting between the two leaders took place yesterday afternoon for nearly two hours but no statement was issued afterwards.
Uncertainty about Turkish accession to EU
Asked whether Turkey’s aspiration to become a full member of the European Union could be realized, Gauck expressed his satisfaction at hearing Gül discuss Turkey’s absolute commitment to the EU and its values.
“Although Europeans have not always been open and friendly enough toward Turkey and that Turkey also realized this, I think this is temporary. Could there be a model other than European democracies for the Turkish people? We cannot see any other model either in the neighboring countries or the Norwegian model,” Gauck said.
Norway is an advanced European country but is not a member of the EU.
European countries have not been able to agree on Turkish accession to the EU, he said, adding that they did not know yet whether Turkey would one day join the club. “But our approach toward Turkey is positive. Various political powers have different views about the timing [of Turkish accession]. There is some hesitancy about a quick membership. But although they differ about its timing, they are all exerting efforts for the continuation of the process.”
Gül, for his part, said he demanded more support from Germany to Turkey’s accession process through the opening of more chapters.
Twitter office in Turkey?
When asked about Erdoğan’s statement that the government did not care about what the international community says about its decisions to block Twitter and whether he was on the same page as the prime minister, Gül said: “What the prime minister says is that this company, one of the most used Internet platforms, should open an office and therefore pay tax here. I think it’s not a wrong expectation.”
Hardened rhetoric at ODTÜ speech
Gauck even hardened his rhetoric during his speech at the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ), which became a focal point of last summer’s anti-government protests in the capital. Saying that Germany cares about what happens in Turkey and that Germans “respect the separation of powers,” Gauck added that he “follows the situation with a particular worry whenever [he] sees a tendency to limit the separation of powers.”
“When the government tries to affect [court] decisions for its own favor and to avoid rulings that it dislikes, I ask whether judicial independence is still guaranteed,” Gauck told university students, while stressing that Turkish citizens and politicians should understand his words not as “meddling” in domestic affairs, but rather as “sharing opinions between equals.”
“Whenever I see that the rule of law is threatened, even if it is not in Germany, I raise my voice as a democrat,” he said.
Referring to alleged attempts to intervene in people’s lifestyles, in particular the recent law that expanded the powers of the National Intelligence Agency [MİT] and the forceful suppression of street protests in Turkey, Gauck said he was “terrified.” “I admit that these developments terrify me. Especially because freedom of speech and free press are being limited,” he said.
The German president also listed Turkey’s attempts to restrict the Internet and social networks, as well as the firings and prosecutions of journalists, as sources of concern. “Protest is a warning signal,” he said. “Democracy needs this engagement.”
As Gauck spoke in the auditorium, a group of ODTÜ students outside protested the fact that they were not allowed to enter the building by sitting on one of the German president’s official cars.