The challenge of lecturing Germany on democracy

The challenge of lecturing Germany on democracy

Nearly ten years ago, Turkish parliamentarians visiting Germany were subjected to criticism by their German counterparts about the excessive beating of demonstrators by the police in Turkey. The head of the Turkish delegation said incidents like that could take place anywhere and mentioned a recent similar case in France. The answer from his counterpart was, “Yes, but France is part of the European Union,” as if it’s OK to have excessive use of force if you are an EU member.

I recalled this anecdote recounted to me by a Turkish diplomat familiar with that meeting when I was in Berlin, together with a Turkish parliamentary delegation invited by the German government to inquire about the ongoing investigations into the neo-Nazi murders. 

Coming from a country where the majority of Turks don’t want to see a Christian or Jew as a neighbor, it might seem difficult to preach to Germans about racism. Every country has its share of racism and xenophobia. There is room for improvement in Turkey, and indeed it is deficiencies in human rights and democracy that supposedly prevent Turkey from entering the EU. But when a serious human rights deficiency takes place in a country like Germany, then the fact that it is known to be an advanced democracy should not be a reason to underestimate it. On the contrary, this should be an additional reason to ring the alarm bells.

Germany seems to have shown a strong democratic reflex after the discovery of a neo-Nazi cell that is believed to have murdered one Greek and eight Turkish immigrants, as well as a German policewomen, right under the nose of security forces. 

Coming from a country where the hardest thing is to say “I’m sorry,” it was a genuine experience to hear Germans telling the delegation how ashamed they were about the murders. An ombudswoman was appointed for the families of the victims, which were doubly traumatized when the police suspected the victims’ relatives of being the perpetrators. 

The unanswered questions as to why the police have never looked to the possibility of racially motivated right wing extremism fuels speculation that this is not just a simple case of incompetence. And the most frightening speculation is about the possible presence of neo-Nazi sympathizers among police and intelligence services. After all who are the Germans who made Thilo Sarrazin’s racist book a bestseller in the country? Can we say the police remain immune to the rising wave of anti-immigration sentiment in the country?

Some members of the Turkish community expressed their concerns that Germany was more worried about its international image than being truly sorry and genuine about facing the unpleasant truth and deriving the right conclusions from it. 

The invitation of Turkish MPs, together with journalists, could be seen as part of a public relations campaign. Whatever the motive, it is a step that can only be applauded. At the end of the day though, it doesn’t really matter whether the Turkish delegation is convinced or not. It is for the sake of a better future that Germany needs to face the unpleasant truth, for Germans to now realize that not only are immigrants there to stay, but also that they need them to stay. 

Germans need to fight the biggest obstacle - whether you call it right wing extremism, racism, xenophobia, or anti-immigration - that stands in the way of social cohesion.