The Swoboda incident

The Swoboda incident

Last week, an interesting bout of tension arose between Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and European Parliament Socialist Group Chair (not Socialist International) Hannes Swoboda. As the incident coincided with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to the United States, which marked the peak of Erdoğan’s international prestige, the overall picture became even more critical for the CHP.

So, what was the incident? In a joint press conference held by Kılıçdaroğlu and Swoboda, Kılıçdaroğlu compared Erdoğan to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, arguing that there was only a difference in tone between the two figures. Upon that, the meeting scheduled between Kılıçdaroğlu and Swoboda was canceled as the EP Socialist Group chair called the words “unacceptable.”

Many sources reported that after Swoboda left the press conference, several top-level European politicians tried to mediate between the two and that a breakthrough fell through at the last moment.

It is wrong for Kılıçdaroğlu to compare Erdoğan with al-Assad. Except that one has reached his position through elections and the other is a non-elected dictator. However, al-Assad’s most important feature is that he is responsible for the massacre of civilians in a civil war. Even though light has not been shed on the Uludere massacre, it is unfair to Erdoğan to make a comparison between the two in that sense. Even though it can be said that the comparison is not made in this respect, but that this has been resorted to due to Erdoğan’s rising authoritarianism, it would not change the fact that this comparison is inappropriate in such an environment of civil war.

In other words, Swoboda may seem just in criticizing Kılıçdaroğlu for this al-Assad matter. On the other hand, it should be noted that he has turned his criticism into a weird political show and has magnified the crisis by announcing it on Twitter. Another aspect worth noting is that Swoboda, not in his institutional capacity but personally, supported the 2010 constitutional referendum in the “Yes, but not enough” camp.

Erdoğan may not be comparable to Bashar al-Assad, but it would be perfectly normal to compare him to Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orban. Hungary’s Orban has been changing the Constitution and the laws to produce an increasingly authoritarian and conservative regime. He has been increasing his control over the judiciary, he has been creating institutions that undermine media freedom and he has been removing autonomous constitutional institutions.

I assume this looks familiar. Viktor Oban, with this stance of his, has earned the title “Victator” for himself. Several organs of the European Union as well as international human rights organizations have been sending warnings one after the other to Orban. Let’s remember the warning Swoboda sent to Orban last month: “Hungary should not disregard rule of law, freedom and democracy. The absolute majority in Parliament is not a license to neglect the fundamental values and rights of European citizens.”

For both sides, last week’s debate should have focused on Orban, not on al-Assad. If Kılıçdaroğlu had compared Erdoğan to Orban instead of al-Assad, then Swoboda could have taken a step back from the conditional support he had given to the constitutional referendum at the time. Thus, Swoboda could have diverted the criticism that he deemed Turkey to be at a lower democratic standard than an EU member country.
As a result, a significant opportunity for CHP has been missed because of a passion for rhetoric.

Also, Swoboda has found an opportunity to remove the evidence of his personal support for the constitutional referendum that paved the way for the authoritarianism of Erdoğan, the person he is accusing of becoming authoritarian today.

What should you say? Get well soon, everybody…

Özgür Mumcu is a columnist for daily Radikal in which this piece was published May 20. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.