Reading his public speeches, one may think that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must be joking; that he is a celebrity stand-up comedian, the best in his profession. In reality, he is not joking. He believes in what he says. And he does not want to make people laugh. He is just an Islamist strongman.
Visiting Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in the first week of November for the opening of a mosque in a dictatorial country where there are 100,000 Muslims, Erdogan accused Western Europe for "intolerance that spreads like the plague."
Erdogan described Belarus, which Western countries describe as a dictatorship, as "a country in which people with different roots live in peace." In Erdogan's view Belarus is decent and peaceful, but Western Europe is not. Merely because Belarus's dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, agreed to open a mosque to lure some Turkish investment.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk on November 11, 2016. (Image source: TRT Haber video screenshot)
Back in Turkey, things look very Belarusian -- even worse -- rather than Western European, a culture Erdogan despises.
In August, an Istanbul court ordered Asli Erdogan, a prominent author and journalist, arrested on charges of membership in an armed terror organization. Asli Erdogan, a peace activist and novelist, worked for Ozgur Gundem, a pro-Kurdish newspaper. She has remained in prison since her arrest. The prosecutors demand an aggravated life sentence plus 17.5 years in jail for her.
How did Asli Erdogan the novelist "support terror"? This is from the indictment: "... in an understanding of a novelist [the accused] portrayed terrorists as citizens in her columns." The prosecutor's "evidence" is four columns by Asli Erdogan. Mehmet Yilmaz, a columnist, suggested that Turkish law faculties, after this indictment, should be closed down and converted into imam schools.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's crackdown on dissent goes at full speed. An opposition, pro-Kurdish party, the Peoples' Democratic Party, announced that it would suspend its legislative activity after a dozen of its lawmakers, including its co-chairpersons, were arrested on terror charges. Meanwhile Erdogan accuses Europe of abetting terrorism by supporting Kurdish militants as the Turkish government tries to suppress them. He said: "Europe, as a whole, is abetting terrorism."
German lawmakers, including leading representatives of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party, announced an initiative to "adopt" their Turkish colleagues after Erdogan's government rescinded the legal immunity of 53 of 59 Kurdish members of parliament and arrested dozens of lawmakers, party employees and journalists.
"In the history of the program, there has never been such an extraordinary situation where I think we can say that a democracy is threatening to turn itself into a dictatorship," said German Social Democratic lawmaker and human rights expert Frank Schwabe. "We have a lot of Turkish opposition parliamentarians under threat, so we had to apply the parliamentary sponsorship program in an extraordinary way."
In another speech, Erdogan said that Turkey was ready to abandon its EU candidacy if "Europe told us they do not want us." He said he would put EU membership to referendum. It may look amusing if an applicant threatens to withdraw his application to a club he knows and declares he does not belong to. But the incompatibility between the democratic cultures of Western Europe and Turkey are now too visible to ignore or tone down in diplomatic language.
There are signs, albeit weak, in Europe that Islamist Turkey does not belong to the Old Continent. Austria's defense minister, Hans Peter Doskozil, told the German daily, Bild, that "Turkey is on its way to becoming a dictatorship." Past perfect tense instead of present may have described Turkey's case better, but there is a European "awakening" on Turkish affairs.
Austria's foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, said: "Over recent years Turkey has moved farther and farther away from the EU, but our policy has remained the same. That can't work. What we need are clear consequences." He is right: "That" cannot work.
A tiny EU state was bolder in calling a cat a cat. Speaking of Erdogan's increasingly savage crackdown on dissidents, particularly after the failed coup of July 15, Luxembourg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, said: "These are methods, one must say this bluntly, that were used during Nazi rule ... And there has been a really, really bad evolution in Turkey since July that we as the European Union cannot simply accept."
Europe's unpleasant game of pretension with Turkey should end at once, with Brussels and Ankara admitting that the planned marriage was an awfully bad idea from the beginning; that Turkey does not belong to Europe, as its leader proudly says, and that there are better formats to frame diplomatic relationships than lies, cheap lies and cheaper lies. Let Turkey go on its voyage to become another peaceful Belarus.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.