Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is running for re-election in June, and is hoping that Germany's large Turkish community can help him secure the votes he needs. But his request for electoral help from the German government has ruffled feathers.
The campaign speech in Düsseldorf made headlines in Germany. Newspapers described it as a "sermon of hate" and warned of "new divisions" in society. But the election campaigner wasn't even running for office in Germany: It was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who caused all the fuss.
The heated reaction was due to comments that Erdogan made during his Sunday, Feb. 27 speech. He said that Turkish, not German, must be the first language of the children of Turkish parents. "You are my citizens!" he told the crowd.
On the day after the scandal erupted, Erdogan met with Thomas de Maizière, who was still the German interior minister at the time (he has since been appointed Germany's defense minister). De Maizière had carefully studied Erdogan's speech on Monday afternoon, in his car, on his way to the CeBit consumer electronics trade show in Hanover (Turkey was the fair's partner country this year). He knew that the Turkish prime minister likes to polarize, so he decided to remain calm. He gently corrected Erdogan, without loudly contradicting him. "We want the children to learn German, at the latest when they start attending school," said de Maizière. "Whether or not they learn Turkish is their own private matter."
But during their discussion over dinner, the guest from Ankara appeared no longer particularly interested in the language proficiency of young Turkish-Germans. In his Düsseldorf speech, he had set his sights on a far greater subject: the parliamentary elections in Turkey this coming June. Erdogan has asked the German government for help -- he wants to make it possible for his fellow Turks to vote in Germany.
Erdogan is a high roller and a populist, and there is one thing that he now wants more than anything else: to be re-elected. Between 1.1 and 1.3 million Turks living in Germany are eligible to vote in Turkish elections. Germany is effectively the fourth largest Turkish electoral district after Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
This June, Erdogan wants to see ballot boxes placed in the Turkish Embassy and Turkish consulates in Germany. De Maizière agreed, at least in principle, to provide support, and has tentatively promised police protection. Swedes, Iraqis and Australians are already able to vote in their embassies. The German government had previously rejected all requests from Turkish politicians -- out of fear of attacks.