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New Erdogan-linked political celebration in Germany stirs unease

A new Turkish-linked party is entering the political arena in Germany, raising fears it will become a propaganda and influence tool for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Democratic Alliance for Diversity and Awakening (Dava) is pledging to fight for “people with foreign roots” and to tackle anti-Muslim racism, as it prepares to stand at European elections in June.

With Germany home to a huge Turkish diaspora that has strongly supported Mr Erdogan in the past, the new party, which has links with Turkey’s ruling AKP, could mobilise some of the same voter base.

The party’s lead candidate, Fatih Zingal, is a former spokesman of the Union of International Democrats (UID), a Turkish umbrella group that German officials regard as close to the Ankara regime.

Number two on the European election list is Ali Ihsan Unlu, a former senior official in the mosque network Ditib, which oversees a network of almost 1,000 mosques with imams employed by the Turkish state.

These Turkish-linked groups acted as the “main mobilising agency” for the AKP during Mr Erdogan’s re-election campaign last year, said Inci Oyku Yener-Roderburg, an expert in diaspora politics at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

The fact that the new party’s founding members have backgrounds in the UID and Ditib mean “we can safely say that it is AKP-affiliated”, Ms Yener-Roderburg told The National.

This is not the first pro-Turkish party to exist in Germany. An Alliance for Innovation and Justice, which won 69,000 votes at European elections in 2019, was likewise regarded as close to Mr Erdogan.

However, Dava has made a bigger splash so far, with Mr Zingal relishing the front-page coverage it has received in mass-circulation newspaper Bild.

The party is pitching itself as “a new political home for the many citizens who are not being represented by the established parties,” said its chairman Teyfik Ozcan. A part-Iranian left-wing politician, Sahra Wagenknecht, recently founded another new party with a similar aim to pounce on voter discontent.

“Our aim is to clearly call out inequality and social biases for what they are, and ensure that people with foreign roots are granted their full rights,” Mr Ozcan said.

“These are the people who often feel that they are not fully valued members of European society when they look for housing, when they apply for jobs and in many everyday situations such as dealing with the authorities.”

Politicians in Germany have reacted with alarm to Dava’s entry into the arena. Agriculture Minister Cem Oezdemir, who is himself of Turkish heritage, said an “Erdogan offshoot that stands at elections here is the last thing we need”.

Senior conservative MP Jens Spahn said a pro-Erdogan movement would be “another extreme party in our country” as he called for curbs on Turkey’s influence in Germany.

Ms Yener-Roderburg said fears of Mr Erdogan influencing German policy were likely overblown, since Dava was unlikely to win more than the odd seat in elections.

Still, it could provide “propaganda material” for Mr Erdogan to be able to show off to a domestic audience in Turkey that “we are also in German politics”, she said.

Germany’s staunchly pro-Israel position during the war in Gaza could also lead to Dava “using this card” as a way to appeal to Muslim voters who support the Palestinian cause, she said.

Almost three million people in Germany have a Turkish background, many in the second or third generation of families who emigrated to West Germany under a “guest worker” scheme in the 1960s and 1970s.

More than 750,000 voted in last year’s Turkish election despite rules requiring people to cast their ballot in person at one of only 17 polling stations in all of Germany. About two-thirds of them voted for Mr Erdogan.

While not all are eligible to vote in German elections, the number could soon rise under a new citizenship law that relaxes rules on dual nationality and lowers hurdles for the guest-worker generation.

A conservative MP, Alexander Throm, was heckled in parliament as he raised fears the bill would lead to a pro-AKP electorate “bringing conflicts” into Germany.

“Most of those who have not yet applied for German citizenship come from the Turkish community. And most of those who live here support the AKP and Erdogan in their elections,” he said.

Dirk Wiese, an MP from Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, shot back by accusing Mr Throm of “mistrusting people of Turkish heritage”, saying he could just as easily object to German-Americans who support Donald Trump.

Updated: February 01, 2024, 4:18 PM


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