from the don't-feed-the-gollum dept
For a political leader who’s so transparently self-serving and incredibly thin-skinned, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan sure seems to have a knack for bending other parts of the world to his will.
Having criminalized pretty much any criticism of him, President Erdogan has managed to silence a lot of homegrown dissent. But it’s apparently not enough to have one nation under his (presumably elfin) jackboot. No, Erdogan is a censorial cosmopolitan — one willing to wield other nation’s laws to intimidate and silence critics residing outside of Turkey’s unfriendly confines.
That’s terrible enough. But for some reason, foreign governments have proven willing to do Erdogan’s bidding, enforcing local laws to punish people this tin pot crackpot doesn’t think should be allowed to insult him.
This silencing seldom lasts forever. Local laws get amended so Erdogan can’t abuse them to censor people who aren’t Turkish citizens. Even the most diplomatic of officials have a breaking point, and Erdogan’s constant pestering usually manages to test their limits, making each subsequent complaint less likely to receive any response at all, much less the one Erdogan desires.
After a period of relative silence, Erdogan is back to making foreign officials embarrass themselves on his behalf. He’s got Russia to thank for things breaking his way. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted nations with long-held neutrality stances to join NATO — something that seems like a more appealing option when there’s an aggressive nation on your doorstep.
Finland and Sweden are seeking to join NATO. And that has given Erdogan an opportunity to demand concessions from these prospective members since his nation has the ability to block the two applicants from being accepted.
Turkey is expected to seek to negotiate a compromise deal under which the two countries will crack down on the PKK and other groups in return for Turkish support of their joining NATO. A key demand is expected to be that they halt any support to a Syrian Kurdish group, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The group is a Western ally in the fight against the Islamic State group in northern Syria but Turkey views it as an extension of the PKK.
I’m sure the list of Erdogan’s enemies looks like a set of encyclopedias at this point. Given that he claims all the journalists he’s locked up for criticizing him are actually “terrorists,” it’s extremely difficult to take his assertions about these groups at face value.
Finland and Sweden could say some noncommittal things about doing their best and hope Erdogan finds something else to be shitty about while rubberstamping their NATO applications. But Erdogan wants concessions now, and he’s going to be a pain in the ass about it while holding their unapproved NATO applications over their heads. So, this is how things are going in Sweden, where a moody autocrat has managed to make a top foreign politician apologize for Swedish citizens exercising their right to protest.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Friday denounced a protest by Kurds in central Stockholm, where an effigy of Turkey’s president was hung from a lamppost, as an act of “sabotage” against Sweden’s bid to join NATO.
Well, it definitely wasn’t “sabotage.” It appears locals were expressing their displeasure with the only person in NATO who seems willing to leverage his veto power to make the rest of the world behave the way he wants it to. Erdogan’s certainly not going to be any less likely to press this small advantage now that his displeasure has resulted in immediate capitulation by the Swedish PM.
And there’s more. PM Kirstersson wasn’t content with misrepresenting the actions of protesters as “sabotage.” That should have been more than enough to apply some lip service to Erdogan’s bruised ego, but the PM insisted on continuing.
“People tried to show their views on the Swedish NATO accession through a disgusting way of portraying president Erdogan in almost something looking like an execution.” Kristersson told reporters after a meeting with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. “That is bad in every sense.”
Kristersson said he understood why Turkey is outraged, saying “we would show the same reaction if this was aimed at a Swedish leader.”
Yeah, maybe. But I doubt Sweden would refuse to approve another country’s NATO application just because some foreign protesters engaged in a little bad taste to prove a point.
And, of course, Kristersson’s extensive apology has only emboldened Turkish government officials. They’re saying even stupider things about the incident, devolving even further into self-caricature by claiming the Erdogan effigy was a “hate crime” and a “racist act.” Turkey’s foreign minister also claimed the entire county was responsible for the act because, well, it happened there.
“This action took place in the center of the city, right in front of the municipality, in front of everyone,” Cavusoglu said. “Sweden has a responsibility here.”
All of this is exceedingly stupid. Chances are that Turkey’s just looking for reasons to keep Finland and Sweden out of NATO because it still thinks Russia’s going to win the long game. This is all performative and everyone knows it. But there’s absolutely no reason any foreign leader should agree to be a bit player in Erdogan’s stupid world theater productions. At best, all that needs to be said to Erdogan and his enablers is “I can see you’re upset. I suggest you get over it.” Being protested is part of the “world leader” job. All an extensive apology does is encourage a terrible person to be even worse.