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"The basic values of Europe should not be bought and sold"

On 11 April the Hertie School hosted a talk and discussion with Selahattin Demirtaş, Co-Chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a member of the Turkish parliament, on Democracy in Turkey in the Wake of the EU’s Refugee Deal. The discussion was moderated by Dilek Kurban, Marie Curie Fellow, Hertie School and Co-Chair of the working group ‘Europe and Turkey’, Dahrendorf Forum.

Turkey's opposition parliamentarian Selahattin Demirtaş discusses the EU refugee deal with Dilek Kurban.

Mr. Demirtaş, what do you see as the main issue with the refugee deal between Turkey and the EU?

What we do not see in the refugee deal between Turkey and the European Union is long-term thinking and a more humanitarian policy. Basically, these refugees are being treated like a bartering unit between the Turkish and the European governments. This reminds me of the days when slaves were bought and sold in the marketplace. So nowadays –­ and of course I mean this rhetorically – refugees are being bought and sold on the political market. And this humanitarian drama, this inhumane situation, is on the conscience of citizens, but those who govern must also take an ethical and humanitarian view. Instead they are following their vested interests and ignoring the fact that people’s lives are at stake.

So I think this is completely an issue of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The basic values of Europe should not be bought and sold. For many years, European societies struggled to bring about these values and to install these fundamental rights in European countries. And they cannot be disposed of at will by any head of state – neither the Turkish president nor the German chancellor.

How is this related to the situation of the Kurds in Turkey?

When it comes to human rights violations, to the armed conflict in Turkey, the German government must be much clearer, much more outspoken than they are right now. Turkey and Germany have a long-term relationship dating back many years. This should be strengthened and encouraged. But our government is trying to conceal human rights violations. Especially today, they are committing crimes against the Kurdish people. They are bombing Kurdish towns and they are discriminating against citizens. Do we have to cover this up to solve the refugee crisis? Is this a principled, an ethical, is this even a feasible standpoint to take? Democracy in Turkey should be important to all of us. If we have democracy in Turkey, we can have peace. If we have the rule of law, democracy and equality, then this country will be a much more valuable strategic partner for the European Union. Such a Turkey will be much more valuable for creating peace in Syria, for enabling refugees to return to Syria or to Turkey if they want.

But the unprincipled approach Europe is taking today will sooner or later lead to renewed conflict in Turkey. This is what we fear – if we cannot stop armed conflict in our country. If we cannot install the rule of law and democracy, then the refugees, who are already causing a crisis in Europe, will be joined by millions of refugees from Turkey if Turkey becomes unstable. Europe would be at least partly responsible for this, because it did not intervene for peace at the time when it was necessary.

What do you think about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s request that the German government prosecute comedian Jan Böhmermann for insulting him in a satirical poem?

We weren’t aware of this until our minister of interior affairs summoned your ambassador. And maybe some people in Germany would have found it amusing and others wouldn’t, and that would have been the end of it. Because the best way to handle satire you don’t like is to ignore it, simply not to laugh about it. That’s about all you can do. But we have seen that satire can take on another dynamic. The idea that you can fight satire, or try to suppress it, that’s ludicrous. So now they are trying to take people to court. And I hope this really very sinister situation in our country will not affect you too much and that you can keep your sense of humour. We can’t really laugh anymore in our country, that’s the situation.

More about the Dilek Kurban