In terms of misogyny, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has overtaken Catholic leaders in Hungary and Poland, who have certainly not been stingy when it comes to attacking women in the recent past. In January, Law and Justice, the ruling right-wing populist anti-Europe party, imposed a ban on abortion, even in cases of severe fetal abnormalities. Hungary signed an anti-abortion declaration last year.
This new form of misogyny goes hand in hand with the exclusion from the special protection of homosexual, bisexual and transgender persons. Many Polish countries and cities have declared themselves “LGBT-free zones” – people who are not heterosexual are not welcome. It is a sad repetition of history that people in Poland, which was once invaded by Nazi Germany “without Jews”, are now stigmatized and outlawed in such a disgusting way.
Erdogan doesn’t want to sound like a weakling: he repeated a statement made by the country’s top Muslim cleric, who in a sermon at the end of April last year accused homosexuality of being the origin of the coronavirus epidemic.
Common populist agenda
You have to call it what it really is: terribly stupid. But that’s not the end of the story. The autocrats in Ankara, Budapest and Poland – nominally Turkey, Hungary and Poland are democracies, the latter two are members of the European Union – pursue a common agenda to which the free world cannot be indifferent.
In short, Erdogan’s political biography is a good example. He won the 2004 local elections in part by posing as a “Brown Turk” to break the domination of the “White Turks”, that is, the Kemalist secular elite in the military and politics. A strongman, alone against the establishment, for the people, against the elite at home and abroad – the world must have watched multiple rehearsals of this populist thriller.
People like Erdogan or Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, however, only reject “the elites” at home and abroad who are able to monitor them closely, denounce and punish wrongdoing: power judiciary in Turkey, Poland and Hungary is staffed with henchmen, the press and universities going on mute. Rights for everyone, where would that leave us? In this regard, Turkey, Poland and Hungary are also surprisingly similar.
Western values are the enemy
In these countries nepotism and kleptomania have replaced lucid and open processes of performance and capacity. Of course, they don’t want anyone on the outside to have the ability, legal or otherwise, to force them to change their behavior. That is why Poland and Hungary oppose the EU rule of law mechanism.
In this vein, Turkey will never be a member of the European Union; and it had been a long time since Erdogan even wanted to join. The EU is not the only community of values - just like NATO, of which Turkey is a member. The fact that the White House has harshly criticized Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention shows that people all over the free world are shocked by the developments in the country.
Populists like Erdogan can only exist on the political scene by presenting their constituents with enemies who become scapegoats. Charged with discontent, it is their substitute for real politics. Poland announced a replacement for the Istanbul Convention which would ban abortion and same-sex marriage. It won’t be long before darker news emerges from Hungary and Turkey: after all, the wheel of resentment and denigration must continue to turn.
Alexander Görlach is Senior Research Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and Senior Research Associate at the Religion & International Studies Institute at the University of Cambridge. He has also held several academic and advisory positions at Harvard University, National Taiwan University, and Hong Kong City University. He holds a doctorate in comparative religion and linguistics.
This article has been translated from German.