Belgian political parties target Turkish community, and also their votes

MEHMET SOLMAZ
ISTANBUL
Published 27.05.2019 00:12

On Sunday, Belgium not only held an election for Belgian seats in the European Parliament, but also general elections that will end the caretaker government of Prime Minister Charles Michel. From federal to regional parliaments and also the European Parliament, over 8,000 candidates ran for seats in various bodies. Belgium has over eight million eligible voters, and some regions of the country have a large number of people of Turkish origin. From Christian democrats to socialists, liberals to Greens, many parties nominate Turkish candidates to get Turkish votes. However, any sign of loyalty to their Turkish roots is enough for these candidates to be expelled from their parties or receive harsh intraparty criticism.

Belgian parties have a bad record for embracing diversity and multiculturalism with many cases taking place in previous terms. For instance, Brussels regional parliament member Mahinur Özdemir was expelled from her party, the Humanist Democratic Center (CHD), after she refused to recognize the 1915 incidents as genocide. On the other hand, the far-right New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) parliamentarian Zuhal Demir is regarded favorably in the political sphere, and this perception led her to have a ministerial position in the recently dissolved coalition government. Demir regularly picks on the Muslim community and the Turkish minority in the country and announced that she has dropped her Turkish citizenship. She has also said that the state may opt to use "force" to integrate Muslims into society.

Some similar incidents occurred days before Sunday's election too. Two candidates running for the federal parliament were slammed by various parties for sending campaign leaflets to Turkish voters in the Turkish language. Both of the candidates are from different regions and different political parties. A spokesperson from the party of Prime Minister Michel described the Turkish leaflets as "an act of separation" and called for urgent cancellation of their distribution. In response to the criticisms, Mahmut Temur of Flemish Open VLD said that his party does not treat others differently and slammed those who criticize him, "Our party isn't like those who use some people for their ethnic background or sexual orientation first, and then expel them once they are used."

Recently, Yasin Gül of the Christian Democrats (CD & V) was expelled from his party after a video of him was shared on the internet. In the footage, Gül and a group of Belgian Turks are seen singing an Azeri-Turkic song "Çırpınırdı Karadeniz" ("The Fluttering Black Sea") and making the Grey Wolves sign. Having a Turkish nationalist view was enough for Gül to be expelled by his party. To prevent such action, Gül said the video was shot two years ago and that his views have changed.

Turkish nationalists have not caused trouble in the country and have faced many attacks by members of the PKK terrorist organization. After a series of propaganda attacks by the Flemish nationalist N-VA, Belgian Turkish Federation Chairman Ömer Zararsız spoke to the Belgian news magazine Knack, saying that he is fed up with the negative coverage of the Grey Wolves and that they want to build bridges, not polarization. "I have a Belgian passport, and I feel at home here. But our heart is also in Turkey."

Having your heart in Turkey as well is a troubling issue for Belgian politics. You are wanted for the votes that you can grab from your community, but your disagreement over the events of 1915 will lead you to be expelled from your party.

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