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Europe's Discontented Turks

Walter Russell Mead

About 1.4 million expatriate Turks voted in Turkey’s referendum to grant President Erdogan near-dictatorial powers, with three quarters of them residing in Austria, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. These Turkish voters, living in some of Europe’s most liberal countries, overwhelming cast their ballots for Erdogan’s illiberal reforms of Turkish society. The results, from the state-run Anadolu Agency:

  • Austria – 73.23% Yes, 26.77% No
  • Belgium – 74.98% Yes, 25.02% No
  • France – 64.85% Yes, 35.15% No
  • Germany – 63.07% Yes, 36.93% No
  • The Netherlands – 70.94% Yes, 29.06% No

Not only did these European Turks vote far more heavily in favor of Yes than their countrymen back home (the domestic vote was 51.18% Yes, 48.82% No), they also voted more heavily Yes than just about any other Turkish expatriate community. In the U.S. and U.K. Turks voted No by about 84% and 80%, respectively.

Life in liberal Europe is not having the impact people hoped—Turks in Europe are not any less nationalistic, less authoritarian or less Islamist than their compatriots at home—rather they are more of all these things. The Turkish minority in Germany is one of the longest established Islamic minorities in Europe, going back to the 1960s when labor shortages first led Germany to recruit workers from Turkey. And modern Turkey has long had significantly higher levels of education and affluence than most of the North African states from which many other Islamic immigrants to Europe have come. If assimilation is failing with long established Turks in affluent, full employment Germany, what can we expect with other communities in less prosperous European countries?

This was not an encouraging result, and will have many in Europe­—where a majority in many countries already opposes any additional Islamic migration—taking a hard look at the state of intercommunal relations in a continent that recently thought it had left history behind.

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