Ethnic Turkish party in Greece fights far-right discourse in EU polls

Western Thrace
Tue, 4 Jun 2024 11:15 GMT
FEP Party of ethnic Turks of Western Thrace, competing in EU Parliament elections, struggles to carry the ongoing fight against discrimination of Turks by the Greek State to the EU, amid a trust deficit and deteriorating democracy in the country.
Ethnic Turkish party in Greece fights far-right discourse in EU polls

FEP Party of ethnic Turks of Western Thrace, competing in EU Parliament elections, struggles to carry the ongoing fight against discrimination of Turks by the Greek State to the EU, amid a trust deficit and deteriorating democracy in the country.

Between June 6 and June 9, 350 million people from 27 member states across the European Union are going to the polls to elect members to the EU Parliament.

Since the previous elections, held in 2019, the political landscape of Europe has seen dramatic change, largely driven by Brexit, raising questions on the unity and identity of the EU, and the rise to power of the far right, from Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom in the Netherlands to Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.

The National Rally of France, Vox of Spain, Freedom Party of Austria and the Greek Solution of Greece parties are other far-right formations that are also gaining traction within their respective countries.

Even as they gain a stronger hold in the politics of their respective countries, the strength of some of them has risen within the EU, especially with the victories of the pan-European Identity and Democracy group in 2019.

They got 20 million of votes, equal to 10.59 percent, half of the gains made by their main political formation - the European People’s Party.

Despite growing tendencies for anti-European, populist and anti-immigrant policies, both nationally and at a European level, there also are minority parties that are competing them domestically.

One of them, the Party of Friendship, Equality, and Peace (FEPP), made up of ethnic Turks in Greece’s Western Thrace, is getting into the EU elections, despite facing a tough barrier in the 3 percent electoral threshold.

Having led in the Rhodopi and Xanthi provinces of Greece in the 2019 national elections, they aim for a more equal and fair share of the EU’s support and funds, and to protect the rights of Turkish people there.

The issues they brought into the political agenda are the expropriation of Turkish lands, deprivation of citizenship rights and problems related to education, identity and religious rights.

Apart from their demand for rights, they shed light on the problems with the incumbent government in Greece, during their campaign for the EU Parliament elections.

‘Greek Watergate’

In the summer of 2022, a wiretapping scandal erupted in Greece, revealing that the Greek secret services had monitored some journalists and prominent names in the Greek political scene, including the head of the social-democratic PASOK party.

The state intelligence, which has been under the personal control of Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis since 2019, was found to have bugged their phones using the ‘Predator’ software.

Even as his administration faced a backlash, the European Commission sent a delegation to Greece on November 3, 2022, to investigate the allegations of the Greek government's use of illegal spyware.

The commission’s report, which found the New Democracy government to have violated EU laws, was approved by the EU Parliament, which also adopted a resolution regarding the alarming situation in the country.

“This has shaken public trust in democracy in Greece. According to the latest surveys, 51 percent of the people now think there is a democratic deficit in the country,” Halit Habip Oglu, the head of the Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF), tells TRT World.

He thinks the current impasse can benefit the opposition parties at this year’s EU elections. “They can even influence the government to change its course,” he adds.

Jailed Greek mayor from Albania as a candidate

Another controversy surrounding the EU Parliament elections in Greece is the ruling party’s candidate, Fredi Beleri, who is an ethnic-Greek currently in Albanian police custody. He had been sentenced for corruption, including vote-buying, at the time he was elected mayor of Himare in Albania.

“This should bring the relations between Greece and Albania to the attention of the EU Parliament,” says Habip Oglu, as Greece chooses to take a bilateral dispute over the rule of law to the European level.

It is the first time Greece will nominate a candidate who is not only a dual citizen, but also one who is in jail. And it highlights how Greek democracy works on nationalist issues, where a Greek expat jailed in Albania is deployed in an European election, while the rights of Turkish minorities aren’t even recognised, he says.

Hearing the voices of minorities

Even if the 3 percent threshold makes it impossible for the FEP Party to enter the EU Parliament, their expected success in Greece is expected to send a message to the parties that hold power in EU countries, Habip Oglu says.

“Through the FEP Party in Greece, Turks in Western Thrace want to tell the world: ‘We are here too, hear us! Listen to our problems’,” the ABTTF chief adds.

Around 150,000 Turks, whose ethnic identity Greece has denied for years, live in its Western Thrace region. Instead of calling them Turks, Athens has preferred to call them ‘Muslim minority’, basing it on the Lausanne Treaty.

“This election will be the best response to the policies of denying our identity, which began with the junta regime in Greece, but continued even after the transition to democracy,” the leader of the FEP Party, Cigdem Asafoglu, tells TRT World.

On the back of the consolidated support of nearly the entire Turkish community, the party received maximum votes in Rhodopi (38 percent) and Xanthi (25 percent). “By collectively casting our votes and colouring the region in our hue, we assert our identity. This is why one of our slogans is ‘We are here’,” she adds.

Problems of Turks in Western Thrace

The election for the EU Parliament is a way for Turks in Thrace to demonstrate against the Greek State’s refusal to collectively identify them as Turks, and other assimilationist policies.

Since 2014, the party has been a member of the European Free Alliance (EFA), which is a European political party made up of various ethnic minority parties from different countries. They have been represented in the EU Parliament after they struck an alliance with the European Green Party (EGP).

“The EFA raises our issues in the EU Parliament and becomes our voice in Brussels. All these developments lead to increased curiosity and investigation into our situation, both domestically and internationally,” Asafoglu says.

However, while the party’s doors to Europe expanded, it also disturbed the Greek State, Habip Oglu says.

“Western Thrace Turks is a taboo topic in our country,” he adds, explaining that these Turks are perceived as a threat to the unity and solidarity of Greece in politics and the media. He further says that this perception has been reproduced repeatedly every day in politics and media.

Zuhal Mert Uzuner, Professor of Politics at Marmara University, refers to popular narratives within the Greek political arena that suggest that Muslims of Greece need to have their rights restricted and be kept under control, otherwise they might pose a security threat or align with Türkiye, adding that this is what makes FEP important.

Balancing the nationalist discourse

For this year’s election, the Greek Solution represents the far right in Greece at the EU Parliament elections.

Greece has a history of members of parliament indulging in far-right and nationalist discourses, and making racial insults against Turks. After Southern Cyprus was granted EU membership, these discourses could increase, Uzuner tells TRT World.

Four years ago, a prominent figure of the Greek far-right party Golden Dawn, Ioannis Lagos, had ripped apart a Turkish flag at the EU Parliament.

All these represent a challenge for the EU Parliament, as minorities struggle for respect at these elections.


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