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Aggression in Syria, repression in Turkey: How Erdogan forges his Sunni Islamist ‘New Turkey’

Turkish President Erdogan’s response to the July coup attempt and his invasion of Syria are all aspects of his religious sectarian vision to form a ‘new Turkey’ governed by Sharia law with himself as absolute President.

Can Erimtan

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The momentous events of 15 July 2016 have shaken the Turkish nation to its core, in the process even awakening hitherto unknown reserves of popular courage and unquestioning obedience.

The official narrative has it that the people of Turkey, supported by their political leadership (government as well as opposition), resisted the country’s military and so thwarted a coup that would have spelled the end of Tayyip Erdoğan’s political career and life.  And now, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (or AKP, led by the hapless PM Binali Yıldırım) have emerged stronger than ever, and Turkey will never be the same again . . .

Terror Distractions and Other Threats

A little more than a month later, a terror attack occurred that was to have serious consequences in the weeks and months to come:

“[o]n August 20, 2016, ISIS carried out a suicide attack in Gaziantep, Turkey targeting a Kurdish neighborhood wedding ceremony killing fiftyone people and wounding sixtynine others.”

And, as always seems to happen in Turkey Tayyip Erdoğan personally entered the controversy, this time by means of blaming a child suicide bomber for the attack (August 21), only to have his proxy deny this claim subsequently. Speaking to reporters in Ankara, the hapless Prime Minister stated namely that

“[w]e do not have a clue about who the perpetrators behind the attack were. Early information on who did the attack, in what organisation’s name, is unfortunately not right.”

In other words, this terror attack is now quite cosily fulfilling the function of a distraction, with the news media happily participating in the frenzy.

Yet another factor that always seems to occur in Turkey whenever the “Caliph” (ie. ISIS leader Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi) and his Merry Men (aka the IS or ISIS/ISIL) are involved

“[n]o group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.”

The weekly news magazine Newsweek‘s Jack Moore muses that

“ISIS rarely claims attacks in Turkey, which analysts speculate to be because of its use of Turkey as a transit country to get foreign fighters into its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria.”

But Moore’s statement seems rather weak and unconvincing. The Turkish state under the AKP has had warm relations with many, if not all, Islamist factions across the border in Syria. But, last year the “suicide blast in the Turkish border town of Suruç” (20 July 2015) was then the first effective spill-over of violence from the Syrian theatre into Turkish territory.

That particular “attack was targeted at a meeting organised by the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations (SGDF), bringing together young people from all around the country planning to travel across the border in order to offer aid and support for the re-building of the recently liberated Kurdish town of Kobanê.”

The terror attack was thus specifically aimed at Turkey’s Kurdish minority, its sympathisers and political representation.

Even though AKP-led Turkey was quick to blame ISIS or the Islamic State for the outrage, responsibility for the attack was never claimed and this suicide blast effectively brought an end to the Kurdish Peace Process.

Following this first foray into Turkish territory many more suicide attacks followed, particularly in Ankara and Istanbul — attacks which the government was always keen to blame on the “Caliph” and his Merry Men, though following renewed hostilities with the country’s Kurds, the name PKK (ie. the main Kurdish anti-government militia) also managed to pop up occasionally.

The parallels between the Suruç and Gaziantep attacks appear striking, the latter taking place exactly a year-and-a-month after the former. And in both cases, the official narrative has it that Islamist terrorists hailing from across the border were targeting Turkey’s Kurds . . .

Last year, I wondered whether

“the Suruç suicide bombing [was] a false flag attack?? [Whether] the Turkish Army [would] now enter Syria to fight the IS and the Assad regime?? . . .”

In the end, Turkey’s Armed Forces (or TSK in acronymised Turkish) stayed put. and according to Russia, Turkey traded freely with the Islamic State, importing stolen oil and reaping huge profits.

The relations between the Erdogan, the “Caliph”, and the Kurds seem most tangled up. Or is AKP-led Turkey merely using the name ISIS (or ISIL or the IS or DAESH, the Arabic acronym now also popularly used by Turkish politicians and media alike) to deflect attention from those really responsible for inflicting grave harm on the Turkish Kurds? And this question would then lead us to ask who is hiding behind this government-sponsored obfuscation?

For one thing, the local Kurds seem rather clear about the matter. Following the recent Gaziantep suicide attack the Kurdish news agency Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firatê (ANF) reported

“AKP members were protested and expelled from the funeral of 42 people that had been massacred in [Gazi]Antep,”

even adding that the massacre was perpetrated by

“ISIS gangs supported by the AKP.”

A Policy of Sunnification or Erdogan’s Dream

It really looks like Erdogan and the current hapless Turkish Prime Minister Yıldırım are keen to insinuate that the Republic of Turkey is under constant threat from either foreign terrorists, Kurdish separatists or, as recently witnessed, from apparently U.S.-directed “traitors” – as the coup-plotters have now been termed.

And these threats are all sneakily used to deflect attention from the fact that Tayyip Erdoğan is in the process of establishing a new land on the Anatolian peninsula, a “New Turkey” (as the AKP now self-assuredly also boasts), a new country completely at odds with the state founded by Mustafa Kemal [Atatürk] in 1923.

From late 2013 onwards, I have been using the term “policy of Sunnification” to describe the AKP’s domestic agenda.

In fact, Turkey’s affairs next door in Syria are but a continuation and sounding-board of this self-same policy, as the Assad regime in Damascus is supposedly led by an Alawite clan, though in reality the Syrian government appears to be much more inclusive than that, counting its fair share of ethnic and religious minorities among its members, in addition to a number of Sunni Muslims  – arguably, a circumstance most displeasing to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the self-proclaimed champion of Sunni Islam, arguably forever dreaming of a revived Islamic Turkey emboldened by righteous and obedient believer-citizens pledging allegiance to the Prophet and his representative on earth, Tayyip Erdoğan.

After all, as long ago as 20the January 2004 the then-U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman penned a confidential report for his masters in Washington, D.C. describing Erdoğan as “a natural politician,” possessing an “unbridled ambition stemming from the belief God has anointed him to lead Turkey.”

At the outset of his political career – on 22 November 1994, to be precise – when he was Mayor of Istanbul, the then 40-year old Erdoğan participated in a television programme via the telephone and proclaimed in a loud and clear tone of voice

“alḥamdulillāh [or praise be to God or Allah], I am a Muslim . . . alḥamdulillāh, I am a proponent of the Shariah.”

As a result, it should not come as a far-fetched idea to assume that the ambitious (yet also apparently equally avaricious) Tayyip Erdoğan would someday like to overthrow the Kemalist consensus and even venture to re-introduce the Shariah in Turkey.

Some have argued that the AKP’s long-term goal for the year 2023, the centenary of the Republic’s foundation, has always been to

“transform the nation state Turkey into an Anatolian federation of Muslim ethnicities, possibly linked to a revived caliphate”

with a re-introduced Shariah legal system . . .

The botched military coup of 15 July came as a “gift from God [or Allah],” offering the opportunity to effectively emasculate, if not extinguish, the opposition and other unwanted adversaries.

That fateful night, when Erdogan used his FaceTime interview on CNN Türk to call upon the people to take to the streets, they responded in huge numbers filling the main squares of Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara, imbued with a religious zeal that, according to some, seemed to mirror the fanaticism displayed by the “Caliph’s” suicide commandos (ISIS/ISIL or IS) and other religiously inspired agitators.

The masses took to the streets, proclaiming their allegiance to the Prophet and his cause by means of shouting “God is great” (or ‘Allahu Akbar’) over and again.

The political scientist Professor Alpaslan Özerdem, present in Ankara during the coup attempt, relates that following Erdoğan’s FaceTime words of encouragement

“members of the public stormed the state TV studios in Ankara, and the same broadcaster who read out the coup statement only a few hours before announced that the state TV had been brought back under civilian control. However, an army unit then stormed the studios of CNN Türk just after 3.30am, and the Turkish public were treated to the bizarre spectacle of a military coup taking over a TV broadcast and journalists fighting back. Half an hour later, the public stormed the CNN building too, chanting ‘Allahu Akbar.’ A man entered the studio itself from the fire escape and asked his fellow protesters to join him there, apparently without realising that all cameras in the studio were broadcasting live – instantly making him something of an unwitting national icon.”

The news agency Reuters adds that

“[m]ore than 290 people were killed in the violence, 104 of them coup supporters, the rest largely civilians and police officers.”

And that means that about 186 Turkish individuals have now joined the ranks of martyrs, arguably residing in heaven in clear reciprocal sight of Allah.

The AKP-led government after all ensured that Turkish civilians-perishing-for-the-cause-of-Turkey would join their military martyr brethren. As explained by Erdoğan himself (March 2012): now

“[w]e are including civilians who died in terror events into the category of martyrs. Civilians who become invalid or die by reason of a terror event and their relatives will receive compensation and a monthly allowance’. In this way, the Turkish state takes on the responsibility to take care of those who have died (or suffered) for the cause of the fatherland, which has now become equal to the cause of God.”

In this way, Erdogan encouraged his followers to become Mujahids (or individuals striving for the cause of Allah) and potential martyrs (or Shaheed), with 186 civilians actually sacrificing themselves for the sake of their leader, the President or rather Recep Tayyip Erdoğan:

“This uprising is a gift from God [or rather, Allah] to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army [and the whole of the nation of opposition-minded antagonists, desperately clinging to the memories of Atatürk and the achievements of Kemalism]. “

The Turkish Bin Laden or Pennsylvania

Erdogan and the whole of the AKP apparatus immediately blamed the self-exiled former government employee-or-cleric Fethullah Gülen, and, capitalising on the Ankara judiciary’s inventive phraseology (7 May 2015), accused a “shadowy, clearly elusive, and possibly even non-existent, organisation” known only as the supposed terror group FETÖ (Fettullahçı Terör Örgütü or Fethullahist Terror Organization) of being behind the coup attempt.

In fact, for all intents and purposes, one could put forward that Gülen has now become Turkey’s very own Usamah bin Laden, as the shadowy figure veiled in a cloak of Islamic learning and authority threatening life and limb across the nation from behind the scenes, supposedly orchestrating last July’s momentous Friday happenings: but

“[b]y 5am, [on Saturday morning 16 July] it [had] become clear that the coup attempt . . . failed”

and Erdoğan made a public announcement, addressing Gülen by means of a rhetorical flourish:

“I have a message for Pennsylvania: You have engaged in enough treason against this nation. If you dare, come back to your country”

— using the name of the Keystone State as a means to directly appeal to the figure of the fugitive former government employee-or-cleric Gülen (totum pro parte).

The same night, quite some time after all was said and done, a clearly relieved Erdogan stated confidently that

“[t]he army is ours . . . I am the Commander-in-Chief.”

Post-coup-attempt, Erdoğan, his proxy Yıldırım, and the whole of the AKP establishment immediately started a concerted campaign to ensure that the momentum was not lost, encouraging citizens to take to the streets in so-called “Democracy Guards” and giving speeches left, right and centre — television sets as well as purposefully erected large screens in public squares constantly airing the figure of the President admonishing his followers and threatening his opponents.

The press reported on 25 July that a

“total of 13,165 people have been detained in connection with the foiled coup attempt in Turkey, President Erdogan said on Sunday [, 24 July]. He mentioned that 8,838 of those arrested are soldiers, 2,101 are judges and prosecutors, 1,485 are police officers, 52 are local authorities and 689 are civilians, as reported by the Hurriyet daily. He added that 934 schools, 109 dormitories, 15 universities, 104 foundations, 35 health institutions, 1,125 associations and 19 unions were closed as they belonged to what he described as the ‘Fethullahist Terrorist Organization’.” And the authorities also determined then that “8,651 members, or 1.5%, of the nation’s armed forces took part in the failed coup on 15 July.”

Official Backlash: Purging the State

Following the successful suppression of the coup attempt, the official reaction has been nothing but a severe continuation of the repression that occurred in the wake of the corruption scandal, commonly referred to as #AKPgate.

But now, these purges are much more severe, as a three-month State of Emergency has been proclaimed on Wednesday, 20 July 2016, following a five-hour meeting of the National Security Council and a meeting of Erdoğan’s privy cabinet.  The President then told the press that

“the aim is to rapidly and effectively take all steps needed to eliminate the threat against democracy, the rule of law and the people’s rights and freedoms.”

It seems ironic that an act allowing the president and the PM “to bypass the parliament in enacting laws is cited as a means of protecting and safeguarding democracy.

On the same day, two members of Turkey’s constitutional court were arrested, in addition to more than 100 judiciary officials also taken into custody.

In early October the Turkish cabinet agreed to extend the State of Emergency for another 90 days, as then made public by the government spokesman Numan Kurtulmuş.

According to the Turkish Constitution, a state of emergency can only last for a maximum period of six months and this could mean that a possible constitutional amendment could by the end of January 2017 very well turn the current State of Emergency into the new normal and the Republic of Turkey into a veritable AKP-led police state, known as the “New Turkey”.

Thousands of private schools, charities and other institutions were forcibly closed down on Saturday, 23 July.

At the same time, the authorities immediately set out to purge the ranks of government officials and employees, abolishing vacations and restricting foreign travel. Whilst, as explained by the the journalists Josie Ensor and Zia Weise

“licences of 21,000 staff working in private schools have been revoked, [and] more than 20,000 employees at the education ministry fired, and the state-run higher education council demanded the resignation of 1,577 university deans. The Turkish education ministry [also] announced the closure of more than 600 state school across the country.”

The much-anticipated meeting of the High Military Council of Turkey (or YAŞ, in acronymised Turkish) in early August was moved forward as a clear means to cull the ranks of suspected (or possibly unwanted) members — in short, a grand total of 149 generals and admirals.   More than a thousand commissioned and 436 non-commissioned officers have been made redundant and nearly 1,700 military personnel have been summarily discharged.

The five-hour Council meeting, headed by the hapless Prime Minister Yıldırım and the Defence Minister Fikri Işık, came to an end Thursday night (28 July) and was greeted by numerous “democracy supporters” taking to the streets to celebrate in honking cars.

The news agency Reuters‘ Ece Toksabay and Daren Butler remark insightfully that Tayyip Erdoğan

“wants the armed forces and national intelligence agency brought under the control of the presidency”

moving towards an absolute presidency.

Also 45 newspapers, 16 television channels and 23 radio stations have been shut down, muffling the free press basically.

And on 31 July an emergency decree effectively closed down all military high schools and military academies, venerable institutions going back to the Ottoman era and representing a tradition that seems to be at odds with the current regime.

These institutions used to furnish an officers’ class steeped in Kemalist ideology and thus ensured that the Turkish Armed Forces was led by a cadre that saw its function primarily as safeguarding the status quo. Or, as expressed by the BBC in 2007

“[t]he army sees itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secularism.”

Forging an Absolute Presidency for Turkey

But those days are over now, and talk of “defending democracy” and of reintroducing “capital punishment,” as oftentimes voiced by anti-coup protesters as well as the AKP machinery, should really be understood as coded messages.

I would argue that the use of the term “democracy,” invariably accompanied by enthusiastic proclamations that God is great or ‘Allahu Akbar’ by Erdoğan supporters is nothing but a veiled call for the re-introduction of Shariah law in Turkey.  And in this context, the return of capital punishment could very well function as a catalyst that would convince wider swathes of the population that stricter and more stringent laws are in order . . . and no law is stricter than the law of God, or the Shariah in an Islamic context.  And the strongman that is Tayyip Erdoğan, as the “anointed” leader of Turkey is the one to achieve this feat, something that seemed all but unthinkable and even unimaginable just ten years ago.

As voiced by an anonymous intellectual in Istanbul interviewed by the veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn:

“Erdogan’s lust for power is too great for him [to] show restraint in stifling opposition in general,”

and pursuing his ultimate policy aims, no doubt.

And in this connection, his first goal has to be seen as a changed constitution and the introduction of a presidential system to replace the parliamentary one, in place since 1923 (or 1908, if you want to include its Ottoman forebear).

In other words, Tayyip Erdoğan seems intent on turning “15 July” into a symbolic date, comparable to “31 March” in reverse.

The so-called ’31 March Incident’ (or in Turkish, 31 Mart Vakası) refers to the defeat of a 1909 countercoup, a countercoup that would have abolished the constitutional regime introduced the previous year and reinstated Sultan Abdülhamid II as an absolute autocrat ruling the Ottoman lands.

At the time, counter-revolutionary army units were joined by hordes of theological students (softa) and turbaned clerics (ulema) shouting, “We want Shariah.”

Future history books might very well relate the events of “15 July” as a successful counter-revolution that established Tayyip Erdoğan as Turkey’s first absolute president, overseeing Turkey’s successful return to its Islamic roots of yesteryear.

On 24 August, the Prez addressed a crowd of disabled citizens at his residence, the so-called Beştepe Palace in Ankara, boasting more than a 1,000 rooms,  making an announcement befitting an absolute ruler guiding the ship of state:

“This morning at 04:00 our army, our security forces have begun an operation in the north of Syria, aimed at terror organisations posing a continuous threat to our country from there.”

And in this way, following years and years of looking for a convincing casus belli, Erdoğan has now taken the initiative and unilaterally invaded Syria (the military operation receiving the moniker ‘Euphrates Shield’ and its own requisite English-language twitter feed. . .

One could argue that Erdogan has in this way started acting as Turkey’s absolute president, making do without any constitutional amendments or parliamentary approval.

At one fell swoop, Tayyip Erdoğan has now established a new Turkey, the “New Turkey” that is not afraid to invade its neighbours for political gains at home.

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The conclusion of Russiagate, Part II – news fatigue across America

The daily barrage of Russiagate news may have been a tool to wear down the American public as the Deep State plays the long game for control.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Presently there is a media blitz on across the American news media networks. As was the case with the Russiagate investigation while it was ongoing, the conclusions have merely given rise to a rather unpleasant afterbirth in some ways as all the parties involve pivot their narratives. The conclusion of Russiagate appears to be heavily covered, yet if statistics here at The Duran are any indication, there is a good possibility that the public is absolutely fatigued over this situation.

And, perhaps, folks, that is by design.

Joseph Goebbels had many insights about the use of the media to deliver and enforce propaganda. One of his quotes runs thus:

The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative.

and another:

That is of course rather painful for those involved. One should not as a rule reveal one’s secrets, since one does not know if and when one may need them again. The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, it should be a big lie, and one should stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.

If there has ever been a narrative that employed these two principles, it is Russiagate.

A staggering amount of attention has been lavished on this nothing-burger issue. Axios reports that an analytics company named Newswhip tallied an astounding 533,074 web articles published about Russia and President Trump and the Mueller investigation (a number which is being driven higher even now, moment by moment, ad nauseam). Newsbusters presently reports that the networks gave 2,284 minutes to the coverage of this issue, a number which seems completely inaccurate because it is much too low (38 hours at present), and we are waiting for a correction on this estimate.

Put it another way: Are you sick of Russiagate? That is because it has dominated the news for over 675 days of nearly wall-to-wall news cycles. The political junkies on both sides are still pretty jazzed up about this story – the Pro-Trump folks rejoicing over the presently ‘cleared’ status, while of course preparing for the upcoming Democrat / Deep State pivot, and the Dems in various levels of stress as they try to figure out exactly how to pivot in such a manner that they do not lose face – or pace – in continuing their efforts to rid their lives of the “Irritant-in-Chief” who now looks like he is in the best position of his entire presidency.

But a lot of people do not care. They are tired.

I hate to say it (and yes, I am speaking personally and directly), but this may be a dangerous fatigue. Here is why:

The barrage of propaganda on this issue was never predicated on any facts. It still isn’t. However, as we noted a few days ago, courtesy of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, at present, 53% of US registered voters believe that the Trump campaign worked with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

That means 53% of the voting public now believes something that is totally false.

Many of these people are probably simply exhausted from the constant coverage of this allegation as well. So when the news came out Sunday night that there was no evidence of collusion and no conclusive evidence, hence, of obstruction of justice by the Trump Administration – in other words, this whole thing was a nothing burger – will this snap those 53% back into reality?

Probably not. Many of them may well be so worn down that they no longer care. Or worse, they are so worn out that they will continue to believe the things they are told that sustain the lie, despite its being called out as such.

C.S. Lewis wrote about this peculiarity of human nature, in particular in the seventh book of his Chronicles of Narnia. After a prolonged and fierce assault on the sensibilities of the Narnians with the story that Aslan, the Christ figure of this world, was in fact an angry overlord, selling the Narnians themselves into slavery, and selling the whole country out to its enemy, with the final touch being that Aslan and the devilish deity of the enemy nation were in fact one and the same, the Narnians were unable to snap back to reality when it was shown conclusively and clearly that this was in fact not the case.

The fear that was instilled from the use of false narratives persisted and blocked the animals from reality.

Lewis summarized it this way through the thoughts of Tirian, the lead character in this tale:

Tirian had never dreamed that one of the results of an Ape’s setting up as a false Aslan would be to stop people from believing in the real one. He had felt quite sure that the Dwarfs would rally to his side the moment he showed them how they had been deceived. And then next night he would have led them to Stable Hill and shown Puzzle to all the creatures and everyone would have turned against the Ape and, perhaps after a scuffle with the Calormenes, the whole thing would have been over. But now, it seemed, he could count on nothing. How many other Narnians might turn the same way as the Dwarfs?

This is part of the toll this very long propaganda campaign is very likely to take on many Americans. It takes being strongly informed and educated on facts to withstand the withering force of a narrative that never goes away. Indeed, if anything, it takes even more effort now, because the temptation of the pro-Trump side will be to retreat to a set of political talking points that, interestingly enough, validate Robert Mueller’s “integrity” when only a week ago they were attacking this as a false notion.

This is very dangerous, and even though Mr. Trump and his supporters won this battle, if they do not come at this matter in a way that shows education, and not merely the restating of platitudes and talking points that “should be more comfortable, now that we’ve won!”

The cost of Russiagate may be far higher than anyone wants it to be. And yes, speaking personally, I understand the fatigue. I am tired of this issue too. But the temptation to go silent may have already taken a lot of people so far that they will not accept the reality that has just been revealed.

Politics is a very fickle subject. Truth is extremely malleable for many politicians, and that is saying it very nicely. But this issue was not just politics. It was slander with a purpose, and that purpose is unchanged now. In fact things may even be more dangerous for the President – even risking his very life – because if the powers that are working behind the people trying to get rid of President Trump come to realize that they have no political support, they will move to more extreme measures. In fact this may have already been attempted.

We at The Duran reported a few months ago on a very strange but very compelling story that suggested that there was an attempted assassination and coup that was supposed to have taken place on January 17th of this year. It did not happen, but there was a parallel story that noted that the President may have been targeted for assassination already no fewer than twelve times.  Hopefully this is just tinfoil-hat stuff. But we have seen that this effort to be rid of President Trump is fierce and it is extremely well-supported within its group. There is no reason to think that the pressure will lighten now that this battle has been lost.

The stakes are much too high, and even this long investigation may well have been part of the weaponry of the group we sometimes refer to as the “Deep State” in their effort to reacquire power, and in their effort to continue to pursue both a domestic and geopolitical agenda that has so far shown itself to be destructive to both individuals and nations all over the world.

Speculation? Yes. Needless? We hope so. This is a terrible possibility that hopefully no reasonable person wants to consider.

Honestly, folks, we do not know. But we had to put this out there for your consideration.

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Parliament Seizes Control Of Brexit From Theresa May

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Schaeuble, Greece and the lessons learned from a failed GREXIT (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 117.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine a recent interview with the Financial Times given by Wolfgang Schäuble, where the former German Finance Minister, who was charged with finding a workable and sustainable solution to the Greek debt crisis, reveals that his plan for Greece to take a 10-year “timeout” from the eurozone (in order to devalue its currency and save its economy) was met with fierce resistance from Brussels hard liners, and Angela Merkel herself.

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Via FT

“Look where we’re sitting!” says Wolfgang Schäuble, gesturing at the Berlin panorama stretching out beneath us. It is his crisp retort to those who say that Europe is a failure, condemned to a slow demise by its own internal contradictions. “Walk through the Reichstag, the graffiti left by the Red Army soldiers, the images of a destroyed Berlin. Until 1990 the Berlin Wall ran just below where we are now!”

We are in Käfer, a restaurant on the rooftop of the Reichstag. The views are indeed stupendous: Berlin Cathedral and the TV Tower on Alexanderplatz loom through the mist. Both were once in communist East Berlin, cut off from where we are now by the wall. Now they’re landmarks of a single, undivided city. “Without European integration, without this incredible story, we wouldn’t have come close to this point,” he says. “That’s the crazy thing.”

As Angela Merkel’s finance minister from 2009 to 2017, Schäuble was at the heart of efforts to steer the eurozone through a period of unprecedented turbulence. But at home he is most associated with Germany’s postwar political journey, having not only negotiated the 1990 treaty unifying East and West Germany but also campaigned successfully for the capital to move from Bonn.

For a man who has done so much to put Berlin — and the Reichstag — back on the world-historical map, it is hard to imagine a more fitting lunch venue. With its open-plan kitchen and grey formica tables edged in chrome, Käfer has a cool, functional aesthetic that is typical of the city. On the wall hangs a sketch by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who famously wrapped the Reichstag in silver fabric in 1995.

The restaurant has one other big advantage: it is easy to reach from Schäuble’s office. Now 76, he has been confined to a wheelchair since he was shot in an assassination attempt in 1990, and mobility is an issue. Aides say he tends to avoid restaurants if he can, especially at lunchtime.

As we take our places, we talk about Schäuble’s old dream — that German reunification would be a harbinger of European unity, a step on the road to a United States of Europe. That seems hopelessly out of reach in these days of Brexit, the gilets jaunes in France, Lega and the Five Star Movement in Italy.

Some blame Schäuble himself for that. He was, after all, the architect of austerity, a fiscal hawk whose policy prescriptions during the euro crisis caused untold hardship for millions of ordinary people, or so his critics say. He became a hate figure, especially in Greece. Posters in Athens in 2015 depicted him with a Hitler moustache below the words: “Wanted — for mass poverty and devastation”.

Schäuble rejects the criticism that austerity caused the rise of populism. “Higher spending doesn’t lead to greater contentment,” he says. The root cause lies in mass immigration, and the insecurities it has unleashed. “What European country doesn’t have this problem?” he asks. “Even Sweden. The poster child of openness and the willingness to help.”

But what of the accusation that he didn’t care enough about the suffering of the southern Europeans? Austerity divided the EU and spawned a real animus against Schäuble. I ask him how that makes him feel now. “Well I’m sad, because I played a part in all of that,” he says, wistfully. “And I think about how we could have done it differently.”

I glance at the menu — simple German classics with a contemporary twist. I’m drawn to the starters, such as Oldenburg duck pâté and the Müritz smoked trout. But true to his somewhat abstemious reputation, Schäuble has no interest in these and zeroes in on the entrées. He chooses Käfer’s signature veal meatballs, a Berlin classic. I go for the Arctic char and pumpkin.

Schäuble switches seamlessly back to the eurozone crisis. The original mistake was in trying to create a common currency without a “common economic, employment and social policy” for all eurozone member states. The fathers of the euro had decided that if they waited for political union to happen first they’d wait forever, he says.

Yet the prospects for greater political union are now worse than they have been in years. “The construction of the EU has proven to be questionable,” he says. “We should have taken the bigger steps towards integration earlier on, and now, because we can’t convince the member states to take them, they are unachievable.”

Greece was a particularly thorny problem. It should never have been admitted to the euro club in the first place, Schäuble says. But when its debt crisis first blew up, it should have taken a 10-year “timeout” from the eurozone — an idea he first floated with Giorgos Papakonstantinou, his Greek counterpart between 2009 and 2011. “I told him you need to be able to devalue your currency, you’re not competitive,” he says. The reforms required to repair the Greek economy were going to be “hard to achieve in a democracy”. “That’s why you need to leave the euro for a certain period. But everyone said there was no chance of that.”

The idea didn’t go away, though. Schäuble pushed for a temporary “Grexit” in 2015, during another round of the debt crisis. But Merkel and the other EU heads of government nixed the idea. He now reveals he thought about resigning over the issue. “On the morning the decision was made, [Merkel] said to me: ‘You’ll carry on?’ . . . But that was one of the instances where we were very close [to my stepping down].”

It is an extraordinary revelation, one that highlights just how rocky his relationship with Merkel has been over the years. Schäuble has been at her side from the start, an éminence grise who has helped to resolve many of the periodic crises of her 13 years as chancellor. But it was never plain sailing.

“There were a few really bad conflicts where she knew too that we were on the edge and I would have gone,” he says. “I always had to weigh up whether to go along with things, even though I knew it was the wrong thing to do, as was the case with Greece, or whether I should go.” But his sense of duty prevailed. “We didn’t always agree — but I was always loyal.”

That might have been the case when he was a serving minister, but since becoming speaker of parliament in late 2017 he has increasingly distanced himself from Merkel. Last year, when she announced she would not seek re-election as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, the party that has governed Germany for 50 of the past 70 years, Schäuble openly backed a candidate described by the Berlin press as the “anti-Merkel”. Friedrich Merz, a millionaire corporate lawyer who is the chairman of BlackRock Germany, had once led the CDU’s parliamentary group but lost out to Merkel in a power struggle in 2002, quitting politics a few years later. He has long been seen as one of the chancellor’s fiercest conservative critics — and is a good friend of Schäuble’s.

Ultimately, in a nail-biting election last December, Merkel’s favoured candidate, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, narrowly beat Merz. The woman universally known as “AKK” is in pole position to succeed Merkel as chancellor when her fourth and final term ends in 2021.

I ask Schäuble if it’s true that he had once again waged a battle against Merkel and once again lost. “I never went to war against Ms Merkel,” he says. “Everybody says that if I’m for Merz then I’m against Merkel. Why is that so? That’s nonsense.”

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