Keep your fiscal powder dry. Barry Eichengreen

Brothers in spirit

Putin and Erdoğan dream of a return to the grandeur of the past. Let’s hope their egos prevent them from cooperating.

On Europe’s periphery, two men are on the rampage. Both value the imperial past of their countries more than the achievements of the Western modernity: Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, ruling their respective countries like a czar and a sultan. One speaks of the invincibility of his army while the other seriously restricts access to the most important internet websites.

A hint of Cesar and Hitler

Both love religion – as a means to an end. The former KGB officer uses the Orthodox Church as an instrument of his power and has himself photographed himself in cathedrals and parish churches. The allegedly converted former Islamist knows the godly number of children women should have.

When Putin speaks about religion, he talks about God and not about Christ. The meek ruler who entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey isn’t known to have favored tank parades. But the God making Russia strong surely must. Meanwhile, Mr. Erdoğan dreams himself back to the times of divine law as he rests in his palace of 1000 rooms. No normal head of government or religious leader could afford to do anything like that in this day and age. It is modern-day Caesaropapism – like a flashback from another time, with a touch of Hitlerian discourse: In Turkey, it is proclaimed that Mr. Erdoğan has boosted the economy and put the country on a path toward growth and prosperity. A statement reminiscent of the National Socialist’s employment miracle through highway construction.

Meanwhile, Mr. Putin wants to restore Russia’s former power. For him, the former Soviet republics are a perennial sphere of influence. Mr. Erdoğan dreams of restoring the Ottoman Empire. He feels a sense of patronage toward the countries now occupying the territory of the former Ottoman Empire. The departure from the traditional Turkish stance towards Israel serves to appeal to the wider Arab world, allowing him to be perceived as a political leader.

So far, the two share only limited common causes. Let’s hope it stays this way and they move against each other, driven by their egos.

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