There is a consensus against Joe Biden in Turkey these days. A video of the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate speaking to the New York Times editorial board surfaced last week. In the conversation, when asked about Turkey, Biden suggested the United States should support the Turkish opposition. Unsurprisingly, Biden’s remarks caused a minor earthquake in the Turkish mainstream. Erdoğan’s party and his palace enclave have been quick to present this as evidence for labeling the opposition “the U.S. puppet” and “collaborators in an imperialistic scheme.” The opposition was forced to denounce Biden’s comments and explicitly state their disapproval of any sort of foreign interference in Turkey’s domestic affairs. 

One thing that initially slipped the attention of many is the fact that Biden made these remarks more than seven months ago. The question about why old news is making headlines only now in Turkey is a separate topic, but the sentiment the video helped create manifests the overwhelming paranoia and confusion that is present in the Turkish mainstream. 

Let’s turn eastward now for a bit. Over the last several days, the world has been witnessing a historic turning point in what was dubbed “Europe’s last dictatorship,” Belarus. Lukashenko, the country’s strongman for 26 years, attempted to cheat what could be his last and ultimately Pyrrhic victory in the presidential election. Unexpectedly even for most Belarus watchers, the country was quickly hit by a tsunami of civic protests and strikes. People have been in the streets for the last ten days, asking for reform and free and fair elections. Also, apart from Lukashenko’s shrinking circles of loyal support, a majority of people want the dictator of Belarus gone, and their numbers seem to only be increasing.

In a series of blunders, Lukashenko even had what many saw as his “Ceausescu moment” when the workers of a factory he visited started chanting “leave” in the middle of his speech.

An interesting curiosity concerning the developments in Belarus is that some of the initial criticisms of many who care about the country’s democracy were directed at most of the Western world, which so far seems to have been silently and idly observing. While Russia offered help to Lukashenko, any external support for the people in the streets fighting for freedom under arrests and police batons has so far been absent. 

In a traditional reaction of cynicism, many were guessing whether the EU would be “concerned” or “very concerned” about the situation in Belarus. There is even a Twitter account titled “EU is worried” which was created in the name of this weakness. 

However, let’s try to be completely honest about what is perceived as a foreign interference in these kinds of struggles. If any direct support for the protests in Belarus came from the West, for many this would again be seen as another show of the “regime change tendencies of the hypocritical imperialists.” Even sanctioning autocratic leaders is often labeled as “an external attempt to make nations kneel.”

All of this raises a deeper question about a concept of “the international community.” What do we actually expect from it from the point of view of our sovereign national borders? Should the greatest democracies in the world continue to just “express concern” and work with autocrats and even dictators for the sake of stability and specific interests? Or should every state that declares its dedication to the universal principle of freedom be involved everywhere where this principle is being grossly violated? On the other hand, what would be a relevant and useful external response to autocratic leaders so that the pressure makes a difference, but also does not risk being understood as an “imperialistic reflex”? 

Coming back again to the Turkey-Biden case: why would it be scandalous for a democratic candidate to say that he would work with the opposition, which stands opposed to what he sees as a populist like Erdoğan? At the end of the day, this is what international politics is more or less about: leaders try to build alliances with global actors with whom they share a common set of values and uphold common principles with them. Isn’t it only normal if a democrat wants to work with other democrats? 

It does not need to be debated whether we have entered deep into an era of populism driven by autocratic leaders. The democratic international community has been struggling for years to find a formula for how to deal with antidemocratic regimes without detrimental disruptions to social stability and the foreign policy potentials of the countries ruled by these regimes. On the other hand, the majority of the populations in these countries are locked in a cynical cycle of expectations that the international community should do something, but at the same time not act as an imperialist force. The only real beneficiaries of this kind of a “hold me close, let me go” paradox have so far been the determined and aggressive autocrats.