It’s the Republic’s birthday today. It was born 85 years ago out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire. To turn Turkey into a modern, western nation state, that was Atatürk’s aim, and that’s what he accomplished. For days now, there have been banners over the streets and on bridges, wishing people a happy ‘cumhuriyet bayrami’ (‘republic’s holiday’) and even more portraits of Atatürk are hung everywhere, mainly on big flags.
Of course, it made me muse the direction of the republic these days. Or rather, its lack of direction. On the path to Europe? Not really, and if you believe many Turks, the path to Europe is taking away the dignity that Atatürk gave the country. They would prefer it if Turkey were so much wanted by Europe that the EU invited Turkey to join, instead of Turkey being pushed around and criticized all the time about the lack of progress made in modernizing democracy. That’s never going to happen of course. Maybe Turkey shouldn’t modernize just to get access to the EU, but rather to get it more focussed on the future instead of on the past. The way people dwell on former glory and the former leader is not promoting progress, but stalling it. People should believe in democracy enough to take bigger steps towards civil liberties. They should understand that more freedom of thought, more freedom of religion, more press freedom and more freedom for minorities to express themselves, does not make the republic weaker, but stronger. How historically significant it would be if Turkey became ‘ready’ for the EU in that way, and could then say to Europe: Never mind about membership, we are strong enough on our own.
Okay, enough of musing. Back to reality. And tonight that means watching the Always Amazing 29th of October Fireworks over the Bosporus. No musing, just being impressed by so much spectacle will suffice.