Some Roma even cried with happiness during their meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan this weekend. It was the first time ever a Turkish Prime Minister addressed a large group of Roma directly and vowed to solve the problems they face: discrimination, and a lack of education and good housing. The 12,000 Roma who attended came from all over Turkey, and their hopes for a better life are incredibly high. I’m not a pessimist generally, but I think the chance the Roma will be utterly disappointed is huge.
Why? This is of course not the first ‘initiative’ the government has taken. The ‘Kurdish initiative’, announced almost a year ago, was broadened and turned into a ‘democratic initiative’, and, for example, an initiative to give the Alevi more rights was started. Alevism is an Islamic path, but the Alevi’s prayer houses are not officially recognised and Alevi children are still forced to attend religious classes that teach children all about the state Sunni version of Islam. Despite numerous talks between the government and Alevi representatives, the problems remain unsolved. The same goes for the Kurdish opening: still going on, but in practice not much is happening.
To be able to really solve the problems of several religious and ethnic groups in Turkey, a new constitution is needed. This month the government will send a package of constitutional changes to parliament, but those amendments are only partly relevant in solving the problems of different communities in society. Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said this weekend at a meeting with foreign journalists that the time is not right for a total revision of the constitution. Because the constitution should be re-written with consensus from as many elements of society as possible, and at the moment several opposition parties in parliament refuse to talk to the government about the constitution. The issue has become too polarised to be dealt with properly.
The government is right: even though it’s urgent, it’s close to impossible now to write a constitution that will get wide support. But then the government has to go one step further too: it isalso not the right time to raise the hopes of yet another group in society to expectations that just cannot be met.