You are so huge, so heavy, so impersonal, but still, I have this deep urge to grab you by the shoulders. If I, one of your tiny meaningless citizens, could, I would then shake you firmly. Wake up!, I would shout in your face. Come on Europe, wake up!
I giggled last week, when I read about the delegation of high EU representatives which was coming to Turkey. There is a new European Commission, and since there is also a new President in Turkey, maybe the EU and Turkey could create a momentum again for the accession talks, a new beginning in the relationship. A new President? Was that sort of a slip of the pen of the journalist writing this piece about the EU visit, or did you really think this ‘new President’ would in any way be different than the previous man in power? That in the first night Recep Tayyip Erdogan slept in his capacity of President, he underwent some deep transformation into what the President of the Republic is supposed to be, according to the constitution: a man standing above all parties? You didn’t think that, did you?
I understand that Erdogan and his obedient cabinet gave you exactly what you wanted last week. Smooth talk, and members of the government even pointed out, so I read, that Turkey’s efforts to join the EU were not so much about economic interests but about the values of democracy and the rule of law. Apparently you believed that, or at least your foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini believed that, seeing as she is now ‘surprised’ that Erdogan tells you to butt out after you criticized the arrest of some three dozen journalists this weekend. Is your foreign policy chief really surprised, Europe? I mean, really? She is new in the Commission of course, but… I don’t know, really? I’m so flabbergasted I don’t even know how to finish that sentence.
Do you know what the problem is between you and me, Europe? Ever since I became a Turkey correspondent I have tried to understand your behaviour, or the behaviour of the people representing you to whom I have talked, but I was never able to do so.
Democracy with flaws
I have noticed several times that European politicians who are involved in the Turkey negotiations are misinformed. But I am not even sure about that. Let me give you an example. About two years ago, I asked a Member of European Parliament if she considered Turkey to be a democracy. She confirmed that yes, Turkey was a democracy, but of course, she added, ‘with flaws, just like any European democracy’. Can you believe that this quote still haunts me sometimes? Did she really think this? Why, in heavens name? And if she didn’t believe her own words, but was just saying that for the sake of EU-Turkey relations, would that actually sooth me, or worry me more?
So is Federica Mogherini really surprised, or is she supposed to act surprised? It feels stupid of course, to be fooled. Maybe you wonder which Erdogan is the real one. The one you talked to without the press present, or the one that is now reprimanding you in public, so all citizens in Turkey can hear it?
Now that, dear Europe, is an easy question. I have always found Turkey complicated and I still think it is, but the matter of Erdogan is becoming easier every day. He is a dictator. No no, don’t think me too blunt now. Not a dictator like the ones we saw elsewhere in the world in the previous century: you know, the ones who would throw opponents out of airplanes, steal children from their parents, close all opposition newspapers and wouldn’t bother about holding elections, and if they did they’d make sure to win with at least 90%, but a new style dictator. The kind of dictator that covers up his real face with a sauce of democracy. The smooth talk he gave you, that’s one of the ingredients of the sauce.
Many other ingredients you can find in the so-called ‘progress reports’ which you have been producing since Turkey became a candidate member in 2005. The ingredients can be recognized easily: they are the points that you praise Turkey for, or, in other words, the fields in which you think Turkey made positive steps towards European Union membership.
Judicial reforms for example. They seem positive, they have some good sides, but in essence, all judicial reforms have only eroded the separation of power in Turkey, which is actually undemocratic and even touching the core of democracy.
The ‘peace process’ with the Kurds, also a good one. You would laugh your ass off if it wasn’t so sad, dear Europe. The peace process as a concept is a cover up in itself, to let the world believe that Erdogan has democratic intentions. Of course, you see all kinds of measures being taken, but trust me, they are all shallow as can be. Remember the state TV channel TRT, opening a Kurdish language channel called TRT6 on the first day in 2009? I think you applauded that and saw it as a sign of progress. But TRT6 is nothing but more state controlled propaganda, just in another language.
I could give you a whole list of similar examples. Let me know if you are interested.
Roll my eyes
I have heard one of your members of parliament say that at least Turkey is doing everything possible within the current legal system and within the current constitution to solve the problems of Kurds in Turkey. May I roll my eyes a little bit? I mean, I would buy that if Erdogan was actually working on a new constitution to address the real problem. He isn’t. Please, don’t take the parliamentary constitution commission seriously, in which AKP, CHP, MHP and BDP (now HDP) worked together. Three of the four parties are rooted in either religious or secular Turkish nationalism. How would that ever lead to a constitution that would give every citizen of this country his rightful place? It’s like trying to abolish apartheid in South Africa and give the white Boers a veto.
I hear your ‘but’, Europe. But the Kurds are talking to Erdogan themselves, their most important leader apparently trusts him, so why wouldn’t we support the talks? Well, it doesn’t have much to do with trust. Erdogan is all they have at the moment, and since they are desperate for peace and most definitely don’t want to return to the days of violence, they have no choice but to talk to the country’s leader.
Support the peace process, Europe, please do, but why are you so one-sided in that support? Why do you support Erdogan, but keep treating Kurds in Europe who are connected to the movement like terrorists? Why do you keep harassing their TV channels? Why do you keep sending arrest squads to their political and activist weekends, as if the freedom of assembly is not rooted in your constitutions? Why are you shoving your constitution aside time and time again just to please Turkey? And you know that the answer ‘the PKK is on our list of terrorist organizations’ is not convincing.
A more earthly level
So no, Erdogan has no democratic intentions. You could have seen it before, Europe. Which country starts a peace process but keeps killing citizens (dozens of them in the last two years!) and leaves the killers unpunished? Then again, maybe you did see it but you chose not to speak out too harshly because you were still under the delusion of Erdogan’s democratic intentions. Or, on a more earthly level, were too affected by an economic crisis to endanger all the economic missions from all your member states travelling to Turkey.
Now you react harshly to the arrest of a few dozen journalists. Did you wake up now? This is it, finally? If so, this would have to lead to a serious policy change. Because realizing that you are negotiating about EU membership with an actual dictator cannot remain without consequences, I think we can easily agree on that.
One question remains. It’s kind of a silly one, because everybody who follows Turkey properly knows this, but still, I just have to make sure. Don’t take it as an insult. You do know that the Gülen movement, whose journalists have now been taken into custody, shares responsibility for the state Turkey is in now, don’t you? Ergekenon trials, Balyoz case, KCK trials, the lot: Erdogan and the Gülenci’s did it together. These journalists are in no way ambassadors for human rights, for press freedom, anything like that. They should be set free instantly of course since the freedom of the pen is close to sacred, but please, please, don’t reward them with any kind of press freedom award. Deal?
Tear gas canisters
One more thing, Europe. In case you aren’t convinced yet. Remember the incredible amount of teargas canisters shot at the Gezi protesters last year? In the first twenty days of the demonstrations the police used 130,000 tear gas canisters. Amnesty International just revealed that Turkey ordered 1.9 million tear gas canisters in South Korea. Chilling information, isn’t it?
Looks to me like the new style dictator is developing into an old style one, not covering up his lack of democratic intentions anymore. It scares the hell out of me.