A tale of two regions
Several years from today, Charles Dickens will probably be quoted again in reference to the events we have lived through in the second decade of the 21st century.
People will look back at what they will refer to as “history” and they will underline:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us...”
The decade started with the Arab revival. Many people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) had hoped it would be the opening of their path to democracy, freedom, equality and prosperity. Those countries, which had been suffering under the oppression of authoritarian regimes or dictatorships had seen the worst of times. Now, it was time for them to look for the season of light.
The MENA region today still continues to be in turmoil. In countries like Libya, Yemen, Syria, people live in the season of darkness, something they probably would never have expected when the waves of change hit their shores. Their spring of hope has now turned into the winter of despair. Maybe many think they did not have much before them, but now they have nothing left.
Surprisingly, Europe is not going through the best of its times either. The result of the British referendum opened the way to Brexit and some analysts characterized this event as the beginning of the decline of the European Union (EU). Today, one of the main questions before the EU happens to be how to find the means and ways to successfully manage this divorce, without harming either side. It will not be easy and will probably continue for a longer period than one had previously envisaged.
Furthermore, Catalonia’s referendum has revived the centrist and unitary tendencies in Spain and the “nation state” struck back. Italy, apparently, is going to face a similar dilemma because the referendums in Lombardia and Veneto resulted with demands for further self-control and autonomy from Rome. Does this mean that centrifugal drive in Europe is becoming a rising tendency? Not necessarily, because Catalonia does not want to leave the EU. Earlier, when Scotland also questioned its future within the United Kingdom in a 2014 referendum, Scots did not opt for a future out of the EU either.
The question that the EU is facing today is not whether that project of the 20th century that brought peace to the European continent will survive or not. The question is how it can be better adapted to a sustainable future. Brexit could be a reaction to the centrist regulatory tendencies in the EU. Catalonia’s referendum in Spain and the wish of Lombardia and Veneto in Italy are also reactions against the dominating regulatory tendencies of the center.
The question, therefore, is whether governance could become more people-friendly and more liberal, responding to the needs and expectations of the individual with high respect to his/her liberties and freedoms, but also reconciling those concepts with social responsibility. This has been the main question dealt with by political philosophy throughout centuries. The answer requires wisdom and the world unfortunately suffers from its absence.
Turkey is floating between these two worlds in turmoil. On the one hand, Turkey’s foreign policy prioritized the MENA region and invested a lot of hope in becoming an influential regional actor to affect the changes in its neighborhood. Turkey could have become an appropriate role model for the region had it not diverted from its contemporary path based on the universal values of human rights and freedoms and the rule of law. From this point of view, the light of hope for both Turkey and the region faded away into darkness.
Turkey’s path towards integration with the west has also met with obstacles. As the EU is focusing more on its own destiny, dealing with Brexit and other challenges of internal fragmentation, Turkey is losing its priority on the European agenda. Regrettably, such a decline is not addressed seriously in Turkey, resulting with a growing rift with the West.
To the extent that Turkey adapts itself to the democratic transition that Europe is passing through, and acknowledges its strong adherence to universal values and democratic principles, it will have a better chance to revive its inspiration as a role model for its neighbors. The region does not have any other alternative and neither does Turkey.