Mark Mazower versus Orhan Pamuk

Mark Mazower versus Orhan Pamuk

Like many, I read the article of Turkey’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature with great interest. And like many, I am sure, I was overwhelmed by Orhan Pamuk’s melancholy and fatalism over the future prospects of Turkey becoming a member of the European Union. He laments the loss of passion nowadays, both in Turkey and in Europe, on whether Turkey should be accepted in the European family and cites as the biggest reason for the waning of interest over Turkey’s possible future membership as “the large influx of Muslim migrants from North Africa and Asia that, in the eyes of many Europeans, has cast a dark shadow and fear over the idea of a predominantly Muslim country – like Turkey – joining the union.” So, if I understand it well, it is the fear of Islam that has pushed Europe to “put up walls at its borders and to gradually turn away from the world,” distancing itself from its own values of freedoms, equality and fraternity turning gradually to a conservative land of religious and ethnic identities. Is it really so?

Coming from the first western neighboring country of Turkey, which is actually a member of the inner circle of the EU – Greece – and observing the detrimental affect that such a close embrace – under a single currency – has had on this country, let me juxtapose the opinion of historian Mark Mazower on the present debate over Europe. Mazower was in Athens a few days ago to receive the “Dido Sotiriou” award given to a Greek or non-Greek writer who, through his work, projects communication between peoples and cultures. Mazower’s speech was about Greece and the European crisis in the context of Altiero Spinelli’s original vision for a united federal Europe against fascism and the catastrophic effects of World War II.

For Mazower, Spinelli’s Europe – and I suppose the one that Orhan Pamuk had hoped for – finished with the globalization of capital in the 1990s which resulted in the present crisis. The Treaty of Maastricht in 1992 with the creation of the euro as a common currency and the establishment of strict convergence criteria accelerated the flow of trade, “marginalized the European Parliament and trapped the national legislative bodies.” As a consequence, Mazower says, the system became loose. Almost all member states breached the rules and power glided out of the EU to the bankers and the credit rating agencies.

Looking at Europe from “inside the walls,” from a country deeply ensconced in an unmanageable recession and with a political elite still unable to find a sustainable model of governance which would guarantee the interests of society, the vision of Europe as the protector of democratic values and freedoms looks as remote as that of Pamuk’s. However much the recent meteoric rise of the Greek fascists is attributed to the economic crisis and to the absence of a functioning state, Greeks are now facing a serious challenge to the very idea they felt safest in since the fall of the military junta in 1974, that of democracy. And in a Europe on a suspended gait, split between full convergence or further fragmentation, where markets are calling the daily shots, there is no time to attend to issues such as democracy and freedom.

In conclusion, Mazower suggests that an answer to a better future comes from society itself, which should enter a new, more dynamic phase based on solid democratic institutions and a more concrete political discourse. Don’t wait for everything to happen from outside, the British historian suggested to his Greek audience, but he could have addressed these words to the Turks, too.