What European journalists could do for their colleagues in Turkey

What European journalists could do for their colleagues in Turkey

“The biggest surprise proved to be the [Justice and Development Party] AKP representative,” wrote the Hürriyet Daily News’ Nazlan Ertan after the recent referendum, talking about her experience as a ballot box observer in İzmir.

“A plump young girl from the Çiğli district with blonde hair and dark roots and pink lipstick, busy taking selfies. She confided to me at the end of the afternoon that her father had forced her to be an AKP ballot representative. Indeed, her father had come in twice to check on his daughter, to make sure that the she did not spend too much time outside smoking cigarettes or leaving the ballot box. ‘Ablacığım [my sister], I’m sick of all the pressure he puts on me,’ she said. ‘So when I went into the ballot cabin I voted No out of pure anger against his repression.’”

Bryan Caplan, the author of the book “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies,” would certainly have found this anecdote amusing. You and I may not find it rational, but for that specific voter casting a “No” vote has a particular rationality. 

The example may also work in reverse: The daughter of a secular-minded family, who may have deep disagreements with her family for some reason, could cast a “Yes” vote without too much thinking about the overall implication of the final result on the country’s economy, education, or health policies. 

Some in Europe have expressed surprise at the high level of “Yes” votes among Turks living in the continent. “It seems Turks living in Germany have not internalized democracy. They have failed to internalize our values,” some lamented. But this sentiment could be formulated in a different way: “Why have we failed to make Turks living among us internalize our democratic values?”

But if we are to recall that there is no rational voter, or that some voters may resort to a specifically different rationality, perhaps the issue is not about Turks living in Germany voting overwhelmingly for someone who does not exactly share European values. Maybe their issue is about reacting against those in Europe who use such an alienating language while criticizing Erdoğan.

Otherwise, how to explain that Turks living in the Czech Republic or Hungary voted more heavily for “No” than “Yes”? Or why was there an overwhelming “No” vote in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Are the Czech Republic or the UAE better democracies than Germany or Holland? Perhaps there is some correlation between the very high number of “Yes” votes and Erdoğan being in the headlines all over the national press. The more he was in the press in Europe, the more this motivated some to go and vote “Yes.” No matter how legitimate and right it may have been, some of the anti-Erdoğan coverage may well have fueled, among some Turkish voters in Europe, the feeling of being alienated, excluded and not accepted.
Perhaps they shouldn’t take it personally. But if you live with the constant feeling that you are not wanted, you may end up taking it personally.

From the perspective of a European journalist, Erdoğan is certainly a “news treasure.” Every day he comes up with new material. And it is only normal for him to get negative coverage. Indeed, none of our European colleagues would be able to find anything positive to report about Turkey yesterday, World Press Freedom Day. With so many journalists held unjustly in jail, and with Erdoğan stridently claiming that they are not in jail because of their dissenting views, the reporting from Turkey has undoubtedly been gloomy.

But those who are genuine in their solidarity with Turkish journalists behind bars should not use this to argue in favor of an official suspension of Turkey’s membership talks, or the country’s further isolation and alienation. Sanctions will not get journalists, academics or others deprived of their liberty because of their dissenting views out of prison. On the contrary, strong engagement between the EU and Turkey - including opening accession chapters, especially on democracy and freedoms - will help journalists fighting for democratic consolidation in the country.

I have known Kadri Gürsel, one of many colleagues currently behind bars, for at least two decades. I am pretty sure he would be saying the same thing.