How Gezi protests ‘unmasked’ Turkey

How Gezi protests ‘unmasked’ Turkey

Luckily, we have left behind the first eight tumultuous years of Turkish accession negotiations with the European Union. Once we will have left behind the next 18 tumultuous years, the remaining 80 tumultuous years will be easily tackled. 

Such is the optimism voiced, as always, by Turkey’s EU minister, Egemen Bağış, who had wished German Chancellor Angela Merkel, before the German elections in September, a nice pensioner’s life full of fishing activity with the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. 

“It is undisputable that Turkey is now closer than ever to EU standards in terms of democracy, human rights and economic developments,” news reports quoted Minister Bağış as saying. 

Ironically, Mr. Bağış’s remarks were carried into my inbox together with two other Turkish stories: one that says a group of male Turkish students had worn skirts in protest at a ban on girls wearing skirts at a high school; and the other describing a new regulation that would allow the Turkish police to detain anyone who presented the “risk of conducting a protest” without any warrant from a prosecutor or a judge. 

I honestly felt sympathy for Mr. Bağış after I read a Hürriyet interview with Marc Pierini, EU ambassador and head of the delegation to Turkey between 2006 and 2011 and now a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. 

According to Ambassador Pierini, the Gezi Park protests this summer were the wake-up call for the West to understand that things were going wrong in Turkey – and, curiously, not before. Mr. Pierini says that the first question marks about Turkey’s rulers emerged during the 2011 election campaign in which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had eliminated liberal candidates and its rhetoric indicated dominant conservative and religious elements.

If we take that account seriously – and we should – we come to the conclusion that it was either that, a- The AKP was not a conservative/religious party before 2011, but suddenly decided to become one; and its 2002-2011 reference was perfectly liberal and democratic so as to fit a candidate country (after 2005); b- The AKP between 2002 and 2011 was what it was but EU diplomats in Ankara spent most of their office time at the fitness club below their office, or were mistakenly sent to a decent country thinking it was Turkey, or; c- Brussels, in a calculated or uncalculated gambit preferred to ignore what the AKP was and wanted to keep Turkey “at bay” and told the public serial lies about Turkey’s fitness for membership.

Mr. Pierini complains that the government’s polarizing rhetoric during the Gezi protests was the true wake-up call for the West – which, this columnist naturally concludes, must have been in a deep coma, not just a sleep, before Gezi. 

The facts are a bit different. Before Gezi Turkey ranked 150-plus-th in the international press freedom index; after, 176th. Journalists were fired, detained and arrested before, during and after Gezi. The government created its own media and sent multi-billion dollar tax fines to those it deemed “too critical” before Gezi. 

Turkey ranked in the bottom slice of any freedom index, including women’s rights, and earned the tag “hybrid regime (a ranking that comes below ‘flawed democracy’)” from the prestigious Economist Intelligence Unit – all before Gezi. It was before Gezi that the prime minister declared his political ambition was to “raise devout generations.”

And it was long before Gezi when Turkey played the leader of the Middle East for most of which it now advises its citizens not to travel. Three years before Gezi Turkey was spearheading efforts to create the “Middle Eastern EU,” at times when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was a rock star in countries where now Turkish subjects are the most common currency in hostage exchange trading.

It was about five years before Gezi a survey revealed that only one third of Turks thought they shared European values – and that an overwhelming majority of Turks (between 55 to 87 percent) would refuse to have Christian, Jewish, gay and unmarried neighbors. 

But fortunately in the summer of 2013 the West “woke up to know” how Turkey was being governed, how the government did not tolerate “the other Turk,” and how it polarized the country. Excellent.
Mr. Pierini says the West was “shocked” at the way the AKP managed the Gezi protests. So you were shocked, dear friends of Turkey? And so are we.