‘Minsk criteria’ for Turkey

‘Minsk criteria’ for Turkey

“Public assembly is often banned, the press is censored, the internet is monitored, telephones are tapped and people’s livelihood – and lives — depend on eschewing politics.” This phrase could well have been one of the thousands of similar texts on civil liberties in Turkey. Instead, it was an excerpt from a report on Belarus.

Of course there are evident differences between EU-candidate Turkey and Stalin-style Belarus. One major difference, for instance, is that in the last elections Alexander Lukashenko won 80 percent of the national vote, whereas Recep Tayyip Erdogan won – for the time being — only 50 percent. But there are similarities too, one of which was smartly raised by a western diplomat friend recently. 

In December 2009, Tatsiana Shaputska, a political science student, was expelled from the Belarusian State University because she had travelled to Brussels in November 2009 to attend an EU conference without the permission of her university. 

Ms. Shaputska appealed against the decision, without success. The university’s defense during the trial that “she had to take permission from the university to attend the Brussels conference” convinced the judges, but no one in free Europe. Four years earlier, another student, Tatsiana Khoma, had been expelled from the university on exactly the same pretext. 

In 2010, a Turkish student at the Celal Bayar University of Manisa, Erdem Özdemir, wanted to protest a visiting dignitary, (now) Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç. Before Mr. Arınç arrived at the campus, the university’s president, Professor Mehmet Pakdemirli, punitively warned Mr. Özdemir: “If you shout any political slogan I will expel you from my university.” “The president’s university” was in fact a public university, and the whole scene took place in front of cameras. 

On July 25, 2011, Mr. Özdemir was suspended from his university for one year, and on March 8, 2012, the university board notified him that he had been dismissed for good. No, Mr. Özdemir was not dismissed because of his argument with the university president. That would have been too undemocratic. Instead, Mr Özdemir was dismissed, the letter explained, because “he had read out a protest statement in front of a local branch of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Izmir.”

More recently, “independent” prosecutors have indicted another student, Esin Calışkan, for throwing an egg at EU Minister Egemen Bağış at a December 2011 protest. The prosecutors demand five years in jail for Ms. Calışkan. A fellow student, Ayberk Demirkan, who had joined Ms. Calışkan’s protest by shouting “AKP, get out of our universities!” has been indicted for up to two years in jail. 

All three Turkish students are lucky. They could have been put in jail on pretrial detention, which could cost them several years of their lives, or they could have been indicted under charges of terrorism. 

This is the “free Turkish university” the AKP pledged to the Turks when it pushed for ending the campus ban on the Islamic headscarf. Although the ban on the headscarf (or any chosen attire) was silly, I have argued countless times in this column that the AKP was not defending liberties as in the word’s universal sense, but was merely advocating liberties for the pious students. 

It was not a coincidence that a Turkish humor magazine recently published a cartoon depicting terror squads having just arrested coop full of chickens, while their commander announces to his superiors on the radio: “Sir, the operation has ended with success; we have arrested 13 terrorists and seized 143 eggs!”

It must be a purely geographical twist of fate that Minsk is about 1,500 flight kilometers away from Ankara, while Copenhagen is 2,300 kilometers away.