Turkey is not North Korea – nor Syria, nor Egypt

Turkey is not North Korea – nor Syria, nor Egypt

Thus newspaper headlines quoted Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as saying. Once again, Mr. Davutoğlu is right. Turkey is not North Korea. He further said: “We expect our journalists to be brave enough to say that we are not North Korea.” I accept the invitation and (loudly) say “Turkey is not North Korea,” hoping the minister should accept this as a sign of bravery.

True, Turkey is not North Korea. But should we celebrate that in fanfare? Fireworks over the skies? Or should we journalists fill up thousands of column inches to merrily ask our readers, “Is it not awesome that we are not North Korea?”

Or is our job to question whether in any civilized part of the world politicians would expect journalists to admit, as a matter of bravery, that their country is not North Korea? Imagine the headline: The British foreign minister says Britain is not North Korea (and brave British journalists agree!). Or that the Austrian foreign minister says he expects Austrian journalists to be brave enough to say Austria is not North Korea. Then there is the infamous debate over Turkey’s “class.”

Last year, Mr. Davutoğlu said Turkey was not a second-class democracy, to which I replied (and, really, I myself have gotten bored of this repetition) Turkey must walk a long way to become a second-class democracy.

But apparently, Mr. Davutoğlu never gets bored of this “class debate.” Only last week he said, “No one can treat Turkey like a second-class European country,” and “Turkey is not a second-class country.” Now imagine the headline: German foreign minister says Germany is not a second-class European country (such tunes, however, may these days fit a Hungarian rhapsody).

The truth is, a country does not become a first-class democracy just because its foreign minister publicly states twice a week that it is not a second-class democracy. That’s not really a sign of self-confidence, a quality which, this columnist knows, Mr. Davutoğlu strongly urges every Turk to possess.
Self-confidence is good. One of the traits that proves this is the virtue not to take accusations too seriously. Another, perhaps, is to avoid laughable propaganda.

And the often childish “if-you-point-to-my-faults-I-will-to-yours” rhetoric can be dangerous by confirming what one denies. After Germany’s president, Joachim Gauck, spoke in Turkey of his host country’s all-too-visible democratic deficiencies, Mr. Davutoğlu defended it, saying: “If a German president says ‘I am concerned about Turkey’s future,’ then we can say we are worried about Germany’s future, due to neo-Nazis.”

Is that not a confession rather than denial? Mr. Davutoğlu’s words do not convincingly tell anyone why the German president was wrong to be concerned about Turkey’s (democratic) future. Instead, he mentions a real German problem – the neo-Nazis. Does that not mean Turkey’s democratic deficiencies President Gauck is worried about are as real as Germany’s neo-Nazi problem which Mr. Davutoğlu is worried about? Would it be a convincing defense line if, facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, reminded his accusers that Germans had once committed genocide.

Turkey is not North Korea. Nor is it Syria, in terms of press freedoms. But it was a simple twist of fate that Turkey now appears in the same category (“not free”) of countries with its nemesis Syria, according to the prestigious Freedom House’s 2014 report.

The Middle East is always full of ironies. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Mr. Davutoğlu may find Egypt’s coup leader, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, intolerable. But apparently they have strategic things in common. Mr. el-Sisi has ruled out meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until Israel improves conditions for the Palestinians – the exact condition Mssrs. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu have repeatedly stated as their third condition for normalizing ties with Israel.

Guess in which category Egypt stands in Freedom House’s latest report. But of course, Turkey is not Egypt. Nor is it North Korea, or Syria. It’s just a simple twist of fate.