My response to the Cuban ambassador

My response to the Cuban ambassador

In the wake of my previous piece in this column, “Why the Turkish left hates Erdoğan but loves Castro,” the Cuban Ambassador to Turkey, Mr. González Casals, wrote an open letter to me and various other journalists.  It was quite critical, I must say, if not even furious. The Turkish press, especially that of the “Turkish left” I had criticized in the column, quoted the letter at large, so the ambassadors’ views have become quite public. So I decided to write a response. 

The main accusation in the letter was that I was “disrespectful” to the Cuban people. Mr. Casals wrote:  
“The pain you cause to us with your words becomes double when you publish them at a very difficult time for Cubans. We do not want you to join the feeling of billions of people in the world, because we understand that you are one of those people who enjoy attracting attention by ‘playing the different.’ What we want is for you to show some respect.” 

In fact, I had no intention to disrespect the Cuban people, and I don’t think my piece had any such content. The only possible offense I may have caused was in calling the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro a “dictator.” But I can name many other countries in the world whose leaders I would call “dictators,” from Russia to Egypt. This would not count as “insults” to the good people of those countries. 

After all, “dictator” is a technical term. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “a ruler with total power over a country, typically one who has obtained power by force.” As Mr. Casals pointed out, my knowledge about Cuba is indeed limited, but my impression is that the above definition does match with the political career of the late Fidel Castro.

Of course, there are more benign dictators in the world and there are more violent, cruel ones. Some “socialist” heroes of the past century, such as Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot were of the latter kind, leaving behind millions of innocent victims. I would never put Castro in that evil camp. Moreover, I would appreciate and respect some of the positions he took against oppression in the world, such as his opposition to the cruel apartheid regime in South Africa. 

My point was neither to defame the late Cuban leader, nor hurt the feelings of millions of Cubans who I am sure loved him genuinely. My point was rather to ask a general political question: Should we appreciate authoritarian political leaders when their policies serve our ideals?

The Turkish left implicitly says “yes” to that question. The Turkish right does the same thing as well, as we all have observed very clearly over the past five years. Other political camps, including the former establishment, the Kemalists, are hardly any different. That is why I pointed to a “national disease.” 

The other accusation Mr. Casals raised against me was also off the mark. “If you want to say something to Mr. President Erdoğan, be brave and speak directly. It is unacceptable to anyone that you use subterfuge and the figure of our leader to release your poison,” he wrote at the end of the letter.

Well, I do criticize Erdogan quite directly and frequently in my writings, as anyone can see by checking my archives. But I also try to criticize the “authoritarian mindset” that manifests itself not only in what I call “Erdoganism” but also many other “isms” of the world. 

In his letter, Mr. Casals accuses me of not making a fair use of “free expression.” “Your ‘expressions’ create opinions in readers and you have the possibility to publish them,” he wrote, “as opposed to mine that are to be read by only the recipients of this message.” I agree with him that this may be unfair.

That is why I will now do my personal best to give him the voice he deserves. Before putting this piece of mine to my personal Twitter account (@AkyolinEnglish), I will put Mr. Casals’ open letter first in full. So at least the people who follow me on Twitter can read his point of view as well. 

As I understand from reports in the media, Twitter is not available to most Cubans. (I read this in a recent BBC story titled, “Cuba internet access still severely restricted.” Cuban diplomats may correct me if this is a capitalist lie.) So I am afraid that most people in that esteemed nation will not be able to follow this discussion in Turkey. Yet I sincerely hope that one day they will have free access to information. I also hope they may even have the chance to vote in “free elections” — a goal that Fidel Castro promised in 1959 but never had the chance to realize.