Human rights and freedoms ‘bon pour l’orient’
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to France must have disappointed many of Turkey’s dissidents, who assumed that a European leader would raise the issues of deteriorating human rights and freedoms.
Indeed, ahead of the visit Macron raised such expectations by expressing his concerns about press freedom, while many of Turkey’s democrats and leftists also somehow regard Macron as a “progressive” politician.
However, ultimately history repeated itself once again and economic and strategic interests dominated the encounter of the two presidents more than political principles.
After Turkey awarded a contract to the France-Italian Eurosam consortium and its Turkish partners for development and production of a long-range air and missile defense system, Eurosam stated that Erdoğan’s visit to Paris laid the groundwork for the aforementioned contract.
It is not surprising that Macron’s priority of selling defense technology and equipment overcame any concerns about Turkey’s democracy. What’s more, as Macron himself noted, he “observed clearly that we share joint positions on many issues,” referring to the fight against terrorism, the Syrian civil war and Jerusalem, (although those “joint positions” remained rather vague).
As I always emphasize, I have never been one of those political dissidents in Turkey who expected EU countries to play a major role in the democratization of the country’s politics. On the contrary, I have long argued against the idea that democracy can be imposed by outsiders and even by the so-called advanced democratic countries. I have always firmly believed that democratization can only be achieved by internal dynamics.
I was thus once seen not only as anti-EU but also as a kind of “non-democrat” back in the early 2000s, when Turkey’s EU membership issue was more hopeful. Besides, I have from the beginning regarded Macron as something of a political chameleon and “false hope.”
That is why I am not really disappointed by French president’s recent attitude – though I still felt rather repulsed. Indeed, the reality that politics is always about hypocrisy in the name of power relations, military and economic interests never ceases to be repulsive.
Call me an incurable pessimist, but I also cannot view Erdoğan’s most recent visit as a sign that Turkey will soon be improving its relations with the EU. On the contrary, I am afraid that Ankara has started to be viewed by its Western allies as an economic partner to work with, rather than as a promising political equal. Indeed, we already know that so-called “advanced democracies” do not hesitate to make economic and strategic deals with all kinds of political regimes if it is in their interest. This is not a far cry from the colonial politics of dealing with the power centers of native lands out of necessity and interest while snubbing them at the same time, as Macron did when he joked about the burden of “being obliged to talk to Erdoğan every two weeks” not so long ago. It is perhaps good to remember the French expression “bon pour l’orient,” expressing the mindset of supposed “superiors.”
This whole situation also applies to Turkey’s rulers, who are apparently willing to make deals with Western countries as long as they refrain from making a fuss about democratic rights and freedoms. Indeed, President Erdoğan and various non-Western leaders are justified in thinking they can get away with suspending so-called universal rights and freedoms while continuing to work with Westerners who claim to be representatives of those principles. They are right: It is weapons and money that come first; lip service to political principles is paid simply to keep up appearances.