Turkey and the European camel

Turkey and the European camel

Misinformation, prejudice, and mutual dislike are increasingly the common denominator between Turks and Europeans. Britain provided a clear example when the “Brexiteers” used Turkey in the campaign to steer the public away from the EU. 

The initial European reticence in condemning the coup attempt in Turkey, on the other hand, reopened the floodgates for all sorts of negative assumptions about Europe for Turks.

Politicians like Geert Wilders who heads the Party of Freedom in the Netherlands, are only carrying grist to this mill. The rabidly anti-Muslim and anti-Turkish Wilders was recently quoted in the Turkish media telling the Dutch parliament that he wished the coup in Turkey had succeeded. An undemocratic military regime would have been better than President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to him, even if Erdoğan was elected.
The course of developments in Turkey is clearly not good. One doesn’t have to be an analyst to see that more instability awaits us given the prevailing circumstances. The same, however, also applies to Europe, which is gradually moving in a direction reminiscent of the dark days of not so long ago.

French presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy is back, using anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the hope of reentering the Elysee Palace. Some analysts suggest that his main rival for the presidency is the far right leader Marine Le Pen.

In Holland, Wilders is also pushing hard to win next year’s election. Some are already referring to him as the “front runner,” while Prime Minister Mark Rutte is on record saying that he considers Wilders to be his biggest political opponent.

In Denmark, a country that prides itself on being civilized and humanist, racism is also making great strides. There is a similar trend in Sweden. 

The situation in Hungary, on the other hand, was highlighted by Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn earlier this week. Asselborn was quoted as saying that Hungary should be expelled from the EU for the increasingly authoritarian ways of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose views are a carbon copy of those of Wilders, Sarkozy and Le Pen.

What distinguishes Orban, however, from the likes of Wilders or Le Pen, is that his Fidesz Party is already in power with a strong racist mandate. The situation in Poland is little different. The government of Beata Szydlo, from the right-wing Law and Justice Party, is currently under the scrutiny of the Venice Commission, which monitors European law and human rights. 

The cases of Hungary and Poland are familiar to those Turks who are following these events because their governments are also accused of restricting freedom of the press and co-opting the free judiciary in order to serve their political aims. 

It does not take much imagination to realize that similar trends are underway in other parts of Europe. In reminds me of a popular Turkish story: A camel was asked why his neck is crooked, to which the camel responded, “What part of me is not?”
This seems to apply to the EU today, which has clearly lost its sense of direction regarding its own values. This is welcomed by many Turks who, in response to justified European criticism of their country, like to gloat over “European double standards.” It is hard to argue, of course, that these do not exist. 

But the bottom line is that a Europe that turns its back on its own core values is not good for Turkey, because it provides justification to those here who argue – as they do frequently - that Europe should first correct its own wayward manners before wagging a finger at Turkey.

Put another way, if the EU is sincere in its criticism of Turkey, then it should prove this by taking Asselborn’s advice and first of all act against its own members like Hungary. But nobody in Europe believes this is going to happen, which will only reinforce anti-European sentiments in Turkey. 

We are clearly faced with a vicious circle that will only continue to poison Turkish-European ties, thanks to politicians on both sides who rely on prejudice to boost themselves and stay in power.