Turkey’s Syria, Poland’s Ukraine

Turkey’s Syria, Poland’s Ukraine

Well, easier said than done; Turkey and Poland are marking the 600th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. As Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski puts it, it’s really exceptional for the global history of diplomacy. This year-long commemoration will surely provide a very good opportunity for the two countries to enhance bilateral ties, and to multiply communication channels between various civil society groups, universities, artists, journalists and etc.

This very unique relationship has very good historical records as well. The Ottoman Empire refused to acknowledge the partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century, while Poland was among the first countries to recognize the Republic of Turkey as a state. Turkey was among the countries supporting Poland’s entry into NATO, while Poland openly supports Turkish accession to the EU once it fulfills the criteria.

As a matter of fact, along with its 600-year relationship with Turkey, Poland is also marking several anniversaries in the very same year, such as 25th year of the fall of communism, the 15th year of its NATO and the 10th year of its EU memberships. And this is the very point where Turkey and Poland differ: The year of 2014 is designed to be a turning point for Poland in jumping to another league of nations, promoting the countries’ very successful transformation since the early 1990s.

However, the very same 2014 is deemed to be a very critical year for Turkey and for Turkish democracy, with many people expressing concerns that indications are not much promising. It’s very sad hearing from even government officials that 2014 will be the decisive year for shaping Turkey’s near future, a country that will celebrate its 100th year of foundation in 2023 and aiming to join the EU in the same year. Accordingly, it’s also very sad to hear questions like “Where is Turkey heading?” The most saddening part is that most of the time there is no a clear answer to this.

At a panel discussion held by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), it was interesting to observe that participants were well informed about domestic political developments in Turkey through their to the point questions.

Experts, analysts and diplomats who I spoke to in Warsaw echoed concerns that I have been hearing from their counterparts from other EU countries. In short, they were describing a rather authoritarian government in Turkey trying to crack down on its opponents and cover up corruption claims through deviations in the principle of the rule of law, at the expense of disturbing the EU.

Another similarity between the two countries, as Minister Sikorski puts it, is the fact that both are bordering regions that are less stable than themselves. “Which means we are geographically-aware countries,” he says, in a reference to ongoing turmoil in Ukraine and in Syria.

Although the two cases are completely different from each other, one common point in both is the role Russia is playing in both theaters. In Syria, it was Russia’s enormous political and military support that kept the Bashar al-Assad regime in place. In Ukraine, it was the Russia’s power policy against its southern neighbor that caused this crisis.

For Poland, the Ukrainian case is a clear challenge of Russia against the West’s (EU and NATO) expansion towards the East, and is part of its efforts to create its own association with some of the former Soviet Republics through the establishment of a custom area. Polish authorities express their fear that the current turmoil could turn into a civil war in Ukraine, causing some very important security challenges and humanitarian tragedies in the region.

A long-lasting instability in Ukraine, which could lead to some unwanted repercussions, is not only a danger to Eastern and Central Europe but also to the Black Sea region. In short, the Turkish government should also deal with the issue, making its position clear in front of the international community. It is for sure that the Ukrainian people, in search of democracy and better life conditions in their weeks-long uprising under freezing winter cold, deserve the same support, applause and appreciation from the Turkish government as pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt. For sure, Ukraine’s Maidan is no less respectable than Egypt’s Rabaa al-Adawiyah Square.