Fixing Turkey’s image

Fixing Turkey’s image

There is an absolute need to improve Turkey’s image, seriously battered with the dictatorial leadership style of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government in handling protest demonstrations since last summer. Can this be done simply through legislating a web of reforms? Can we have a better Turkish image if a new judicial reform is undertaken further domesticating the justice system and making it some sort of a serf to the absolute ruler?

While there is unanimity even subscribed by the government that this country must transform into a better one, there is a natural cacophony as regards what the word “better” describes. Does it mean a better Turkey for the absolute rule of a dictator? Does it mean a Turkey aligned with Europe, better conforming to European norms and values? Or does it mean some “as if reforms” that takes back what’s being given with the other hand?

Obviously, this country does need a new and invigorated reform drive that should carry it a level up in the long and uphill winding walk to anchor better with the Western norms and values.  But whatever reforms might be introduced unless a mentality reform is achieved this country will remain a macho-worshipping one with a masochist population where the national sport of which is to torture itself.

Thus, I could not agree more with European Union Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu when over lunch he vowed the government would unleash soon a web of new reforms that would help to improve Turkey’s image. The minister, and probably the premier as well, apparently hope to silence a cascade of EU criticism about horrendous performance of the government against protests continuing off and on in the country since last June. It is so nice that the government has realized the need to revive the reform drive. The minister was perfectly right that “It’s our responsibility to improve Turkey’s image with steps to be taken both within the country and outside … We will support [this effort] with new reforms as well.”

But what efforts was he really considering taking inside and outside of the country? Alas, he poured out the cliché of the “master” unwilling to assume any sort of responsibility in what has happened in the country over the past many months. He repeated Erdoğan’s criticism of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the “parallel state” – that is the Gülenists – and civil society organizations for battering Turkey’s image through constantly complaining about the country in the international arena.

Declaring 2014 as the “the year of the EU” is naturally good. Trying to accelerate Turkey’s integration with the EU and working to open some new chapters in the accession talk’s process are all praiseworthy undertakings. But, as long as the government and the ruling political Islamist clan do not understand that democracy is not just the election box, but indeed a web of norms, values and institutions, no serious headway can be achieved towards Turkey’s EU membership.

As long as the prime minister and his Cabinet continue to brand complaints about their horrendous performance as regards human rights, freedom of expression, press freedom and worse in view of the need to move on to transparent governance, Turkey cannot belong to the European league of democracies. How can Turkey have an improved image in any international platform if instead of prosecuting massive graft claims, the members of police and judiciary investigating such charges are banished, sacked, exiled and silenced? How can Turkey belong to any civilized society if there is a constant witch hunt round the clock from the prime minister to the allegiant media, a character assassination campaign against the critics?

Reforms are welcome, but what about a serious and comprehensive mental reform?