It is often stressed that Europe needs Turkey at least as much as Turkey needs Europe. Developments repeatedly underline the validity of such an assertion. Yet, the Turkey that Europe needs and what Turkey is might be different. Similarly, the Europe Turkey needs might not be what Europe is indeed.
In over the past 200 years since the declaration of constitutional rule by the decaying and dissolving Ottoman Empire, Turkey has been aspiring to acquire the norms and values as well as the lifestyle of European civilization without compromising its cultural and social heritage. That is why it is often stressed that Turkey looks like a train traveling to the West but in which Turks are walking to the East. Everyone must concede the differences between Turkey and Europe are not limited to religion or language but the root cause is far deeper.
This country has not gone through the inquisition or the Holocaust and such shameful episodes. Yet, Turkey underwent many of its own shameful tragedies, particularly regarding its minorities. Such tragedies produced a Europe sensitive on certain values of norms, particularly minority rights, freedom of expression, media freedom and civil society rights. Why has Turkey failed to produce similar values and norms after so many “experiences” or suffering? That must be examined by social scientists.
A recent study by a group of people, including this writer, showed that apart auto-censorship, which is rampant and cannot be documented, there were at least 463 censorship cases in Turkey in the first nine months of 2018. This is totally unacceptable, particularly taking into consideration that because of the current structure of the Turkish media, this figure might just be the tip of the iceberg as most cases cannot find any place in the news.
If it is considered that in 2012 there were 76 journalists in prison and with that figure, this country was among the “champions” of the countries harassing journalists the most, can we really be shocked to read the European Parliament decided to cancel 70 million euros in funding meant to help Turkey join the EU due to what they see as Ankara’s failure to improve the rule of law and human rights? The funds were put into a reserve last year to be handed over if “Turkey makes measurable, sufficient improvements in the fields of rule of law, democracy, human rights and press freedom.”
What has happened since last year this time? The number of journalists in prison was 154 and jumped to 164. Still, Turkey retained its title of being the champion for countries with the highest number of journalists behind bars. It is nonsense now to engage in a debate of who is a journalist and who is not. The bare facts are there.
Media ownership structure, and intolerance to “out of line” comments are all problems of this land, not of course that of Europe. But, if because of the situation in Syria, or the latest episode of the Turkish-American love-and-hate thriller, Turkey is feeling compelled to engage in a rapprochement with Europe, it ought to do something to improve the rule of law and human rights.
Beating the Saturday Mothers, declaring each and every opponent as a “terrorist” and maintaining an all-inclusive anti-terrorism law cannot serve such an effort.
If Europe, on the other hand, due to similar reasons as well as the refugee nightmare and the fear of the spillover effect of Turkey’s econo-financial meltdown on European economies (and banks) feels compelled to engage Turkey in a rapprochement program, it should know that palliative moves may save the day but problems will bounce back stronger tomorrow. We have witnessed that over the past 15 years.
Interdependency is a good thing in international politics as it forces countries to reconcile and get rid of excessive and far-fetched claims. But because of such real politik, core issues should not be neglected. The European Parliament’s decision was indeed unpleasant and hurting but if read from this perspective, perhaps it might be better understood.