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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Explaining anti-Turkish attitudes in the EU - book excerpt

I just re-read an old post and saw that I promised to post excerpts from my book, Turkey and the European Union: Christian and Secular Images of Islam. That promise has fallen by the wayside but here is a short passage from the conclusion to the penultimate chapter, in which I have looked at depressing poll data regarding attitudes within the EU toward Turkey's EU bid and towards Turks in general. My explanation for the hostility is based on the historical examination in previous chapters:
Negative stereotypes of Turkey and Turks, of Muslims and Islam have a long history among Christians and in Europe, and have been repeatedly invoked in the ongoing attempts to create common Christian or European identities out of the diverse social fabric of the continent. The discursive and affective powers of this imagery were amplified by its inclusion in larger narratives that enabled their audiences to identify with a broader community, and to find a compelling moral purpose in its struggles against a typically inferior and/or dangerous Other. For these reasons, said images and the attitudes they evoked have become deeply embedded in European collective memory, understood not as the static recollection of a true past but as an evolving struggle to define this past, conditioned as much by contemporary realities as by the intersubjective meaning structures and categories left us by past generations.
The good news is that, while contemporary prejudice may be widespread on the aggregate European level of analysis, it is not ubiquitous. Although we have not had the space to illustrate this, the figures vary considerably between and within countries, with Austrians standing out as most skeptical in the 2006 Eurobarometer (81 percent of Austrians would say no to Turkey even if it complied with all the membership criteria), followed by Germans and Luxembourgers (69 percent). Swedes are the most supportive, followed by the Dutch and Slovenians (60, 55, and 53 percent in favor, respectively). 

UPDATE 2012-01-28: I changed the title of the post from "anti-Turkish stereotypes" to "anti-Turkish attitudes" because I realized that the latter is a better description of the argument. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Boycotting Lowe's

The Lowe's saga continues. Here's a great YouTube clip made by family of a friend of mine.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

FFA: Don't mess with our stereotypes of Muslims! (Video)

Oh boy. Apparently, an organization called the Florida Family Association is upset with the reality show "All-American Muslim" for not showing Muslims who conform to the organization's stereotype of Muslims. What is worse, they have pressured a few large corporations, including Lowe's (and Home Depot?) to pull all advertising from the show.

For what?!? Apparently for treading on the FFA's prejudices by not depicting all Muslims as crazed terrorists!

Well, while the FFA is getting the attention it sought (and apparently needed), other - more significant - Christian groups, such as the National Council of Churches, have fortunately come out against the FFA and against Lowe's for heeding the group's call for a boycott.

As usual, the Daily Show provides the best response to this kind of craziness:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Kabulvision - A New Lowe
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Sunday, December 11, 2011

EU leaders tell Turkey to 'respect' Cyprus | EUobserver

After Turkey's threat to boycot meetings when The Republic of Cyprus takes over the EU's rotating presidency next year, the EU council is planning to warn Turkey to "respect" Cyprus and the EU's presidency.

From the EUobserver:
"The EU council calls on EU partners to fully respect the role of the rotating presidency of the council, which is a fundamental institutional feature of the Union provided for in the treaty," the 27 countries are planning to say, according to draft summit conclusions circulated in Brussels on Thursay (8 December).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Corruption creeping up in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania: TI | EurActiv

According to, the latest report from Transparency International gives poor grades to several EU countries and points to increasing corruption in Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania. In contrast, some candidate countries are doing better. Iceland, for example, ranks very well. And:
Turkey's performance is also relatively good, although slightly worse than last year (4.2, down from 4.4). However, it still did better than EU-member Slovakia and ranked higher than Croatia, which is set to join the EU soon.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'll be at Uppsala University tomorrow, Dec 1

For my readers in Sweden: I'll be giving an open lecture at Utrikespolitiska Föreningen (the Uppsala Association of International Affairs) at Uppsala University tomorrow evening. Here's a link to their program.

The talk will be held at 7:15 pm, in the University Building, Room IX (Universitetshuset) and it'll be in English.

The title of the talk is "Images of Turkey and Islam: Europe's Identity Crisis and Its Consequences" and it will mostly based on my book. But I also want to share some reflections of the potential effects of the current Eurozone crisis. (Although that is not the identity crisis mentioned in the title.) There will be an opportunity to chat over dinner at one of the "nations" after the talk.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How to deal with the Eurozone crisis (my 2 cents)

Here's a post on a matter only partially related to the topics I normally deal with, which I wrote for an other purpose. But it is an issue that is extremely urgent, so, with the caveat that I'm not an economist, here's my proposal for how to deal with the current Eurozone crisis (and also because I'm grading, so I don't have time to write something new right now):

Guangzhou, China. From over here, it is hard to avoid the feeling that European governments are conspiring to bring down the global economy. It’s an unfair allegation, no doubt: the IMF is doing its part, too.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The chief obstacle now in the way of effective solutions to the European sovereign debt crisis is the failure to recognize that there are significant differences between the short, intermediate, and long-term problems. Because these problems are distinct from each other they require different solutions. Until our leaders realize this – and I mean national politicians as well as the leadership of organizations like the IMF – we will find it hard to break out of the vicious downward spiral that we are now in.

I want to suggest the outlines of an alternative proposal for how to break the cycle. In so doing, I will leave the longer-term issues (the lack of fiscal and political integration in the Eurozone and the destructive impact of unregulated financial markets on the real economy) aside and concentrate on the short and intermediate term problems we face.

The immediate problem is, of course, the acute crisis we are now facing: ballooning sovereign debts in several Eurozone countries, untenably high yields on Greek, Italian, and perhaps soon French bonds, and a lack of robust economic growth. Given the risk of contagion, broad exposure to bad debts, and the risk of a collapse of the Euro, this is a Europe-wide problem.

As for the intermediate crisis, its causes and severity varies. In Greece’s case, the current fiscal problems result from a combination of too high government expenditures, poor revenue collection, and general public sector inefficiencies. These are significant structural problems that require structural solutions in the intermediate to long term.

But, as Nobel laureate Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, in countries like the U.K. and Italy the causes are entirely different. In the U.K., much of the initial deficit was a natural result of the recession. And despite its debt problems, which in part have to do with having had to bail out its banks, Italy is actually expected to run a small surplus on its primary budget (excluding interest payments) this year. So these countries do not necessarily face long-to-intermediate term structural problems of the same kind and magnitude as Greece’s.

The great challenge, then, is how to deal with the intermediate-term problem – that is, the structural deficits in those countries (like Greece) that run them – without making the immediate crisis worse, and vice versa. And this is where the EU is failing spectacularly.

The Greek austerity measures that have been implemented – attempts to deal with the country’s intermediate, structural problems – so far only seem to make the immediate problems worse. In simple language: firing droves of public sector employees means less taxes to collect and greater burdens on the social services. Similar dynamics are at work in the UK, where the drastic cuts implemented by Cameron’s government just seem to have exacerbated the crisis. In both countries, growth has been stunted and deficits have soared.

It doesn’t take an economist to understand that what is needed to resolve the immediate crisis is instead something akin to old-fashioned Keynesian deficit spending in those countries that can afford it, coupled with raising ECB’s inflation target to relieve the real burden of debt those countries struggling to make their payments. At the very least, we must abandon the simultaneous public sector retrenchments that are currently being forced upon countries across the continent by the IMF and the EU. Such concerted belt-tightening in the midst of a severe recession only threatens to turn a recession into a depression.

But there remains the immediate problem of convincing the bond markets that this does not equate to simply putting off difficult intermediate-term deficit-cutting measures to the future. My suggestion is therefore to enact two-tiered solutions: Attempts to stimulate growth in the present need to be coupled with automatically triggered structural deficit-cutting reforms in the intermediate future when growth has returned.

The automated triggering of such time-limited reforms (in the countries with significant structural problems) needs to be ironclad, so as to impress the financial markets now. Like Odysseus, European politicians in countries that face structural problems need to tie themselves to the mast.

One example of how this could be achieved is deficit-cutting measures that are introduced once certain indicators show sustained and substantial growth, but which – once triggered – would require parliamentary unanimity in consecutive parliaments (with elections in-between) to be overturned. The exact nature of such mechanisms would have to vary according to the different national legal and economic contexts but the important thing is that they are convincing.

Such procedures raise concerns about democratic legitimacy. But governments are falling in Europe and “technocrats” installed in their place to do the bidding of the lenders. We already enshrine our most important political rights and legislative procedures in constitutions that are protected by such restrictions. It only makes sense to employ similar tools to protect our economies against the vagaries of the bond markets until the latter can be tamed. In the long run, we might consider enacting constitutionally required surplus targets averaged over business cycles, inspired by the success of the Swedish budget surplus target.

In order to get out of the hole we are now in, we need to stop digging. This entails recognizing that we are facing different short-term and intermediate-term problems and that we need to respond to them accordingly, with a two-tiered solution that doesn’t solve one problem by making the other one worse.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Random picture of SYSU campus courtesy of

I'm heading to China for a two-week stint as visiting lecturer at the Sun Yat-sen University School of Government, so blogging may be infrequent for the near future. In the meantime, check out some of these older posts:


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Free speech activist detained in Turkey | The Guardian

From The Guardian:
Ragıp Zarakolu, picture
courtesy of PEN.
The international literary community is demanding the immediate release of Turkish publisher and free speech activist Ragip Zarakolu, who has been arrested and imprisoned in Turkey under the country's anti-terrorism laws.

Zarakolu, director of Belge Publishing House, a member of Turkish PEN and chair of Turkey's Freedom to Publish Committee, is one of more than 40 activists who were detained in Istanbul on Friday, according to PEN and the International Publishers Association. The arrests are part of a crackdown against Kurdish political parties which has seen more than 1,800 supporters of the banned Koma Civakên Kurdistan party jailed since 2009. PEN said that if an appeal against the charges is unsuccessful, Zarakolu will be held through a trial process which is likely to last over a year.
So this should probably be seen in the context of the continued escalation of the Kurdish conflict.

Bianet has excerpts from a letter Zarakolu has written from prison. In it, he frames his arrest in terms of a larger attack on free-thinkers in Turkey that might support the Kurdish cause:
My arrest and the accusation of membership of an illegal organization are parts of a campaign aiming to intimidate all intellectuals and democrats of Turkey and particularly to deprive the Kurds of any support.
The Guardian on Facebook

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

PKK-Turkish Military Clashes (Video)

The escalation of violence between PKK and Turkish military forces in eastern Anatolia continues. Euronews reports (see video below) on a PKK attack on Turkish forces that killed 24 or 26 soldiers (I get different figures from different reports) and wounded almost as many.

As the report notes, Turkish forces pursued PKK fighters far into Iraqi territory - Bloomberg claims that they pushed as far at 4 kilometers into Iraq - and were supported by warplanes that bombed PKK positions.

The attack and retaliation follow a statement from the jailed PKK leader - Abdullah Öcalan or "Apo" - delivered yesterday by his brother, who had visited him on İmralı island. According to the statement, Öcalan argues that "At this stage, the key is in the hands of state authorities, not ours. Negotiations will continue and everything could change in the coming process if they open the door" (from Today's Zaman). 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The TurkEU Blog now over 10 000 views

I wasn't really paying attention so I missed the fact that The TurkEU Blog passed 10 000 views a few days ago! Thanks for visiting and come back often!

Screenshot from 10/16/2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Armenia row hits Turkish-French relations | EurActiv

French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
A Franco-Turkish row is erupting over Sarkozy's demand during a visit to Armenia on October 7 that Turkey recognize the Armenian Genocide before the end of his term as President. Turkey's EU minister Egemen Bağış reacted strongly, suggesting that Sarkozy should concentrate on the Euro crisis rather than play historian.

The EurActiv article has links to other sources on the issue.

Armenia row hits Turkish-French relations | EurActiv

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

For Europe, a Bridge Too Far to Turkey |

I never blogged about this NYT article by John Vinocur, though I spotted it a little over a week ago. Perhaps because it rather annoyed me. In fact, I am disturbed by the very opening sentence:
There was always, at least for its critics, something preposterous about the idea of Turkey entering the European Union.
It meant, in their eyes, Europe literally extending its frontiers to the borders of Iran, Syria and Iraq, and the E.U. adding to its membership a predominantly Muslim country whose population would soon give it the biggest number of seats in the European Parliament. 
Sure, Vinocur is just conveying what Turkey's critics have been saying, but he doesn't seem very eager to examine these assumptions critically.

And with that skeptical opening, Turkey's "turning away" from the EU becomes quite a natural return to an equilibrium:
Turkey’s new stance gives Europe (with Germany and France opposing full Turkish membership) a respectable alibi and respite from an issue it cannot easily solve. But in the process, the door closes on the goal of integrating Turkey into a European-led geopolitical and economic order.
Here, Vinocur does sound vaguely critical, but then, apparently, the blame can be placed rather easily in one corner:
it is the Turks who are forcing the E.U. to turn away from its candidacy.
Given a) that the idea of Turkish EU membership was apparently always preposterous, b) that this is now prospect is now apparently dead, and c) that it is apparently only Turkey's fault that this is so, Vinocur continues:
“The majority of Europe welcomes the moment, thinking, ‘Great, the Turkey thing is off the table,”’ said a Brussels official whose country backs Turkish entry. He added, “We think Turkey is worth it, and that they’re a real risk if they sail off into the distance.”
 All the same, a new distance has unspoken pluses.
 The apocalyptic notion of Europe being overrun by Turkish Muslims, brandished by right-wing populists like Geert Wilders of the Netherlands — Turkey’s rapidly growing population is approaching 80 million — is deflated as a hysteria-making political argument.
OK, that sounds good. The right-wing populist hysteria is proven wrong. But wait a minute - why? Well, as far as I can tell from the piece, not primarily because they were wrong about their analysis of what would happen if Turkey joined the EU. Their apocalyptic visions won't come true because Turkey won't join the EU! Vinocur is (perhaps unwittingly) pretty much embracing the right-wing argument, or at the very least not challenging it.

Admittedly, I am not really doing Vinocur justice, so you should read the piece for yourselves. It has more going for it that I am letting on and there's good reason to be critical of Erdoğan's administration in many respects. If nothing else, the article is worth reading because it is indicative of the emerging consensus around an increasingly pessimistic view of Turkey's EU membership prospects and around the "going East" narrative.

I also understand that it is hard to write sophisticated and nuanced analyses under the kind of time-pressure that correspondents face (but the same goes for bloggers who have full time jobs so I guess that would excuse my one-sided reading of the piece).

Regardless, I can't help but be annoyed. Some historical perspective on the issue would serve Vinocur well.

For Europe, a Bridge Too Far to Turkey -

Saturday, October 8, 2011

US Islamophobia is Alive and Thriving (Video)

Talking Point Memo (TPM) has some Islamophobic "highlights" from a speech Saturday by a man they describe as a US "Conservative shock jock" (i.e. controversial talk radio host): Bryan Fischer.

At the 2011 Values Voter Summit in Washington DC, Fischer rattled off such statements as "The greatest long-term threat to our security and liberty is not radical Islam, but Islam itself" and was frequently interrupted by applause and loud audience cheers.

Other memorable observations included his assessment that:
Every single Mosque in America is a potential recruiting or training cell for Islamic terror.
This sounds just a tad exaggerated, until you realize why he believes that this is so:
I believe it's important that we have a president who understands that Islam is not a religion of peace, but a religion of war and violence and death.
What does one say? If this is not hate- and fear mongering, what is? Here is a man who has been given a podium and pulpit at the center of US politics, who essentially tells Americans to fear all Muslims, especially those who are pious. This is crossing the line. Unfortunately, it is also quite revealing.

Some might dismiss this and say: who cares what some crazy joe schmoe says at some random event? But Fischer is not only a popular radio host, but also (according to Wikipedia) the Director of Issues Analysis for an organization called the American Family Association (AFA). And the Values Voter Summit is far from a minor event. The scheduled speaker list is a veritable who's who of Conservative (Republican) politics: Rick Perry, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Rick Santorum etc.

The speaker who went immediately before Fischer? Only the GOP Presidential front-runner, Mitt Romney.

Conservative Shock Jock Reels Off Islamophobia's Greatest Hits | TPMMuckraker

Monday, October 3, 2011

Islamic Community Center Opened on Manhattan

Remember all the hoopla about the proposed Islamic Community Center on lower Manhattan (a.k.a the Ground Zero Mosque) last year?

Well, it opened rather quietly a little less than two weeks ago. The center kicked off with an exhibition by Jewish-American photographer, Danny Goldfield. The exhibit, "NYC Children," featured portraits of children from 169 countries, all living in NYC. The local online newspaper reports:
Goldfield attended the opening Wednesday night, along with Rana Sodhi, a Sikh whose brother was murdered in a hate crime four days after 9/11, and whose efforts to fight prejudice in the wake of the crime inspired Goldfield's project.

Sodhi, who spoke haltingly, but emotionally, said it was appropriate for Park51 to open so close to the site of the 9/11 attacks, replacing the hatred of that day with a message of tolerance.

"We are together here today at Park51 to show the world we are still united and we respect each other," Sodhi said.
Here's a link to an AP story (on NPR's website), and to the community center's own web site: Park51

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Austria documents spike in extreme-right hate crimes | The Washington Post

The Washington Post reports a significant rise in xenophobic crimes in Austria last year.
Austrian authorities say hate crimes by the extreme right spiked 28 percent last year.

Islamophobia has grown in recent years in Austria, in addition to stubborn anti-Semitic sentiment on the part of some citizens. The rightist Freedom Party, which includes fringe neo-Nazi supporters, has exploited such anti-Muslim feelings to gain popularity.
Austria documents spike in extreme-right hate crimes - The Washington Post

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On freedom of speech

The Swedish newspaper Metro is today breaking the news that the group of three men who were arrested in Sweden on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack, were planning to assassinate the artist Lars Vilks.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Vilks, he is a provocative conceptual artist and author with a Ph.D. in Art History (actually, a better translation would be Art Theory) who most famously portrayed the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a dog in a series of drawings exhibited in 2007.

More recently (May of 2010), he gave a talk at Uppsala University during which he screened Iranian artist Sooreh Hera's Allah ho gaybar - in which two men wearing masks depicting Muhammad and his son-in-law Ali are shown in various "sexually provocative positions," according to Wikipedia.

As a result of his Muhammad drawings, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq (now captured) placed a bounty on Vilks' head in 2007 and the artist has since lived under constant threat. Last year, a Swedish member of the Somali terrorist network Al-Shabaab also declared a death threat against Vilks. There have been several attempts at his life, and the spectacle at Uppsala University was interrupted when several angry members of the audience stormed the stage.

I have made my position on Vilks' Muhammad drawings and the Danish Muhammad cartoons clear elsewhere (link to an article in Swedish). There is a long tradition of ridiculing and belittling the Muslim prophet in Christian polemics, and widespread prejudice toward and stereotypes of Muslims in today's Europe, and I find this deeply troubling and unfortunate. Vilks' and Jyllandsposten's provocations are part of a broader pattern, and it is no coincidence that Vilks is featured prominently on Islamophobic blogs like Gates of Vienna.

However, in this particular post I want to focus exclusively on freedom of speech. And more precisely, I would like to reaffirm the right of an artist or writer to express him/herself freely - within the bounds of the law - without having to fear violent retribution. This freedom extends to the right to offend, even if people like myself disapprove of the contents.

To be sure, an artist making deeply offensive and provocative statements or drawings - even ones that, like several of the Muhammad cartoons, verge on racism (as long as it stops short of constituting hate speech or the Swedish legal equivalent: agitation against an ethnic group/people) - such an artist should expect vigorous debate and harsh criticism, and perhaps even such 'retaliation' as consumer boycots. But (s)he should not have to suffer through violent attacks against his/her person or the threat thereof.

There is much more to say on these issues - and I have said some of it elsewhere - but there is also a need for critics of Western and European Islamophobia to stand up and clearly express our support for the principle of freedom of speech. That is what I am doing now.

Freedom of speech is a basic and essential cornerstone of a free, open, and democratic society. In such societies, people of all faiths, persuasions, and ethnicities can ideally coexist and express their differences, whether as groups or as individuals, if granted the right of free expression. Thanks to this right they can vocally express their divergent views of what their society should look like, criticize the powers and policies that be as well as criticize, for example, the peddlers of Islamophobia. If this foundation is attacked, however, it constitutes an attack on democracy as such, for without the former the latter means nothing.

There are limits to this freedom of speech (shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, as the classic example goes) but those limits are not the subject of this post. Here I simply want to reaffirm my strong belief that as long as speech stays within those legal limits, it must be allowed and the speaker must be free from violence or the threat thereof.

All violence and threats against Lars Vilks must be strongly denounced and should cease immediately. There are better ways of expressing one's disapproval, preferably by using one's right to free speech.

UPDATE: I added the last paragraph after re-reading my original post, just to underline my position on the issue that prompted this post in the first place.
Vilks var terrormål - - Senaste nytt | Expressen - Nyheter Sport Ekonomi Nöje

Friday, September 9, 2011

Turkish leader concerned about Islamophobia in Europe | RT

(Almost) all my diverse research foci converge when Russia Today (RT) reports Abdullah Gül's remarks about the increasing racism and Islamophobia in Europe:
The Turkish leader noted that “increasing ethnic, cultural and religious tensions can result in tensions and division in society,” but it is the state that must control these processes.

“The task of the state is to secure for all its citizens, regardless of religion, language and race, equal constitutional rights and…equal opportunities,” Abdullah Gul said.
One can, of course, point out that making remarks like these while the Turkish military is embarked on a campaign against Kurdish insurgents in Eastern Anatolia invites accusations of throwing rocks while living in a glass house.

But from the Turkish perspective, the same can be said for criticism against Turkish discrimination of Kurds, coming from EU member states in which ethnic Turks and other minority groups face systematic discrimination. And given the large number of Turks living in the EU, racism and Islamophobia that targets these exile communities are legitimate concerns for the Turkish state.

Take Sweden, where I live, as an example. A wonderful country in most ways, which treats newly arrived immigrants better than most other countries, with subsidized entry-level jobs, paid for Swedish language education etc. Still, experimental research shows that even here immigrants are severely discriminated against.

One meta-study (source in Swedish) of experimental research on discrimination on the job and housing markets, reported the following findings: CVs sent by persons with Arabic-sounding names receive between 50% to 88% fewer responses from employers than identical CVs with traditional Swedish names. There were similar results on the very tough Swedish housing market (50-60%). And my hunch is that even these shockingly high numbers hide the true extent of discrimination given the importance of informal contacts in getting both jobs and rental housing in Sweden.

As for the recent rise in Islamophobia, the last chapter of my book examines the increasingly hostile - and, from the far right, Islamophobic - rhetoric evident in the European Parliament in recent years.

The point is: Gül has a point.

Increasing Islamophobia in Europe dangerous trend – Turkish leader — RT

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Turkey to return religious minorities' property | EurActiv

From Euractiv:
The Turkish government will reportedly return properties confiscated from religious minorities since 1936, in a step that seemingly addresses European concerns about the treatment of minorities in the EU candidate member.

"This is not about doing a favour; this is about rectifying an injustice," Erdoğan said of the landmark decision, which concerns hundreds of hospitals, schools, cemeteries and orphanages listed in a 1936 census.

Turkey to return religious minorities' property | EurActiv

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Turkey and the Kurds: Giving war a chance | The Economist

I'm finally back from summer vacation but am heading off on a research trip to Russia for a week. In the meanwhile, here is a downbeat report on the current Turkish military conflict with the PKK from the Economist.

Turkey and the Kurds: Giving war a chance | The Economist

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Top Military Brass Quits

No time to write anything (I'm on vacation), but here are three different newspaper sources on the resignation of Turkey's top military leadership:

Hürriyet Daily News (independent, loyal to opposition)
Daily Zaman (supportive of AKP)
Turkey’s Top Military Leaders Resign -

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Personal reflections on the unthinkable in Norway

I am on vacation in Turkey and am completely out of the media loop. But I am finally online and feel a strong urge to adress the tragedy in Norway anyway. I feel like it hit close to home in several ways, so in order for this to remain only a somewhat rambling post I will focus on my personal reactions in this post, and leave for a second post the matters that I usually deal with on this blog and in my research.

(To advertise the second post: browsing through the mass-murderer's "manifesto" and manual, it is clear that he is wholly and almost exclusively obsessed with the supposed "Islamisation" of Europe and the "multicultural/Marxist" betrayal of the European nations. The title of the manifesto alludes to the Second Turkish Siege of Vienna, it has a Templar's (crusader's) cross as cover image, and it is in part a compilation of writings by other anti-Islamists on the web, from known Islamophobic blogs etc., and replete with references to writers like Daniel Pipes, Frank Gaffney, and Bat Ye'or. It is also a very very chilling read.)

But let me here be a little personal instead.

First of all, all those directly affected by this tragedy have my deepest sympathy. Sweden - my native country - and Norway were one country not too long ago (until the Union dissolved in 1905), and the two countries are still close. Our two languages are similar enough for us to understand each other without need for translation, and we share the geography of two stretched-out countries that lie side-by-side far to the north in Europe. Like all Swedes, I have several Norwegian friends.

Norway to the West, Sweden to the East. Wikipedia Commons.
When my grandparents up in the Jämtland region of central Sweden wanted to celebrate something or just feel a little fancy, they would dress up in their finest clothes and take the train or car a few hours West to Trondheim in Norway. There, they would eat a nice dinner at Palmehaven, the best restaurant in the small town. Then they would spend the night at Britannia Hotel (the town hotel in which the restaurant, by the way, was located) or return home the same day. I have a fond memory of joining them once, and remember the stunningly beautiful Norwegian scenery from the train window. So, like most Swedes, I feel a certain affinity to Norway and Norwegians.

A different but no less fond memory I have is of attending a youth politics summer camp in Sweden as a teenager. This has little to do with Norway, but a lot to do with the kind of camp at which the kids on Utöya were so savagely attacked. My camp was a truly wonderful, educational, inspirational, and simply fun experience. For me, it was a rare occasion to hang out with likeminded kids, who were as interested in the greater political world and in the power of ideas as I was. The camp was full of teenagers that believed - in the youthful manner that so many of us loose later in life - in the power to make the world a better place through democratic political action. We learned, debated, argued, swam, and had a lot of fun.

There was a lot of impressive brain power in that camp and a lot of heart. And we learned a lot, in many different ways. For example, everyone took turns helping an older kid who was rather severely disabled, with all his chores. I had never before helped someone my age who was unable to sit on a toilet go to the bathroom before, but I did so there, and I think I matured a little in the process of doing this and generally doing my part to help this boy for the duration of the camp, along with my friends. And I still remember the smart girl, a few years older than I, who explained to me the relation between European integration and the democratic deficit, which was a real revelation to me. These two random examples illustrate the range of intellectual and simply humane lessons we learned at the camp.

So it was 68 kids of the kind I was back then and of the kind of amazing friends I made at that camp, that Anders Behring Breivik murdered in cold blood on Utöya on July 22. This is also why this event has touched me so (I was physically nauseous for an entire day when I first heard about it and after browsing through his manifesto yesterday, I had nightmares all night). About these wonderful teenagers and children, he writes the following in his manifesto, emailed to his network of fellow Islamophobes only hours before his attack:
In many ways, morality has lost its meaning in our struggle. The question of good and evil is reduced to one simple choice. For every free patriotic European, only one choice remains: Survive or perish. Some innocent will die in our operations as they are simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Get used the idea [sic]. The needs of the many will always surpass the needs of the few.
I hope we never, ever will get used to this idea. These children and teens were indeed innocent but they didn't just get in his way: they were of course, with unbearable cruelty, deliberately chosen and targeted by Breivik. And they didn't perish due to some imagined threat of Europe's Islamisation, as the quote and the rest of the manifest suggests they would if they don't choose the "right" side, but by the hand of a xenophobic and Islamophobic extremist.

This is all I can do at this point. There is another post waiting to be written about this mass-murderer's connections to more mainstream Islamophobia - the depiction of him as simply a lone lunatic seems wholly misleading after having skimmed through his manifesto (and also in light of the fact that the there is information that suggests that he had accomplices, link in Swedish). In many ways, he simply acted on all the hatred that already is out there, most of it online, albeit with a degree of callous and calculated cruelty that evidences a profound and pathological lack of empathy. And, given that Islamophobes from Pat Buchanan to Sweden Democrats are coming out in defense (that's right, your eyes did not just deceive you) of the ideas of one of the world's cruelest mass-murderers only days after the massacre, there is apparently a need to refute them.

But that post will have to wait as I can't bear another night of nightmares. In the meantime, I wish we could all respond by reaffirming precisely the values Breivik struck at on Utöya, but did not manage to extinguish: empathy and humanity.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cyprus threats, possibilities

In the midst of all the warranted pessimism about the prospect of Turkish EU membership (see my posts one and two on the state of play for an account of the main hurdles right now), there are a few interesting things happening. Most of them are a mixture of good and bad things but there are some bright spots, from the Turkish point of view.

Most significantly, the Cyprus issue appears to be coming to a head. This for two reasons: First of all, the EU has, as most of you know, a rotating presidency where each member state is saddled with the (significant and quite challenging) task of heading the work of the European Council for six months. The Republic of Cyprus (or the Greek, southern part of the island) is an EU member and its turn is for the first time coming up in a year from now (July 2012).

To Turkey and Turkish Cyprus, this represents a serious threat and it may put added pressure on them to  achieve a solution to the long-lasting conflict, which has been a major road-block on Turkey's path toward EU membership. It seems the Turkish Cypriot president, Derviş Eroğlu feels the pressure: After a meeting with EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule yesterday, he told reporters  that
If the Greek Cypriot administration assumes the rotating helm of the EU as planned and before we could reach any agreement, [the] window of opportunity for a solution will close.
That would mean we would have lost 2012. The Greek Cypriots are set to vote in presidential elections in 2013, which means that that would be a lost year, too. The Turkish Cypriots cannot wait for years to get a settlement. In the end, patience has its limits.
And top Turkish officials likewise sense the urgency. Foreign minister Davutoğlu and EU minister Bağış have both recently threatened that Turkey-EU relations may experience a "freeze" if there is no solution to the Cyprus conflict come July of next year. And therefore, they are pushing for a rapid settlement. Davutoğlu cited in EurActiv:
"We hope to find a solution to the Cyprus problem by the end of the year, and hold a referendum in the early months of next year so that Cyprus can take on the presidency of the EU as a new state that represents the whole island," Davutoğlu said during a visit to the Turkish Cypriot enclave in the north of the island.
A problem in this context is that all the pressure would seem to be on Turkey and Turkish Cyprus, since the Republic of Cyprus would not really be harmed by assuming the EU Presidency even in the absence of a resolution to the conflict. The result is the same one-sided pressure that the EU applied in 2004, in a failed attempt to push Turkish Cypriots to accept a peace plan that the Greek Cypriots subsequently rejected.

But here is where the second reason that there seems to be some movement on the issue may come in: UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, appears to be ready to remove UN blue helmets from the island unless there is movement soon. Here's former Dutch MEP, Joost Lagendijk:
On Cyprus, we have seen a new wave of enthusiasm over the last couple of days, even among skeptics who thought that the Cyprus problem would never be solved. This optimism is based on the talks that took place in Geneva last week in which United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presented a plan for the completion of the talks between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots in October of this year. Many had given up hope that these negotiations would produce anything close to a solution. The UN chief has now made clear that he is not willing to accept failure or an endless dragging on.
Removing the UN troops that patrol the norther-southern border would would, in Lagendijk's words, "make the Greek Cypriots feel extremely uncomfortable." So there may be just the kind of pressure on both parties that is needed for movement towards a resolution to the conflict to be within the realm of the thinkable.

Another protracted conflict that stands in the way of Turkish EU accession is of course the Kurdish issue, and here there is both recent violence and hints of progress. The NYT reports today of a PKK attack yesterday, that left 13 Turkish soldiers dead, and of failed talks to end the parliamentary boycott by Kurdish MPs.

But, as The Economist notes,
secret talks between the government and Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned Kurdish PKK leader, continue despite Mr Erdogan’s anti-Kurdish tone during the campaign.
And apparently,
Mr Ocalan has suggested that a deal to bring an end to the PKK’s 27 years of insurgency might be within reach. 
Now, I teach courses ethnic conflict and wouldn't suggest that a lasting and comprehensive solution to a conflict as intractable as the Kurdish rebellion is an easy feat or that a settlement that is centrally negotiated with an imprisoned rebel leader is all that it would take. But it would certainly be a major coup for the Turkish government and a key ingredient in a lasting resolution of the conflict.

So, in the midst of all the pessimism, one could - I'm not saying that it is likely, just possible - one could imagine a scenario in which both of the two dragged-out and highly debilitating conflicts that have been used as key arguments against Turkish EU accession by innumerable EU politicians, are partially resolved within a year. This would certainly put the ball in the EU's court.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Football (soccer) corruption probe in Turkey

Watching the Swedish women's soccer team struggle against Japan (semi finals). Seems like a good time to note that while the Swedes are struggling on the field, Turkish soccer is struggling off the field with a massive corruption and game-fixing probe. The New York Times reports:
The presidents of Fenerbahce and Trabzonspor, who finished first and second in the Turkish Super League this May, are in jail. So is a former head of the Turkish football federation. They are among the more than 60 men rounded up in police raids during the past week.
More disturbingly, the probe was apparently just widened to include Beşiktas. That's just not OK.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Turkish Perspective on the Stalled Talks | Today's Zaman

On June 27, Abdullah Bozkurt had a good column in Today's Zaman that I missed, in which he lays out the Turkish perspective on the stalled accession negotiations. For one thing, he raises the issue of missing screening report results:
After inquiring why in the world the EU has not even disclosed the results of screening chapters it completed in 2006 on Turkey, I was told by officials in Brussels that the ball is with the European Council, and some member states are blocking the announcement of the results.
This is just yet another sign of what Christophe Hillion has described as the "creeping (re)nationalization" of the enlargement screening process (recall that the European Council is where the member states are represented). Except that it is now less "creeping" than blatant. I will post more on Hillion's argument and this issue another time.

Bozkurt also raises an issue that Turkish officials have spoken to me about as well: that is, the matter of the chronology or order of chapters to be opened. Turks complain that in Turkey's case, the EU wants to start with the toughest knot first, but that this is not how it is usually done:
For the first time during a six-month-long rotating EU presidency, held by Belgium between July 1, 2010, and Jan. 1, 2011, we ended without opening a single negotiation chapter. The Hungarian presidency, due to end at the end of this month, also failed to deliver on its promise to open a chapter on competition policy. To add insult to injury, Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle argued that the ball is in Turkey's court to break the deadlock on the competition chapter.

What Füle forgets to mention is that candidate countries usually leave the competition talks to the last because it not only requires complicated work but also brings a huge cost to the candidate. That is why Croatia, which started talks at the same time as Turkey in 2005, left this chapter to the final round of talks and opened negotiations last summer. It is not fair to push this chapter on Turkey at a point where we have not even made it halfway through the accession process.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Erdoğan: It's not hot in here! |

Erdoğan responds to concerns about Turkey's current account deficit. The Wall Street Journal reports:
"My friends don't worry about the current-account deficit, there is nothing to worry about," Mr. Erdoğan said, speaking to reporters in Ankara after unveiling his new cabinet. He added that the funding gap, currently 8.6% of gross domestic product, would diminish in the final quarter of the year as central bank measures slowed domestic demand.

The market reaction was less sanguine. Turkey's currency slid 0.5% lower against the U.S. dollar, extending losses of close to 13% since November. Investors have been hoping for clear signs that Mr. Erdoğan's third-term government would outline a detailed strategy to tackle the ballooning current-account deficit, a stand-out weakness in an economy that expanded 11% in the first quarter, outstripping China.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some like it hot | The Economist

Still grading, but I have time to post a quick link. The Economist has a chart and article examining the 'most-likely-to-overheat' economies around the world, and Turkey is among the top ten.

"A widening current-account deficit can be a classic sign of overheating, as domestic demand outpaces supply. Turkey looks particularly worrying, with its deficit expected to jump to 8% of GDP this year, up from 2% in 2009. ...

Adding up the six scores reveals seven hotspots where most of the indicators are flashing red: Argentina, Brazil, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Turkey and Vietnam."

Economics focus: Some like it hot | The Economist

Monday, July 4, 2011

Turkey's opposition boycotts parliament | EurActiv

I'm busy grading papers (belatedly) so I will just post this link to a EurActiv article on the turbulent opening of the Turkish parliament on June 28. The two opposition parties in the Grand National Assembly (GNA) - the CHP and the BDP (which only has MPs who ran as independents) boycotted the opening due to some of their candidates having been barred.

From EurActiv's article:
"We will not take the oath unless the way is open for all our deputies to take the oath," CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said, after a court rejected an appeal for the release of two of the party's candidates who were under detention without having been convicted.

The BDP announced its decision last week after the Election Commission ruled a candidate must forfeit his seat because of a conviction for spreading "terrorist propaganda" and awarded the seat to a runner-up from AK.

AK, a socially conservative party with Islamist roots, took 326 seats. But the disqualification of opponents is potentially enough to take AK past the 330-seat mark, which would give Erdoğan a larger majority to call a referendum for a planned new constitution without the support of other parties.

The BDP bloc stands to lose another five seats after courts ruled against releasing five other candidates, detained on charges of having ties to Kurdish rebels.

Turkey's opposition boycotts parliament | EurActiv

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Interview on Greece-EU troubles

Here's a link to an article in today's Metro newspaper where I am quoted. I discuss the consequences of Greece's troubles for the EU and for Sweden. The article is in Swedish.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Report on Turkish civilian-military relations

Here is a short but useful summary of a forthcoming report on Turkish civilian-military relations commissioned by the Centre for European Security Studies. (Scroll down to page 5 of the newsletter.) The report is authored by Asst. Prof. Nil Şatana of Bilkent University. She argues that
The constitutional and practical changes in civilian control and parliamentary oversight indicate that the military’s involvement in politics has diminished since 2001. [...] The struggle for political survival and clientelism [long] stifled democratisation. In the absence of a strong engagement by local stakeholders, EU accession, supported by the Turkish military, has become a major drive for social and political transformation. 
Today, Turkish society refuses to accept military trustee-ship. Civilians in politics are expected to control defence policy-making. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rädslan för Turkiet - Metropol 93,8 | Sveriges Radio

From my eyebrow-raising performance on Swedish radio last week. They took three pictures after the interview and I thought we had a consensus on which picture NOT to use. Apparently not so...

Rädslan för Turkiet - Metropol 93,8 | Sveriges Radio

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The future for the Kurds after the elections

Kurdish MP Sebahat Tuncel has an op-ed in today's New York Times, in which she strongly criticizes the ruling AK Party for betraying the Kurds.

Tuncel argues that in order to avoid further violence and instability, Erdoğan now must
include Kurdish lawmakers in the process of drafting Turkey’s new Constitution, provide constitutional guarantees for the collective rights of the Kurdish people and accept our demand for autonomy that will allow for self-government and bring peace.
And she warns that if the AKP insists on continuing
the policy of violent suppression that it has pursued to date... Turkey could enter a more intense period of conflict than ever before.
She concludes the article with a plea:
The unjustified arrests and military operations must come to an end and Turkey’s Kurds, after decades of struggle, must be granted the right to learn and pray in our own language and exercise self-government in our cities and towns. 
These may seem like reasonable demands, but allowing self-government in the east would be a bitter pill for the Turkish nationalists. And I don't think (although I am speculating here) that Erdoğan is likely to try to reinvigorate the "Kurdish (or "democratic") opening," which has not just stalled but suffered several serious setbacks.

The first setback for the AKP was the triumphant and belligerent behavior of a group of formerly exiled PKK fighters upon their return to Turkey made possible by an amnesty that the AKP proclaimed as part of the opening. This outraged more Turks than just the nationalists.

And then the AKP (mistakenly, as it turned out) decided that the best way to gain a supermajority in the recent elections was to steal enough votes from the nationalist right-wing MH Party to put them under the 10% threshold. This failed, and the damage caused by the nationalist panderings by the AKP during the campaign have soured relations between the party and many Kurds, as Tuncel's op-ed indicates.

At the same time, Erdoğan does need opposition support for his plans to draft a new constitution, and some or all of that support could come from independent Kurdish MPs, and he has indicated that he is willing to adopt a consensual, inclusive, approach to rewriting the constitution. The elections are over and there is no longer any need for the kind of tough rhetoric that we saw in the lead-up to the elections.

Having said that, Kurdish leaders put forth at least three key demands, none of which will be an easy sell for the AKP. First, they want Kurdish children to be able to receive an education in their own language, not just be able to take Kurdish-language classes. This is highly controversial - when the issue was last up for debate in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (parliament), debate was not only emotional, punches were thrown.

Second, they want to get rid of the article in the Turkish constitution that defines any citizen of Turkey as a "Turk." As Bogazici political science Professor Kemal Kirisci explains, the original intent was for this word to indicate a civic identity, but Kurdish critics argue that it has been interpreted as a statement of ethnic identity that excludes Kurds. This is also a highly explosive issue since it goes to the core of Turkish identity, but it would seem to me that it is not insoluble. A clever rewording of this phrase could satisfy all parties.

Third, the issue of autonomy. Traditionally, many in the Turkish Kemalist establishment have virulently opposed any such suggestions, arguing that Kurdish activists demand autonomy but aim for sovereignty and secession. This has been a no-go as it has been seen as the first step to the division of the country, something unthinkable in Turkish mainstream politics. But, to my surprise, the leader of the social democratic party CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, did come out more or less in favor of greater autonomy for local governments, including the Kurdish south-east, during the election campaign, probably in an attempt to court the Kurdish vote that was fleeing the AKP because of Erdoğan's turn to the right.

My tentative conclusion is therefore that if there is a will, there might be a way to resolve enough of these issues in a satisfactory way for Erdoğan to be able to enlist Kurdish support for a new constitution. But this is not an easy task, and I see no scenario where everyone is happy. Satisfying Kurdish demands will enrage nationalists. But ignoring them will enrage many Kurds as well as further damage Turkey's EU prospects, so it is the least likely alternative, in my opinion. Either way, things will get very interesting in the months ahead.

Arab Spring, Kurdish Summer -

Friday, June 17, 2011

Armenian PM 'ready for Turkish ties' | BBC News

Just in from the BBC:
Armenia's prime minister says it is ready to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey without any pre-conditions.
BBC News - Armenia PM Tigran Sarkisian 'ready for Turkish ties'

Monday, June 13, 2011

My book out today!

My book (Turkey and the European Union: Christian and Secular Images of Islam. Palgrave Macmillan: NY) was scheduled to come out on June 21 but Palgrave appears to have been working overtime because I received my copies today, and my university library did so, too. So I guess I'm celebrating the book-release tonight by baking a batch of sourdough bread!

For my Swedish audience, the book is available to order from Bokus.

Link to my interview with Metropol youth radio (in Swedish)

Just came back from an interview with the youth radio show Metropol, where I talked about the Turkish elections and Turkey-EU relations. Here's a link but the interview is in Swedish:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

AKP short of majority needed for unilateral constitutional reform

BBC reports that with 99% of the ballots counted (that's fast!), Erdoğan's AKP has received 50% of the popular vote in the Turkish parliamentary election. This translates to 326 seats out of the Grand National Assembly's 550 seats. This is a disappointment for Erdoğan, who was aiming for one of the two options that would have allowed him to push through a new constitution without relying on votes from the opposition:

  1. With a 2/3 "supermajority" of 367 seats, the AKP could have passed a new constitution unilaterally. 
  2. With at least 330 seats, the AKP could have passed amendments to the constitution and then presented them to the people in a popular referendum. Given the AKP's success in the last referendum on constitutional changes (September 12 of last year), this would have been a good option for Erdoğan.

But neither of these two options are now available. If this result stands, it means that Erdoğan will have to seek the support of at least 4 parliamentarians outside the AKP. Such support is unlikely to come from the nationalist MHP, which appears to have passed the 10% threshold at 13% (54 seats), but it could come from either within the CHP (26% and 135 seats) or from some of the 35 independent candidates from the pro-Kurdish BDP.

So, early Monday-morning quarterbacking: Erdoğan's attempt to steal nationalist votes from MHP to get them under the 10% threshold failed. And in so doing, he may have lost a significant number of Kurdish votes. (Btw, this fits with my analysis of the mistaken strategy of many mainstream politicians in Western Europe, who pander to xenophobes on the misguided assumption that so doing will weaken the extreme right.) It is now time to mend some fences.

According to a tweet I just saw, voter turn-out was (as is common in Turkey) very high: 86,7%.


UPDATE 22:59
Al Jazera's live blog quotes from Erdoğan's victory speech:
We will be humble. We have never displayed pride or boasted... We will be seeking consensus with the main opposition, the opposition, parties outside of parliament, the media, NGOs, with academics, with anyone who has something to say.

Turkish Parliamentary Candidate Murdered

This just in from Bloomberg: "A parliamentary candidate for Turkey’s Democratic Left Party was found dead before tomorrow’s election, two days after he disappeared, state-run Anatolia news agency reported."

Gun casings were reportedly found at the site. The Anatolian News Agency reports (source in Turkish) that two arrests have been made.

The Democratic Left Party (DSP) is Bülent Ecevit's old social democratic party and did not have any hopes of entering into parliament by passing the 10% bar in this election.

Turkish Parliamentary Candidate Found Dead, Anatolia Reports - Bloomberg

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Resources on the Turkish 2011 elections

The Economist has an interactive feature on the June 12 elections in Turkey. The Economist site contains information about:
  1. The main parties: AKP, CHP, MHP and BDP
  2. Issues: The economy, the constitution, the Kurds, and freedom of speech
  3. Maps: Marks provinces by income (GDP/cap), population (density), and the last election results
(BTW, Richard Falk and Hilal Elver have a very critical examination of The Economist's coverage of the Turkish elections on Al Jazeera English's website. In particular, they are critical of their recommendations for how Turks should vote, asking if
the people of Turkey really [are] so politically backward as to require guidance from this bastion of Western elite opinion...?)
Two Swedes - a lawyer and a political scientist - have started a blog about the elections that contains commentary and lots of useful information:
  1. Regular opinion polls
  2. The main parties: AKP, CHP, and MHP (but not BDP, interestingly enough. I have pointed this out to the bloggers, maybe the will correct this oversight)
  3. Info about the electoral system
I was recently interviewed by the Swedish magazine LO Tidningen about the background to the elections. I will post a link when/if there's an article.


The BDP info had mistakenly disappeared from the blog, and the authors fixed it within approximately one minute of my pointing it out. Props to them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

State of play, Turkey-EU relations, part 2

This is the second post reflecting on the current obstacles to progress in the accession negotiations. Part one listed three items as key problem areas: The visa waiver issue, Cyprus, and the slower pace of Turkish reforms. I now turn to two sets of items that pertain to challenges internal to the EU.

4. Xenophobia in the EU
This issue is one that I deal with continuously on this blog. It has long historical roots, not the least when it comes to prejudices about Muslims as well as Turks. These go back to Pope Clement IV's calls in 1342 for a crusade against “those unbelieving pagans, called in the vernacular the Turks, who thirst for the blood of Christian people and seek the destruction of the Catholic faith.” Or to the standard Exhortatio ad bellum contra barbaros that became a staple of Renaissance-era diplomatic congresses, royal weddings and "almost any public occasion," as historian Robert Schwoebel put it. The so-called "barbaros" against whom this formulaic call to war was supposed to be directed were, as you might have suspected, Ottoman Turks.

Too many actors in what is today the EU have for too long defined Europe and Europeans by contrasting them against a prejudiced view of Turkey and Turks. And this historical legacy has a continued impact on today's thinking about Europe, as illustrated e.g. by outgoing EU Commissioner Fritz Bolkestein's notorious remark (on the eve of the start of membership negotiations with Turkey in 2004), that Europe may be predominantly Islamic by the end of the century, which would mean that the "liberation of Vienna will have been in vain." His not-so-contemporary reference is to the breaking of the Ottoman Siege of Vienna in 1683...

With the post-9/11 panic about Islamic fundamentalism and Jihadist terrorism in the West, these age-old fears gained new life, and resistance to Turkish accession grew in the EU. In this light, it becomes easier to understand what otherwise might appear like a paradox: that with each major Turkish pro-democratic reform package, support for Turkish membership in the EU has seemed to cool. Between 2002 and today, Turkey has enacted substantial and extensive democratic reforms, but support for Turkey in the EU has steadily dropped. For many (though certainly not for all), concern over Turkish human rights abuses is just a cover for other fears, and for these people, bringing Turkey closer in line with the Copenhagen political criteria is not at all reassuring: it is frightening because it raises the prospects of Turkish membership.

Add to this renewed general anti-immigration sentiments throughout Europe, with the extreme right gaining ground in elections throughout the continent, and the picture looks bleak from the Turkish point of view.

Not even the more recent developments in North Africa seem to help Turkey's standing in the eyes of the common man in the EU. The "Arab spring" should probably be praised as on a par with the fall of the Berlin Wall in terms of what it means for the progress of worldwide democracy. And Turkey's importance as a model for the fledgling/aspiring democracies of Egypt and the Maghreb should underline it strategic significance. But in Europe people seem mostly worried about increased refugee flows from Libya. None of this helps Turkey, which is already associated with immigration in the eyes of many Austrians and Germans.

But there are more problems than that of xenophobia in the EU of today. The discussion of North-Africa is a nice segue into some other issues that really have nothing to do with Turkey, but which I believe nevertheless contribute to the current stalemate.

5. Unrelated problems in the EU.
For the EU's fumbling response to the Libyan revolt and civil war has revealed (or worsened or created) deep fissures within the Union, as the major European powers - Germany, the UK, Italy, and France - came down on different sides on the question of what to do with Gaddafi. The participants at a recent full-day conference at the Swedish Institute of Foreign Affairs (titled "The EU as a Global Actor: Lessons from the Arab Spring") were unanimous in their judgment that the EU failed the "Libyan test" miserably.

And we must not forget (although how could we) the current crisis affecting the Euro-zone. It appears increasingly likely that Greece is heading for a default (or "restructuring" as the euphemism has it) on its debt. (Personally, I find it difficult to see how Greece is supposed to "cut" its way out of its recession, but hey, I'm no economist. I'm sure there is a beautifully elegant and parsimonious neo-classical law that shows just how throwing hordes of government workers into the unemployment benefits system is a great way of reducing the deficit and how slashing the salaries of those that still have a job is an excellent way of infusing demand into the economy and boosting consumer spending...)

Even so, Portugal, Spain, and perhaps even Italy are next in line for the investors' treatment. And no one really knows what the future holds for the Euro. What we do know is that Germany is increasingly reluctant to help out the Greeks, and that Finland's established parties have been forced to welcome a brand new party - the True Finns - to their group, a party whose only real election platform was a rejection of more aid to Greece (OK, that's not entirely True, they also ran on an anti-immigration platform).

None of this has anything directly to do with Turkey or its accession negotiations. But it adds up to an EU that is preoccupied with internal squabbling over foreign policy and economics, and struggling to salvage both the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the newly established European External Action Service as well as the very future of the Euro.

This EU has little time or energy over to take on the many tough decisions it would need to make to jump-start negotiations with Turkey. A badly damaged Angela Merkel would have little desire to open up a new political front at home by e.g. making concessions on Visa-free travel toward Turks, even if she felt that it was the right thing to do.

So with these five main hurdles, my suspicion is that the Turkish accession negotiations will at best muddle through for the time being, and that we are unlikely to see an major breakthrough in the near future. I hope I am wrong.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Transcends Complex Politics of Turkey -

Here's the second article in a series on Turkey in the NY Times by Anthony Shadid, this one focusing on Tayip Erdoğan (the first one explored the Ottoman legacy of trans-border ties in the Middle East).
“He’s a phenomenon, really,” said Yilmaz Esmer, a professor of political science at Bahcesehir University.
At a rally this month in Koaceli, another industrial town, Mr. Erdogan strode into a stadium packed with tens of thousands of supporters with the swagger of a brawler, legs slightly apart and stooped shoulders swaying. A crowd that had waited hours grew ecstatic. Mr. Erdogan took the stage in a suit with no tie, his hard stare hidden behind sunglasses.
“We didn’t come to rule!” he declared to adulation. “We came to serve you!”
The portrait in this piece rimes well with the praise for Erdoğan's skills as a politician that I heard from a visiting Turkish scholar not to long ago. It was clearly reluctant praise, but praise none the less. While he often appears clumsy, brash, and emotional to an international audience, Erdoğan is incredibly popular in Turkey.

By the way: The back story to the author of the piece is interesting. Here's how Anthony Shadid is described on the NYT website:
Anthony Shadid is the Beirut bureau chief for The New York Times. He was one of four Times journalists covering the fighting in eastern Libya who were reported missing on March 16, 2011.

The Libyan government released Mr. Shadid and the other journalists on March 21, six days after they were captured while covering the conflict between government and rebel forces in the eastern city of Ajdabiya. They were released into the custody of Turkish diplomats and crossed safely into Tunisia in the late afternoon.
What more is, the Turkish government reportedly played a key role in the process leading up to their release. If I were prone to conspiracy theories, I would suggest that Mr. Shadid stands in debt of gratitude to the Turkish leadership, which might bias his reporting. But I really am not prone to such thinking. And the piece does not shy away from criticizing Erdoğan:

Mr. Erdogan’s own authoritarian streak — his sensitivity to caricatures, disdain of criticism and methodical attempts to dismantle the old-guard secular elite in the military and courts — has lost the party some of the liberal support that it had early on.
In all, both pieces are well worth reading.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Transcends Complex Politics of Turkey -

Monday, May 30, 2011

Can Turkey Unify the Arabs? |

If I had time, I'd write a longer comment on this evocative NYT piece. Unfortunately, all I have time for is to post a link and excerpt:
“The bread of Azaz comes from Kilis, and the bread of Kilis comes from Azaz,” said Mr. Said, whose shop sits just off a road that once carried the business of the far-flung Ottoman Empire and now marks Turkey’s limits. “We’re the same. We’re brothers. What really divides us?”

As the Arab world beyond the border struggles with the inspirations and traumas of its revolution — a new notion of citizenship colliding with the smaller claims of piety, sect and clan — something else is percolating along the old routes of that empire, which spanned three continents and lasted six centuries before Ataturk brought it to an end in 1923 with self-conscious revolutionary zeal.
The basic thrust of the piece is that old Ottoman cultural, familial, and economic ties remain in the Middle East, bolstering Turkey's project of projecting a more ambitious regional profile. Definitely worth reading.

Can Turkey Unify the Arabs? -

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Armenia to participate in Turkey-hosted seminar | PanARMENIAN.Net

On May 30-June 1, Bursa (Turkey) will host a seminar, titled “Cities Dialogue for European Enlargement and EU Neighborhood Policy” within “EUROCITIES ENP and Enlargement Working Group.” Armenia will participate in the event along with the EU member states, candidate countries and Balkan States.
Armenia to participate in Bursa-hosted seminar - PanARMENIAN.Net

(Here is the original source; a Turkish-language Armenian newspaper.)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bomb Wounds 8 in Heart of Istanbul |

I missed this item in yesterday's New York Times:
A bicycle bomb exploded in a popular shopping district in central Istanbul on Thursday, causing panic and wounding eight people, Turkish officials said.
Bomb Wounds 8 in Heart of Istanbul -
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