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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 -
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