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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
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