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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The EU, the Kurdish question, and democratic reforms

Arboga - a small Swedish town an hour and half outside Stockholm is passing outside the train windows. I am on my way back from having commented on a draft Doctoral thesis on Kurdish ethnopolitical mobilization in Turkey, at Örebro University.

In Swedish, the discussant is called the "opponent" but I hope that I wasn't very hostile. In fact, there were a lot of interesting material in the thesis that got me thinking.

Among other things, the interviews that the author had conducted with pro-kurdish elite activists in parties, media organizations, unions and other civil society organizations, showed how important the EU has been for the Turkish reform process. Most of the interviewees appeared to credit the EU for the (limited but yet) opening up of political space that most of the respondents had noticed by 2005.

But they also faulted the union for its lack of involvement in the question of minority rights and the situation of Kurds in the years before 2008, when the study ended. And the danger is clear that this is set to continue.

The lingering Eurozone troubles, the problematic aftermath of the Gezi Park demonstrations, and now the interpretation given to the Egyptian crisis by the dominant AKP leaders, all of these are reason for concern regarding the EU's continued "normative power"to propel a continued Turkish reform process.

Some of this is the AKP leadership's own fault (especially with respect to the state of the independence of media and the harsh response to the Gezi protests). Some of it - arguably the tragic developments in Egypt and Syria (pace the conspiratorial interpretations emanating from Ankara) - is largely out of the hands of both the EU and Turkey.

But the almost impressive mismanagement in the EU's response to the Great Recession can be blamed on no one else. And the decreasing credibility with which the union has been able to present itself as a fair adjudicator of developments in Turkey has to do with the fact that it has opened itself up to the accusation of having hidden culturalist or religious standards when judging Turkey. And the same reason undermines the credibility with the which it can put forth a full membership offer as an incentive for reform.

That's a real shame. The important post-Gezi lesson for the EU that I draw from the thesis I just read, is that failure to credibly engage is not a strategy that is likely to boost democratic reforms in Turkey.

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