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Brussels-Istanbul, the Europe from another perspective

Jacopo Franchi & Cansu Ekmekcioglu

I remember just the beginning of the conversation, during my last night in Brussels. I was there for a reportage with three journalists, from Belgrade, Sarajevo and Istanbul, for Cafebabel. One of the journalists was Cansu, a 25-year-old Turkish girl who was doing her master degree on political sciences and digital media at Galatasaray University. I was very impressed by her enthusiasm for the new adventure in Europe.

She seemed to have a special feeling to understand all the littles differences that compose the European society. And she could speak about Europe and our difficulties as an Italian or a Belgium or a French can do. She seemed to have lived in one metropolis of the EU since her birth. I was very interested in understanding how the European system could appear from another society. A society that for 25 years has been waiting for an answer to his application to access the European Union.

europe from another perspective

I remembered this conversation some day after my return to Italy, when I read on the daily newspaper La Repubblica the editorial of the writer Orhan Pamuk (Com’è triste l’Europa vista da Istanbul). Mr. Pamuk wrote about the end of the “European dream” for the Turkish young generation. Mr. Pamuk said that Europe lost, in the last years, a lot of his tolerance, and its appeal in front of the populations that, in the past, wanted to join the European Union.

In fact, what does Europe represents for a 25-year-old Turkish girl, who wants to obtain a visa to enter in the community? She made a reportage – for Cafebabel – on the “brain drain” in Belgium, as an expert European journalist could do. She studies and explore a world which does not recognize her a complete access to his roads.

Mr Pamuk, take a moment and have a look on the follow letters: we are two youngsters, two little parts of this “young generation” of Turkish and Italians, that only want to be “Europeans”. Cause for us the EU is not just an economic treaty, but a new way of life and organizations for people, without precedents in the world. And we don’t want to be separated any more. That night, as many other night in my life as a globe-trotter, I thought that the border between Europe and Turkey was just an invention.

A letter from Turkey…

CANSU FOTO

Cansu Ekmekcioglu: “Throughout my entire life I have been witnessing how a generation of my fellow Turkey’s citizens patiently waiting for our country to enter the European Union and become a full member. In fact the year Turkey made the application to joing the EU is the year of my birth, 1987. Despite Turkey’s bumpy road to the EU, many still hold their hopes high and many politicians in Turkey have taken important steps to pave the way into EU.

The prospect of the EU membership has mostly constituted the political imagination of my generation, carrying some elements beyond the democratic values and civic freedoms, and gave Turkey crucial incentives to initiate democratic reforms.

In the meantime, the country has genuinely made significant attempts. The death penalty was repealed, the military’s influence on political life has diminished. To meet European Union criteria for the opening of the EU accession negotiation, the rulling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, especially during its first term in office, pushed through a series of reforms.

The limited broadcasting in Kurdish, a language that had been banned for many years, was legalized, and for the first time “the Kurdish problem” has been acknowledged. And recently the government has put forward a package that will allow defendants to use their mother tongue in Turkish courts. These examples are only few of the steps that have been taken to show that Turkey is seriously committed in to the EU.

The turning point was the accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU begun in 2005. It was seen as the very beginning of a process which could have continued with positive signs results, until Turkey’s full membership. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Despite negotiations have started, Turkey has opened only 13 out of the 33 chapters required for the full accession.

Together with the conservative signs from the leaders of the Member States, the institutional stalemate of European integration and the current Euro-zone crisis made Europe less attractive even for some Turkish liberals, who had been staunch supporters from the beginning. The 2012-report of Transatlantic Trends Survey showed that many Turks think that the EU membership “is not good thing” for the country.

Due to the candidacy fatigué at that the negotiating is going on almost for a quarter century, Turkey has started to shape a new foreign policy agenda. Now, its emerging role as a model and potential mediator in North Africa and the Middle East is telling for the EU’s neighborhood policy. Turkey is one of the 15th largest economy and the largest in the Muslim world. Its growing economy should be noticed by Brussels politicians.

Turkey’s young and dynamic population can revitalize an aging and lethargic Europe. All these opportunities are important, and the likelihood of their loss would be detrimental for the future of both Turkey and Europe.

None of the existing democracy is perfect. Yet, it should not be surprising that we couldn’t have even a modest one, if we are reluctant to cooperate. In the past decade Turkey has done much to improve its democracy. But it is a long way to meet EU criteria. In the last few years, most notably after the latest election won by AKP, it seems there is less appetite for reform.

In the 2012 EU report about Turkey’s democratic reform, Turkey praised for steps is taken in controlling military and economic grow, but it was harshly criticized for the lack of freedom of expression and the situation of the media. The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists called Turkey the largest prison for journalists. With more than 70 journalists in prison, it surpasses Iran and China in imprisoning journalist.

Independent from any national bond, as an average citizen of the global village with a basic sense of democracy, laws and human rights should be concerned about arbitrary detention of journalists or political activists.

On the other hand, we should be concerned about, for example, Italian media too, which has been downgraded to “Partly Free” according to the latest report by Freedom House.

We should try to detect and oppose any police violence in Athens, in Barcelona, in London, and in Istanbul, too.  At the end of the day, we should be thankful to the EU for its democratic values, but should not be satisfied with those standards, if they fail to appreciate the equality for all people.

Today Turkey is still the only EU candidate country without a visa-free travel regime with the Union. Visa liberalization is the most critical issue in enhancing Turkey-EU relations, because it has direct consequences on the daily life of many Turks.

If any prudent European politician who is foresighted enough wants to overcome Euro-skepticism in Turkey, she should convince her conservative colleagues to implement the necessary regulations.

Borders are not something to understand only when you leave a country, but they appear as an imaginary faultlines in your mind after spending several hours in those queues.

It is time to drop the line that Turkey is, somehow, alien to Europe. No need for an empty rhetoric. It is time to abandon our prejudices. As nicely putted by Italian academic, prof. Izzo, in the ground-breaking documentary on Global Civics pronounced this nice statement “we belong to the same community and we are bound to the same fate”.

Un grazie a Valentina Illica Magnani ed Elisa Buzzi, per le loro “bacchettate” salutari al mio inglese da globe-trotter.

Foto nel testo: © Cansu Ekmekcioglu.

2 Comments »

  1. No need for an empty rhetoric, right. So, pragmatic point of view. I humbly point out that we’re still paying the price of a hasty enlargement policy: just remember Romania and Bulgaria, “second class members” that were allowed to join the Union but still have a long way to go for the access in the Schengen Zone.“At the moment, it is clear that there are still significant shortcomings in the field of anticorruption and the fight against organized crime.” – so spoke the Dutch interior minister last year. EU has lost a massive chunk of its credibility in this quagmire, and man, if Romania and Bulgaria could pose such a problem, let alone a nation with twice the population of the two combined, with all the problems that could be faced by a relatively new democratic state (corruption and organize crime just don’t come out of nowhere – they are often a result of a lack of transparent democracy and rule of law). To be fair, just to point out that I’m not biased: I’m not comparing Turkey with Romania and Bulgaria. Turkey boasts an higher place in the Global Corruption Index (higher, alas, than Italy too..) than the former two, the crime rate is somehow lower than that of the US; these could be minor problems. This goes only to show how certain problems should be solved before, not after, the accession of a member: a simple advice, but fundamental if we expect the enlargement process to be fruitfully and effective for both the parts – not a potentially dangerous, masochistic bumpy ride. And, speaking of practical problems, we’re talking about a nation whose porous borders are crossed by some thousands immigrants every year, funneled here from all over Asia and Middle East to taste “the European dream”. I only report this http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/world/europe/illegal-immigrants-slip-into-europe-by-way-of-greek-border.html to show what such a phenomenon means for our oriental frontier, a few kilometers in the Greek territory (where, right now, a wall is being built), and what could mean this new membership. Thousands of immigrants stuck in Turkey waiting for a papier that will never arrive, growing racial and internal tensions: Golden Dawn, with its racist and anti-EU feeling, doesn’t come out of nowhere – and Turkish extreme nationalism, sorry to remind that, is far more dangerous and consolidated. Go and tell them “borders are imaginary”. By the same token, these internal tensions will bring to pressure to reform all the existing European laws to face such a sudden change, and the last thing EU needs is another phase of political tension with one of its member. We’re still facing problem because of the cultural diversity between ‘the continent’ and England, let alone an Islamic, Asian nation (geography is not an opinion, 97% of Anatolian territory is not European) – nation that, incidentally, would then become the most populous member of the Union. Are we ready for this, are they ready for this? And, to be short and for the lack of decisive economic knowledge, I will omit other economical issues. Only a question: the Anatolian peninsula is all but rich and almost exclusively agricultural; in this sector works 30% of the Turkish working force. For anyone who has a little knowledge of what lies behind the CAP, or the Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund, what could this operation bring about, especially when we’re stuck in a debate about shrinking the communitarian balance?
    Speaking of idealism, that seems to be the only aspect you’re interested to (sorry Jacopo), I will only report something to chew on, with a little help from Google: Turkey occupation of Cyprus (a EU member!), Article 301, extra-judicial executions, honor killing in the Eastern regions, the murky role of the Army in internal affairs and, sorry but this is a topic which I’m deeply in, the unacceptable shame of a genocide, at the very base of the modern Turkish nation, whose recognition is prohibited by law, in the name of a extremist nationalism who still enjoys a broad support in the highest government bodies. This is not the Europe I bear in mind.
    To cap it off: I unfortunately am not a “globetrotter”, but I feel myself a “young European” too and I’m proud of it, I’m all but racist and I do not have any personal resentment towards the young, clever Turkish people such as your friend and her companions. But, that’s because of my europeism that I think we’ve already too much problems to solve – without venturing in other hasty operations. Turkish is not ready for EU, EU is not ready for Turkey: sorry for that. It could be an important partner for us (how about shaping a strong Mediterranean partnership? we need it, and Italy and Turkey could play a key role), but rationally I think the accession is something nobody needs.
    Idealism is fantastic, but idealism alone is one of the most dangerous things. And we can not afford that. Not now.

    "Mi piace"

  2. Thank you for your message. A different opinion is more interesting than an hundred that say “yes” with the head, but after they hide the time to do something is coming.

    We can all play with the statistics. And we want to be seen as pragmatics men. As the idealism was a play for kids, and not the great motor that involve people to work for the EEC and the EU for more than fifty years. Because only a great, infinity and unrestrained idealism made the European Union possible.

    The economical side is just one part. But in the last years of crisis we seemed to have forgotten that.
    And now, with all the problems that we have, in a global world, shall we really think that the solution is in our borders? And to slam the door in face of someone who follow the european dream, after doing one thousand of miles to catch up with it? We have to be afraid of the nationalism of Golden Dawn? What their nationalism have more, than the North League of Italy (at the goverment with Berlusconi) doesn’t have?

    If we want to stay on the economic level, I’ll give you some other statistics: Turkish GDP has growth of +8,5% in 2011, + 3,4, +3 and +1,6 in the first three quarter of 2012. Statistics say that Turkey doesn’t need of our help. On the contrary, it will be useful for us a country who has a middle age of the population 11 years under of ours. But on the economical aspects I prefer to listen someone who is more expert than me. The numbers are not all: without the black economy, Italy could be declared as “failed” tomorrow.

    Turkey is good for us when we need his army, as the second big in the Nato. When we need his help to control the terrorism, or to host the Syrian rebel army. For all the rest, you want to ignore it. The message that me and Cansu would give is in this letter is that there is a different perspective to think about Europe. That statistics, number, reports can’t describe all the reality. Cause if is it, we have to expel Spain and Greece. And Italy too, with our statics of corruption (and we have not excuse, we’re not a young democracy).

    If Europe doesn’t disintegrate, in spite of this statistics from mr. Google, I suppose that there is a stronger idea behind it. The only that can justify this complicated european machine. The economic treaty does not resist so longtime.

    The idea is that borders can’t be another wall between people who don’t know each other. (we’re just so far, why we have to be separated one more time?) and that everyone has something to learn from the others. And that in a global and complicated society, it is a suicide to be isolated e concentrated only on the internal problems. It’s the idea of the Erasmus programme: the youngsters, who will build the society of tomorrow, have to have the possibility to meet themselves, without any restrictions. And start to know each other. It’s the only method to avoid the conflicts.

    We are not able to ask a complete access of the Turkey to the Eu. We just want to have the possibility to travel free, from one country to the other. If we are interested in. Why Cansu has to ask for a Visa, being subjucated by humiliating controls, if she wants to come to the Eu? We are more european than her? Yes, but just if we consider the Europe as a country just more big than the others. And forgive all the melting pot of cultures, religions, histories, languages that from thousands of years have built this part of the world. The Europe is not a continent, is an idea in becoming.

    With statics we can do business, partnerships, but we can’t imagine a better world. If you read Cansu’s letter in another time, you will discover that her point of view is more disinterested than the analysis of a lot of journalists and opinion-makers. And she can reveal to us a lot of problems and lack of our society – as we do all the time with Turkey, and all the people that are not as democratic as we are – and give us some suggestions to solve it.

    If you want, we can go together in Turkey, and see the reality with our eyes. Cansu and her friends will be happy of that.

    "Mi piace"

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