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Michael Moszczynski's Weblog
The War of the Turkish Accession 23.VI.2006 11:12
As many have stated, the European Union's greatest success has been the continuing transformation of post-communist states of Eastern Europe into functional democracies. I can attest to this first-hand: all the ways in which living standards in Poland have improved directly parallel the Copenhagen criteria, the EU's name for its membership requirements - whereas Ukraine, whose economy was actually stronger in the early 1990s, has seen its quality of life fall far below Poland's, due to factors which the Copenhagen criteria would not have allowed. Nowadays, however, there is resistance to further enlargement - by next year, all the satellite nations of the Warsaw Pact will be members, and while several Balkan countries will probably win accession after that, the real challenge is Turkey - massive, Islamic, Asiatic and poor, and many anti-Turkish voices are growing louder and louder. This is unfortunate, because denying Turkey accession is one of the biggest mistakes the European Union could make.

One of the problems is that Europeans misunderstand the choice they are facing: they think it's between havivng Turkey as a member and having Turkey as a quiet supplicant you can string along. This is not what will happen, especially with religious parties becoming stronger as real democracy grows deeper roots (yes, popular support actually is behind Islamic parties). The choice is between having Turkey in Europe or Turkey aligned with the Muslim block, where forces are religious rather than secular. It was the same with Poland - the choices were between aligning with Russia and aligning with the European Union, and the choice wound up for the best. Accepting Turkey will cause problems, but if Austrian politicians think that they can reject Turkish membership and then never have to think about the country again, they're very mistaken.

Moreover, Turkish accession would actually help the opposition's main concern, namely Muslim immigration and integration, perhaps not in the short term, but in the long. While Germany and Austria's immigrant groups are largely Turkish, this is not true of countries like France, whose immigrants come from the former French colonies in the Maghreb, or England, whose come from those in the Indian subcontinent. These people are seeking better lives, especially for their children, and they see Europe as the place where this is most possible, and will continue to do so however many abstract barriers politicians erect. But what if there were a Muslim country that offered the economic possibilities of the European Union, but with a familiar (though modern) Islamic culture?

This is the real dream of Turkish membership, both for Turks and Europeans: not that Turkish citizens should move freely to Western Europe, but that they should have no economic reason to do so. Europe would benefit by having a buffer between it and the Islamic world it fears so much, as an Egyptian seeking an escape from poverty would be more likely to move to nearby Istanbul than distant Paris. There is a fear that poor Turks would flood the European job market, but this concern is also overblown: Turkish poverty is disproportionately weighted to the Eastern provinces and Kurdestan, and if cities like Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara could reach near-European levels, it is to here that the Turkish poor would flood.

Moreover, I have never heard anything more ludicrous than the European job worries, best exemplified by France's 'Polish plumber' fears - because at that time France was facing a shortage of plumbers. Europeans are so unrealistic about jobs - they think that jobs should all be secure, high paying and rewarding, don't want to do the jobs that aren't but don't want immigrants to have them either. Moreover (as England's experiences have shown), most Eastern Europeans who take low paying jobs try to gain jobs in business and then return home with those skills - the English market is far from flooded by them. If Turks in Germany had the prospect of being just as successful in Istanbul as in Berlin, the Germans would probably get the 'purer', more European German nation many would like.

One of Turkey's problems is that it is a victim of its own success, having struggled to be recognised as a part of European for four centuries. By and large, people in the West judge OECD nations by one set of standards, and various parts of the developing world, such as Islamic nations, by another. Turkey is judged by a mix of these, and to its greatest disadvantage. If any other majority-Muslim nation in the world achieved the living conditions of modern Turkey, it would be hailed as one of the great success stories of the developing world - but Turkey, judged in this respect by European standards, is seen as a failure. However, when looking at aspects such as religiosity and free speech, the government is dismissed as another Islamic nation keen to repress the secular as stifle modernity. Of course, Turkey merits harsh judgement in many areas - but the lack of consistency makes it seem much worse than it actually is.

In fact, at the moment, Turkey's political situation resembles Poland's in many respects. Turkey's ruling party is the Islamically oriented Justice and Development Party, which has stated that it is committed to European accession. In poland, there is the Law and Justice Party, which has similar Catholic roots. However, its ruling coalition consists of one moronic populist party, and a far-right party whose conservatism is roughly on par with Jerry Falwell's, and whose youth wing bears striking similarities to the Hitlerjugend and who carry placards like 'God hates fags' at events like the 'normality parade', a counter-protest against Warsaw gay pride. Turkey's far more institutionalised secularism probably makes it less of a threat to European liberalism than Poland's Catholics.

The biggest criticism made of Turkey is over free speech, which is admittedly horrendous there, and the biggest blot on Turkey's record of success. Turkey's free speech laws, however, are largely geared towards protecting the government and national identity, and they are typical of many countries in the stage just below true Liberal democracies - Turkey's press is much freer than that of any other Muslim nation. Moreover, a noted (though much reviled) Polish commentator, Jerzy Urban was convicted of insulting John Paul II for comments he made in a satirical magazine - he was fined a large amount, but the prosecution had asked for 10 years in jail. Turkish free speech violation mostly pertain to the Armenian genocide, which is admittedly horrible - but can you imagine if a Turkish columnist were prosecuted for insulting the Ayatollah Khomeini? The West would be in an instant uproar, and Turkish accession would be sure to fail. Turkey is forced to be judged by European standards for so many things, but its mistakes are not overlooked as Europeans' are. All that being said, Turkey is still at a lower stage of development than Poland is - but criticisms of it must be looked at with the knowledge that the overriding consideration are not the violations themselves, but the perception of Turkey as other than European.

In the aftermath of World War I, Kemal Ataturk founded the modern, secular Turkey on top of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, and he is surely the equal of the America's founding fathers - the state he founded was nowhere near as developed, of course, but the leap it made was just as long. In fact, Turkey's faults are largely secular, not Islamic ones - nationalism and territorial claims that aren't unfamiliar for many developed countries. The uninformed in the west just assume that, as in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, Islamists or dictators are curbing free speech, but rather it is fossilised, secular institutions, especially the military (whose influence on politics is another huge problem for Turkey) trying to resist threats to their hold on power, be it from the popular Islamic parties or from a decrease in faith in the government as the blots on Turkish history become known - especially the Armenian genocide. However, Turkey is very much a unique state with unique tensions, and should not be treated as one treats other Islamic countries - unless it becomes one as Europe denies itself as an ally.

Turkish accession, in the short-term aftermath, would be very difficult for Europe - its population exceeds that of all 10 countries which acceded in 2004 combined, and it is at a lower level of development than they were, so the initial population outflow would be into the EU. However, the whole reason EU enlargement is a success is because it slowly but surely improves conditions in its poorer countries - look at the rousing successes of Ireland or Spain or Estonia. Moreover, we are already seeing signs of the darker alternate path, as Turkey's government, becoming more cynical about its prospects for ever joining the EU, has seeked to pursue reform with anywhere near the zeal it used to. People believe Prime Minister Erdogan is betraying his promises, but he is in fact just being more pragmatic - why obey the standards of a club that may never let you in? His policies, while in many cases incompatible with liberal democracy, do reflect popular will. The European Union faces a tremendous opportunity to give help create a successful, modern Muslim state of the kind neo-conservatives foolishly hoped Iraq could become, and not only is it on the path to rejecting this opportunity, there is no serious discussion of the consequences that will follow if it does. Turkey is far from perfect, but the progress it has made in the last century is remarkable - and the European Union should foster that progress to not only the Turkey's, but also its own. If it doesn't, Ataturk's dream of a modern state in Anatolia may die.
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