The latest wave of media arrests has shown, again, that there are no limits to the campaign of revenge waged by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his lackeys in the government, the judiciary and the media. All those who dare to stand up and protest against the suffocating authoritarianism of the current rulers are targeted. Last weekend, this newspaper and other media linked to the Hizmet movement were the victims. Today, Beşiktaş fans are in court, facing long prison sentences. Nobody knows who will be next.
Amidst all the anger, frustration and fear about this repression, the good thing is a growing belief across ideological and political borders that this constant intimidation will only stop when all those affected unite against the threat of indiscriminate arrests and arbitrary accusations. In the past, every group or community in this country only protested when its own members were involved and could not care less (or even applauded) when others were harassed and treated badly. That is why it was so promising to see last Sunday that even journalists and columnists who strongly disagreed with Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı in the past went public and called his arrest unacceptable. It seems that for the first time, there is a widely shared understanding that every Turkish citizen is entitled to the same human rights and dignity, independent of his or her political or religious beliefs. We can only hope this willingness to defend everybody's undeniable rights at all times will spread further and will allow a united opposition to counteract the undemocratic actions of the present power elite in an effective manner on all levels. It is the only way forward domestically.
But what about at the European level? What should the repercussions for Turkey be when its government acts, in the words of EU foreign affairs supremo Federica Mogherini, "against European values." Erdoğan immediately called on the EU to mind its own business and said he does not care whether the EU accepts Turkey as a member or not. I am sure that blunt rejection plays into the hands of those European politicians who were always against Turkey's accession and now see a golden opportunity to stop negotiations once and for all. That is not going to happen for reasons I have mentioned before: The EU simply needs Turkey for other, strategic reasons (Syria, Russia, Ukraine, European jihadists, energy).
There are, however, two other possible scenarios that are being discussed in Europe. One is cutting the European funds spent in Turkey to help the country prepare for membership. We are talking about 625 million euros annually for the next six years. That would indeed be a highly symbolic penalty for Turkey straying from the path of democracy. The problem is that, by withholding that money, the EU would not be punishing the president or the government. Those affected would be the unemployed women, small businesses and anti-torture activists now benefitting from these European subsidies.
The other option under debate is the suspension of the negotiations. Some advocates of that drastic measure want to use the temporary stop of official talks to put pressure on Ankara to change policies and return to the reform path of the earlier Justice and Development Party (AKP) years. Others present it as the best way out of negotiations that are, in the words of disillusioned former member of the European Parliament (EP) and supporter of Turkish membership, Andrew Duff, "at best useless and at worst fraudulent." Duff wants Turkey and the EU to sit down and reflect honestly about what kind of partnership would be in the long-term interests of both.
Whatever the motivation of the suspension supporters, the problem with that solution is two-fold. Once interrupted, I can't see how the talks will ever be restarted, knowing the divisions within the EU. There will always be one member state that finds a reason to object to a new beginning, even if Turkey were to comply with all the EU demands.
My biggest problem is with the suggestion to stop now for good and start thinking about something else. Who would suffer most from such a radical rupture? Not Erdoğan or Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. It would be all those fighting for more democracy in Turkey who still believe that it is better to have the EU on their side instead of being left out in the cold. As long as Kurds, Alevis, Gülenists and Gezi supporters still feel that the EU can help them achieve their goals -- even if that influence has decreased substantially over the years -- pulling the plug now does not seem to be such a good idea. It would satisfy the frustrations of many European (former) friends of Turkey but it would not be helpful at all for an opposition that is finally uniting and is looking for moral and political support from Europe.
Published on Today's Zaman, 16 December 2014, Tuesday