September 22, 2014

Joking Erdoğan and his ministers

Selçuk Gültaşlı

Weakened ties to reality are leading to a heightened sense of absurdity in Ankara's dealings with Brussels. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and many of his government ministers (completely unrelated to corruption) appear to be weakening their ties with reality more and more every day in an attempt to rescue themselves from allegations of corruption. In the meantime, the statements we are hearing, as these ties with reality weaken, seem to come off almost like jokes.

Erdoğan places an organization like TÜSİAD squarely in front of him, wipes the floor with it -- effectively hollowing it out -- and then says “let's shake hands.” The even funnier “pooled” media trumpet the good news of Erdoğan's “new Turkey,” throwing out headlines like, “Come now, let's unite and shake hands.”

When he was still the prime minister, Erdoğan declared 2014 the year of the European Union (EU) in Turkey. But of all its 12 years in power in Turkey, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration distanced itself further and faster from EU standards in 2014 than during any previous year. As perceptions of Erdoğan -- who has taken just six months to destroy the evidence of everything he's done in the past 11 years in order to cover up allegations of corruption -- become more and more absurd, it is more and more difficult for him to appear serious.

We've mentioned in the past how the predecessors of new EU Minister Volkan Bozkır -- “joking Egemen” and the “not-even-able-to-be-a-joker” Mevlut Çavuşoğlu -- didn't exactly leave remarkable reputations in Brussels. It was thus quite clear that the first visit of Bozkır -- who is meant to carry the torch of the “new Turkey” onto the scene in Europe -- to Brussels was destined to be vital in terms of its perception as “being a joke.”

What emerged after Bozkır's four-day visit was a confused photograph. His European counterparts found themselves dealing with a Turkish government minister who, unlike his predecessors, seems to take the EU goal seriously, using a more European rhetoric in his interactions. He is also perceived as being a government minister who doesn't revert to strange references to how “Europe needs us more than we need Europe,” or says, “Let's clean up the parallel state structures, and then you'll see our reforming face.” Nor does he assert conceits like, “No one can dare give us grades; we'll make our own report, and any EU report we don't like heads straight into the trash.” Not only this, but Bozkır also introduced -- right in the middle of his visit -- a new EU strategy whose choreography had been meticulously worked out.

But in the end, before he departed from Brussels, news that Bozkır had discriminated openly against Zaman and Cihan ruined the careful choreography that he had presented, strengthening the perception that everything was “like a joke.” One of Bozkır's counterparts in Brussels noted that he was quite saddened to hear of the minister's discrimination of Zaman, particularly because he had perceived the visit as having gone so well and that he seemed like a much more serious EU minister than his immediate predecessor.

As for Bozkır's discrimination of Zaman, what unfolded was this: When declaring Turkey's new EU strategy, he declared that one of the three vital elements of this strategy was “communication,” and then failed to even call the only daily newspaper representative left in Brussels to the press meeting!

“Parallel” makes its way into the new strategy document

The new 13-page document detailing Turkey's EU strategy is a really strong piece of writing. It is clear that it has flowed from the pens of master diplomats, people who definitely believe in the goal of EU membership. But while the text contains no sophistry in regards to the “struggle against the parallel structure,” it does somehow manage to include the word “parallel” twice, as in the sentence “Prepared in parallel with the Participation Partnership Document published by the EU in 2008…” and so on.

And if we are to use the words “perception and reality” as points of departure in the new strategy document, we can say that there are huge chasms -- which cannot be bridged with simple words -- between the assertions made in this document and the actual facts and events we see unfolding.

For example, a part of the strategy document says: “The EU issue belongs not only to the state; rather, at the same time, it is an issue that concerns civil society. Thus, with the understanding that the public needs information, the participatory strength of every faction of society -- including civil society organizations, think tanks, regional/local media, the business world, academics, and local municipalities -- will be boosted through specific efforts.”

As a matter of fact, however, the representative of the top-selling newspaper in Turkey was not even invited to the press conference in Brussels at which all this was announced, not to mention the fact that figures from civil society organizations with links to the Hizmet movement were absolutely not invited.

And, for example, the document says: “Due to the arena that has been developed to allow for more and more debate in Turkey over the past 12 years, the views and demands of civil society are being more and more freely enunciated these days. Thanks to the continuation of this open and transparent atmosphere of free debate, pluralistic democratic views -- which are based on the principle of equal citizenship -- get stronger and stronger every day…”

At the same time, however, discrimination itself seems to be at a height; every day, a certain faction of society is labeled by the government as being made up of “assassins,” “agents,” “traitors” and so on. But still, this government trumpets its supposed rejection of any sort of discrimination.

For example, the document also states: “The concept of citizenship, which was previously identified with responsibilities of the state is now being redefined based on the rights of individuals thanks to the EU accession process. The reforms have sealed the indispensable aspects of democracy such as transparency, accountability and participation as a part of daily life...”

But the reality is that the Court of Auditors reports are being lost in the corridors of Parliament, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) has been bestowed with unprecedented powers and the internet has fallen under state control.

Parallel laughs

There was some “parallel” mirth that occurred during Bozkır's meeting with the EU's Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, Stefan Füle. Füle, in talking about how Turkey needs to consult more with the EU in relation to certain legislation it has been trying to pass, used the word “parallel,” which led to quite some laughter from others present in the meeting hall. (We were told of this incident by one EU official we queried in regards to just how seriously the whole “parallel” thesis is being taken in Brussels.)

While the reality on the ground may be hard for Bozkır to control, the least this new EU minister can do is not support, with his own hand, any perceptions of him as a “joke.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 22 September 2014, Monday