Our Austrian correspondent ESW has compiled a report on last week’s podium discussion at the University of Vienna on the accession of Turkey to the EU. Most of her material is translated from an account by Harald Fiegl, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his careful observations of the proceedings.
Report: A Common European Future and Turkey
Podium Discussion with
Egemen BAĞIŞ, Minister for EU-Affairs and Chief Negotiator
Otmar HÖLL, Director OIIP
Cengiz GÜNAY, OIIP
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
University of Vienna
1010 Vienna, Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 1
organized by OIIP
Harald Fiegl, a member of the Akademikerbund and author of the essay “EU, Turkey, and Islam”, attended a podium discussion featuring the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, who attempted to present Turkey’s point of view with respect to his country’s accession aspirations.
Here is Harald’s assessment:
Bagis showed neither the intention of persuading the European population nor the need to forge friendships. He spoke from a position of power and considers Turkey’s full membership in the EU beyond any doubt, as a privileged partnership is out of the question.
Bagis’ arguments in favor of this position are as follows:
- Turkish contributions to European culture and way of life, such as Mozart’s Turkish March, the opera “The Abduction from the Seraglio”, and coffee; Turkey has geared its policies towards the West for the past centuries (after 1683, an army reform modeled after European armies; the term “sick man at the Bosphorus” points to Turkey’s European affiliation.
- Turkey’s military support of the West in Korea, Somalia, and Afghanistan as well as Turkey’s sacrifices.
- The EU is in need of Turkey’s young and well-educated and trained manpower.
- Turkey is crucial for European energy resources.
- Turkey as a full member raises the political strength of the EU.
- Turkey is pushing democratization.
During the question-and-answer session, Harald was able to ask the following questions:
1. How do the following examples prove “Turkish Europeanness”?
PM Erdogan’s speech in Cologne and the issuing of ultimatums in EU/Turkey negotiations.
Reply: Erdogan only told Turks living in Germany to learn German.
Why did Turkey take the lead in the Islamic World in the cases of the Mohammed cartoon crisis and nomination of the new NATO Secretary General?
Reply: We respect freedom of speech, but we do not respect insulting religion.
For sake of good relations of NATO with Islamic World Turkey objected to Rasmussen. We do not want to put at risk the life of western soldiers. In Ankara we had iftar together and Rasmussen expressed respect for Islam.
2. During a private conversation, Harald asked even more questions, such as:
During the course of democratization, will Turkey dismantle the Diyanet (religious authority)?
Reply: No, as this would be an act of revolution.
By the military?
Reply: No, by the supreme court.
Bagis adds that he himself has already been indicted, he knows how the Turkish justice systems operates.
3. Other questions from the audience:
– – – – – – – – –
Turkey uses its water to act as a political strongman vis-à-vis Syria.
Reply: This has been sorted out with Syria and there will be investments made in the area.
Parties with less than ten percent of the vote cannot sit in parliament, which is not very democratic.
No clear answer.
Will the democratization process end the influence of the military?
Reply: The military is in favor of EU accession.
Religious minorities have no rights in Turkey.
Reply: We are making progress.
In an interview with the Austrian newspaper Kurier (print edition, Sept.3, 2009, page 5) (www.kurier.at), Bagis added, in response to the interviewer’s question regarding the population’s skepticism, “The most important factor is time. Europe’s challenges are rising: energy supply, an aging populace, climate change, the lack of new markets, the struggle against migrants (immigrants), drug dealers, and terrorists. At the end of the day, the EU needs Turkey more than vice versa.”
Bagis also explained that “Turkey is currently working on a new communications strategy, especially geared towards Austria (whose citizens are extremely critical of Turkey’s accession plans). One thing is for certain: We do not want to burden the EU; we want to be part of the EU to solve problems.”
To explain these statements, here an excerpt from Harald’s essay on Turkey:
Turkey’s Janus-faced relations with Europe and the EU — there was never a Turkish Europeanness and there never will be a Turkish Europeanness.
Turkey is a regional power with a specific foreign policy and foreign intervention doctrine, which enables it to counter the divided EU foreign policy with great power. It has only its own interests in mind; EU interests are not considered or are even actively worked against. In line with this foreign policy opportunism, the thrust of its foreign policy is not only aimed at the EU or Europe, but also the Islamic and central Asian regions.
There is no shortage of military interventions to enforce its foreign policy objectives. Approximately 30,000 Turkish soldiers have been stationed in Cyprus since 1974, although the reason for intervention (the fall of the Greek military regime) has been eliminated. Military interventions in northern Iraq are also part of the intervention doctrine. Turkey intervenes in order to enforce its interests; if a military intervention is not feasible, Turkey uses any means of considerable political and economic pressure. This includes diplomatic activities in the U.S. and the EU with respect to the Armenian genocide and the Kurdish PKK. Turkish interventions against the nomination of former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO secretary-general remain in fresh memory. Not freedom of expression, but Muslim sensitivities were important for Turkey.
Anti-Western sentiments from Turkey are no surprise. In the framework of the OIC, where the secretary-general is a Turk, Turkey acts as an important spokesman in the battle of Islam with the West. This was the case in the cartoon controversy, as it is now with the current efforts of the OIC to subordinate the UN Human Rights Declaration of 1948 to sharia law. This notion aims at subduing criticism regarding the Islamic view on human rights.
Turkey has a constitution incompatible with that of the EU because political life and religion are under the influence of the military. The right to exercise religious beliefs and the right to belong to a religious group are not in the individual’s sphere as it is in the western world.
The religious authority, the Diyanet, regulates the religious life of Sunni Islam, the confession of the majority of the population. Other beliefs are disadvantaged. The once-thriving Christian minority has been reduced to numerical insignificance. Even 20 million Alevis, who are considered Muslim, are impeded by the Sunni majority from practicing their religion.
The Diyanet appoints imams and sends them to countries with Turkish populations and with populations of Turkish descent, for example to Germany and Austria. There are local Diyanet representations in both countries fostering religious and national ties with Turkey, but not mandating integration efforts into the host society. In Austria, the Diyanet is represented by ATIB. Turkish secularism is imposed from above, not grown from the bottom up like Western secularism. The comparison with French laicism is misleading.
The founder of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Atatürk, established the separation of religion and state about eighty years ago, with the military being the guarantor of the secular state and the overseer of everything from religious life to the banning of political parties. Despite all of Kemalism’s control, its efforts to inculcate secularism in the population have failed. Even today there are still two antagonistic groups: the religious population in rural areas, including migrants to the cities, and the diminishing group of western-oriented people in the cities.
One reason for concern is the failure of the Turkish constitutional court: the judges could not agree on the banning of the ruling party and the banning of the prime minister, and the head of state as well as other politicians from politics as such due to disrespect of principles of Turkish laicism. For all intents and purposes, Turkey finds itself in a clash of cultural beliefs. The headscarf has been and remains a highly explosive ideological matter. In twisting the facts, the EU supports the Islamic side.
The “moderate Islamist” government is step by step leading Turkey towards the establishment of an Islamic state, and is currently completing the necessary ideological reorientation within the state’s administrative system.
The Turkish constitution provides not only for the special roles of military and religious authority, but also for a religious-ethnic centralized state. Consequently, Turkey’s constitution recognizes no ethnic minorities, such as the twelve million Kurds living within its borders.
In accordance with this centralized state, a striking nationalism in Turkey lives protected by penal code provisions (prohibition of insulting Turkishness, no criticism of the official position towards the Armenian genocide and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus). The omnipresent Atatürk images and statues testify to this nationalism together with the national motto — visible almost everywhere — “If you’re a Turk, you’re happy”. In addition to Islam, this nationalism offers an explanation for the lack of readiness for integration and the capabilities of the Turks in Europe.
A shocking demonstration of this religious-nationalist attitude is the murder of the employees of a Bible-printing press in Malatya in 2007. The perpetrators justified this act as a fight against the enemies of the faith and the Turkish nation. Then German socialist MEP Vural Öger, of Turkish descent, poured oil on the fire when he declared that the EU was responsible for this criminal act because of the pressure applied on the Turkish legislature to institute reforms.
Bringing the Turkish constitution into line with EU principles would entail the destruction of both pillars of the Turkish constitution and would thus put an end to Atatürk’s Turkey. In addition, it can be seen in all clarity that the EU will either accept a de facto military dictatorship or an Islamic state within its ranks provided the “negotiations” with the EU continue to proceed at the same pace. In any case, the EU will remain the pawn of Turkish politics.
Turkeys ploughs its way into the European Union. It bullies concessions and does not show any willingness to fulfill accession criteria. It follows its well-established negotiation tactics: wooing — being offended — threatening.
It wants a Turkish Europe, as clearly expressed by the Turkish prime minister, during his recent appearance in Cologne.
Reason becomes nonsense, benefits turn into menace.