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Friday, January 03, 2003

Our Opinion

Learning European

Reading the Greek press can sometimes be an exercise in parapsychology. Last month, for example, the announcement in Copenhagen of the long-awaited and, as it turned out, eminently successful expansion of the European Union, which included Cyprus, was received by the Greek media by a flow of baffling emotions, commencing with surprise and concluding with satisfaction and relief. We have no idea why. Anyone who was in any way sensate had known for months that there was no real possibility of Cypriot exclusion from the enlargement. What was particularly strange was the evident shock on the part of the Greek press at its government’s success in securing Cypriot accession to the EU without final resolution of the island’s division and occupation.

Sadly, the only ones surprised any longer by their government’s effectiveness are the Greeks themselves, who, in a psychologically revealing way, automatically (and masochistically) expect it to fail under all circumstances. Outside Greece, of course, the expectation is fundamentally different. The extraordinarily positive commentary that the country has received recently from the Western press (The Economist, Financial Times, and New York Times, among others) merely confirms that there’s nothing out of the ordinary in the Simitis government’s successful management of Cypriot entry into the EU. Quite the opposite; Greece’s international interlocutors now expect efficiency and results as a matter of course. The Greek prime minister’s sober and consistent economic, social, and foreign policies have become hallmarks of a tenure that has elevated the country to a level that many of us thought we’d never see. It is well past time for Greeks finally to wake up and smell the Nescafe.

Or the Turkish coffee, as the case may be. And, speaking of what Europeans once sagely referred to as Turkey-in-Europe (although many of them now seem to have suppressed that wisdom from their consciousness), it is clear that Turks, too, have some rethinking to do. While inviting Cyprus to join the European community was perceived as a “Greek” success, the EU’s manifest refusal to be blackmailed into setting a date for negotiations on Turkish accession was widely interpreted as a defeat for the country and its leaders. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The Turkish government’s initial reaction ranged from bitter anger to kneejerk accusations of European racism to, most ridiculously, threats to “turn its back” on Europe (and do what? embrace Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan?); within literally a matter of hours, however, wisdom prevailed over resentment and acrimony. Indeed, most of the country’s citizens were infinitely more sanguine – and sophisticated – in their response than their government, since they saw the ostensible European “rejection” for what it was in fact: a tremendous opportunity for Turkey to shed the Kemalist burdens of the previous century and, at last, embark upon a genuinely democratic and liberal constitutional course. Indeed, most Turks understood that Europe was fighting for them, refusing to yield to meaningless rhetoric and demanding full and consolidated constitutional and democratic reform before ultimately approving Turkey’s accession to the EU (and its return to Europe).

Our readers know that fully supports Turkish entry into the European Union, and totally opposes that peculiar and groundless Greek obduracy that is willfully blind to the Greek advantages of Turkish accession. (One would think that Cyprus’s successful entry into the EU – despite all of Rauf Denktash’s rantings, dismal dictatorial machinations, and wretched threats – would have finally made the point as to how Greek interests are genuinely furthered.) Nonetheless, we have also consistently pointed out how important it is for Turkey to prove to Europe that it is a part of it.

That task obviously falls most heavily now on the shoulders of the country’s prime-minister-in-waiting, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr. Erdogan truly has a historic opportunity to undo all the constitutional havoc – “guided” democracy, suppression of minorities, ostensible constitutionalism tied to actual military control of government and society, and a thousand and one contradictions, constraints, and capitulations to authoritarianism masquerading as modernity – with which Mustafa Kemal burdened his unfortunate country. Luckily again, most Turks understand the truth of the moment: that their country has been granted a singular, definitive opportunity to finally embrace democratic values, to guarantee, for the first time in its history and forever, the human and civil rights of all its citizens, and to reasonably anticipate achieving a level of social coherence, security, and dignity that is one of the critical definitions of “Europe” and distinguishes it from the rest of the globe.

Mr. Erdogan, however, must also confirm in deeds his words that Turkey is a part of a common European culture and heritage. We politely suggest that the problem that many Europeans have with Turkey is not that it is an Islamic country, but that it appears to be only an Islamic country. Consequently, until it is patently obvious to the rest of us that Darwin, Marx, or Freud are taken as seriously in Istanbul (and in Anatolia) as Muhammad, we will not be convinced that the intellectual, cultural, or, most of all, moral climate in Turkey has changed in any meaningful or permanent way.

These three dead European males are not accidental emblems, by the way; each in his own way defines the very best of European identity, of what it means to be a European, of what constitutes Europe, not as a geographical entity but as a human and civil and social one. We disagree respectfully, but most strongly, therefore, with the Pope – and agree just as strongly with Mr. Erdogan – that it is not a specific religious practice that has defined Europe but, rather, Europe that has defined, in the last 400 years especially, how any genuinely humane religion should be practiced.

One last point, apropos of a country that although it shares no borders with Europe, believes it has the right to determine them, and on which Turkey unfortunately has relied too much in the last few decades. It was clear in Copenhagen that Europeans had no intention of being lectured to by the United States on what is or is not Europe. The current rejection of Turkey was, as such, also a clear and important rebuff of the Bush administration, which had campaigned intensely for months on Turkey’s behalf. The European Union’s stance is an unmistakable message to the US that Europe’s borders – and identity in general – will be determined by Europe, thank you very much.

Turkey should heed this message, and realize from this point onward that when it wants to negotiate with Europe, bringing along Big Brother to strong-arm the hesitant or the unconvinced only guarantees that everybody will walk out in disgust and chagrin. As for the US, Europe’s attitude is transparent: We know who we are, and what we are about. Copenhagen might well have been the first step toward a different direction in the global geopolitical landscape: a gradual shift from the so-called clash of civilizations between East and West to a pacific and amicable but nevertheless unambiguous settling of accounts within the West itself between a united Europe and its erstwhile “North Atlantic” partner. For Europe at least – which means, by definition, for Greece – 2003 began auspiciously. Stay tuned; now is when it starts getting interesting.

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