Maybe Turkey isn’t fit for Europe after all. And maybe, Europe isn’t fit for Turkey either. Many Europeans have long been hostile to Turkey’s bid for accession to the EU, while many Turks have always seen EU membership as central to the country’s future. Now the hostility is mutual.
As the EU bumbles from crisis to crisis, Turkey’s economy has grown tremendously, leaving many Turks no longer seeing the need for European integration. Despite the global downturn, Turkey’s GDP remains on pace to increase this year by a startling 8 per-cent. Long shunned by Europe, Turkey now thrives without the crushing debt of the eurozone. This newfound prosperity has delivered confidence and bravado. The Turks are reveling in the schadenfreude and who can blame them?
While the Bosphorus is not getting any wider, it’s clear that Turkey and Europe are moving farther apart. France looks likely to pass legislation that would criminally punish any person convicted of denying the existence of the early 20th century’s Armenian genocide. Turkey continues to reject its role in the mass murder and deportation of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Armenians. Ever defiant, Turkish President Abdullah Gul referred to the proposed law as being based on “unfair and groundless accusations.” Turkey has threatened to cut off diplomatic ties with France and a boycott of French businesses remains a distinct possibility. The upcoming vote in the French parliament will be a telling sign of Turkish influence in Europe.
Turkey’s response to proposed French law comes on the heels of the arrest of roughly 40 journalists throughout the country on suspicion of terrorism. The ruling Justice and Development Party is looking to eliminate any dissent, particularly any media outlets willing to give voice to the country’s Kurdish minority. Many sources are now claiming that Turkey, not China or Iran, has the most imprisoned journalists in the world. Brussels has long advocated for greater freedom of speech in Turkey, yet the Turks continue to ignore the demands of the EU. One thing is clear; the EU isn’t necessarily the future anymore.
The Turks’ bitter retort to the French and the recent clampdown on journalists is not just about stifling public criticism. These moves reflect the greater desire to construct a new narrative for modern Turkey. It is a narrative that ignores the sins of the past and the criticisms of the present, while elevating the accomplishments of the current government. Modern Turkey, so the story goes, is self-made (despite the incredible amount of foreign investment). She carved her own path to prosperity sans the EU. She prospers while around her Europe toils and the Middle East implodes.
Consolidating power via censorship does not endear Turkey to the liberal democracies of the world. Nor does it help Turkey portray itself as one of that number. But with the Turkish public getting wealthier and the West needing an ally in an otherwise unstable region, the misdeeds of Turkey’s government will be tolerated into the foreseeable future.