Monday is a dramatic and important moment in recent European history as Oct. 3 marks the day on which the EU is to begin discussions of Turkey's membership in the European Union.  --  Many fear that a failure of Europe to rise to the occasion will appear, in retrospect, as a missed opportunity to avert the "clash of civilizations," a bogus notion invented a generation ago that is now threatening to become a 21st-century reality thanks to the Bush administration's catastrophically bad handling of the aftermath of 9/11.  --  London's Financial Times reports that "Ankara says it will not attend [Monday's] ceremony to mark the opening of its accession process if the bloc's foreign ministers, who were meeting on Sunday night to address the issue, step back from their commitment to full membership."[1]  --  In an historical commentary, Prof. Mark Mazower of Columbia University observes that many of the high-minded objections posed by Europeans have little substance in reality.[2]  --  In its leader, the Financial Times describes Britain's effort to defuse the last-minute crisis, which is being caused by Austria, and warns:  "[D]iluting the potential prize for Turkey would be a serious mistake."[3] ...



By Vincent Boland (Ankara) and Daniel Dombey (Luxembourg)

Financial Times (UK)
October 2, 2005

Turkey's prime minister warned the European Union on Sunday that it faced a choice between becoming a global power or a "Christian club" as it struggled to overcome a last-minute hurdle to the opening on Monday of membership negotiations with his overwhelmingly Muslim country.

As thousands of nationalists demonstrated in Ankara against both the EU and his government, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Europe would squander the chance to overcome longstanding Christian-Muslim suspicions if it stepped back from its commitment to full membership for Turkey.

Austria is insisting that the EU offer as an option less than full membership for Turkey. Ankara says it will not attend today's ceremony to mark the opening of its accession process if the bloc's foreign ministers, who were meeting on Sunday night to address the issue, step back from their commitment to full membership.

"This is a test for the EU," Mr. Erdogan told members of his ruling Justice and Development party in a regular Sunday address. "The EU will either decide to become a global actor or it must accept that it is a Christian club."

Mr. Erdogan's comment reflects a central theme of his campaign to get Turkey into the EU -- that doing so would help to build a bridge between Christian and Muslim countries. He said Turkey's future did not depend on membership, but he claimed that the future of relations between Christianity and Islam did.


"This is a crucial meeting for the future of the EU," said Jack Straw, UK foreign secretary, who was due to meet Ursula Plassnik, his Austrian counterpart, before chairing last night's last minute meeting of all 25 EU foreign ministers.

"I don't want to contemplate failure . . . It would represent a failure for the EU given the decision we made in December [to invite Turkey for talks]," Mr, Straw said.

Austria has demanded that the EU offer Turkey the possibility of a fallback "partnership" should the talks not succeed, but Turkey and almost all other EU governments insist that the negotiations with Ankara must be focused exclusively on membership.

Austria's objections have given further ammunition to critics of Mr. Erdogan and the EU inside Turkey. Several thousand supporters of the hardline National Action party demonstrated in Ankara on Sunday against the government and Brussels, claiming the prime minister had already made too many concessions to meet the basic EU criteria for the accession to begin.

Abdullah Gul, Turkey's foreign minister, is due in Luxembourg this evening for the formal beginning of talks, an event that has been put back several hours to allow a last-minute deal to be forged.

Negotiations are also particularly sensitive for Ankara, as there is little scope for a candidate country to bargain over the adoption of the 85,000 pages of EU law the bloc insists all its prospective members adopt.


By Mark Mazower

Financial Times (UK)
October 2, 2005 (subscribers only)

In the tormented run-up to the start of Turkey's membership negotiations with the European Union, the ghosts of the past are haunting the government of Tayyip Erdogan.

Orhan Pamuk, a novelist, faces prosecution for "insulting the national character" in a newspaper interview in which he referred to the death of a million Armenians during the First World War. It was only after a flurry of legal threats and patriotic violence that a path-breaking academic conference into those same events went ahead recently in Istanbul, bringing together leading Turkish and foreign scholars to discuss the subject for the first time on Turkish soil.

Does all this portend change or demonstrate how deeply entrenched the resistance to it is? EU officials have been reminding the Turks of the virtues of free speech, while sceptics about the merits of Turkish accession have seen these events as justifying their doubts.

The Turks are not unused to being criticized, of course, for Western pressure for reform long predates the formation of the EU. As far back as the 1830s, European ambassadors routinely told the Ottoman sultans how and why they should become more like them.

Now, as then, one wonders: which Europe are the Turks being asked to emulate; the noble ideal in whose name rights and liberties are demanded, or the region as it actually is? Valery Giscard D'Estaing, the former French president, commented recently that Turkey is "not a European country." Had he forgotten that women got the vote in France [1944], Italy [1945], Switzerland [1971], and Belgium [1919, but many restrictions remained until 1948] many years after they did in Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's Turkish republic [1930]? Or that France's sense of national identity is fragile enough to be threatened by schoolchildren wearing heardscarves and by rightwing nutcases denying the Holocaust?

It is not only in Turkey that national anxieties prompt the curtailment of individual self-expression and historical discussion. The current government in Ankara has, in fact, presided over a remarkably rapid legal and institutional overhaul: just last year it pushed a new penal code through parliament at the prompting of the EU. If anything, the transformation has been too rapid. Although getting rid of the 1930 code, which was borrowed from fascist Italy, was overdue, plenty of the old impulses remain enshrined in its replacement. It is still illegal, for example, to insult or belittle state institutions. We easily forget that in much of Europe this was an offense until fairly recently. An expanded version of the medieval crime of lèse-majesté protected the honor of many 19th-century national leaders and heads of state and culminated between the world wars in penal codes that lent even the lowliest public functionary immunity from public criticism. Such provisions faded from view only under the glare of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights (though easily abused defamation laws still -- in Austria for example -- remain on the books). As a result, Turkish law's continued protection of the symbols and the honor of the state has become an anachronism, like the provisions that shore up the sacralized monarchies of southeast Asia and the Gulf.

The penalization of discussion of the Armenian genocide is a similar kind of hangover from the past. After the Great War, some of the most liberal of the new European states criminalized any questioning of the circumstances of their origin. In the 1920s, Czechoslovakia and Estonia, for example, felt so unsure of themselves that they outlawed what they termed opposition to the state "because of its origins." In western Europe, the contemporary criminalization of neo-Nazi sentiment and Holocaust denial is a phenomenon closely related to this, reflecting postwar unease about the fragility of democratic traditions and testifying to the well-founded suspicion that without the intervention of the Big Three during the Second World War, rightwing authoritarian rule in the EU heartlands might have lasted well after 1945.

Today, moreover, even as Turkey is being asked to liberalize its legal system, Europe is moving in the other direction. Influenced by the post-9/11 fight against terrorism, crimes of opinion are again under discussion, though matters have not yet reached the level of the U.S. which, as we see in the recent under-reported conviction of New York University graduate student Mohammed Yousry, now seems prepared to criminalize even professional translation and academic research.

Yet it is one thing to say that others are in no position to throw stones and another to condone the Turkish penal code's assault on historical argument. In this matter, the over-zealous prosecutors are wrong and prime minister Erdogan is right: a confident nation should allow free debate. Moving the discussion of what happened to Armenians out of the realm of politics and back into history will certainly demolish some hallowed nationalist myths. We will learn how it came about that many hundreds of thousands of Armenian civilians were killed and who planned and carried out the crime. We will also learn more about the war during which those events took place and in particular about the part played by the great powers, especially Russia, and their plans to partition the empire. We may learn, too, more about the long-forgotten backdrop -- the decades of Muslim dispossession from former Ottoman lands in Europe and the millions of refugees this generated. The end result will be less serviceable to the political concerns of this or that side, but far more beneficial to both Armenian historical memory and the vitality of Turkish intellectual life.

As important, it may offer a precedent for how to deal with the most neuralgic aspects of one's past that not a few European countries could learn from. Democratization and glasnost need not be a one-way street.

--The writer, professor of history at Columbia University, is author of Salonica, City of Ghosts (Harper-Collins/Knopf).


Comment & analysis

Editorial comment


Financial Times (UK)
October 1, 2005

It is no surprise that the European Union's plan to start membership talks with Turkey on Monday should be a cliff-hanger right to the end. The desultory courtship between Brussels and Ankara, over nearly 40 years, reflects the controversy surrounding Turkey's candidacy. For, if or when Turkey takes its seat in Brussels in a decade or more, it would be the Union's poorest and most populous member, with the biggest vote in the Council of Ministers. To complicate matters further, the onus on Turkey to prove its European values will be heavier than it was for previous accession candidates within the conventional boundaries of Europe.

The cliff-hanger arises from Austria's insistence that, in the negotiating mandate that EU governments must agree for accession talks to open, Turkey should be offered an explicit "partnership" alternative to full membership. All 24 other EU states, and the Turks themselves, are content for the mandate to contain only a vaguely worded fall-back to create the "strongest possible bond" between Ankara and the EU if in the end full membership talks fail. Britain, desperate to chalk up the first achievement of its half-year EU presidency by launching Turkish accession talks, has called a special foreign ministers meeting tomorrow night to press Austria to back down.

Austria's behaviour is part tactical; it is holding out for parallel accession talks with its neighbor, Croatia. But it is also visceral for some Austrians who see themselves saving Europe from the Turks, as at the gates of Vienna in 1683, and certainly share an allergy to further enlargement with voters in the French and Dutch referendums.

But diluting the potential prize for Turkey would be a serious mistake. The only way the EU can exert full leverage on Turkey to reform is to keep the carrot of full membership dangled in front of it.

At the same time, however, the Turks must realize at the outset what EU full membership means. Some of them seem to be under the illusion that negotiating it is a bit like bargaining in the bazaar: haggle and then split the difference. But in accession talks EU policies and rules are largely non-negotiable; the main argument concerns only how long the applicant is given to adopt them.

In Turkey's case, it is particularly important the EU stands firm in three areas. First, Turkey must show itself a functioning democracy that upholds human rights and freedom of religion and non-belief. Ankara has taken big strides in this field recently, but still has far to go. Second, it must have a working market economy. Turkey has a decade-old customs union with the EU, but is hardly corruption-free. Third, it must settle minority and historical issues better than it has so far managed to come to terms with its Kurds and the Armenian question.

No one can now know if Turkey will make it into the EU. But Brussels has designed its mandate to ensure Turkish progress along the way. It will wait for reforms to be adopted and implemented in Turkey before closing each part of the negotiations.

This is undoubtedly a tougher approach to Turkey than to previous applicants. But the challenge is tougher; Turkey is too big for Brussels to botch its incorporation. The times, too, are tougher. At least one EU country, France, will make its final verdict on Turkish entry by referendum. And if Turkey's application has not been thoroughly tested by EU negotiators, it will not survive such a vote.