17 June 2013

The Future of European Turkey

Gerald Knaus and Kerem Öktem

17 June 2013

 

 

On Saturday night, central Istanbul descended into apocalyptic scenes of unfettered violence. The police targeted tear gas, water cannons and plastic bullets at protestors, and stormed a hotel near the park, which had set up a makeshift clinic to treat children and adults caught up in the events. Among those trapped in the hotel was the co-chair of Germany’s Green Party, Claudia Roth, who is an avid follower of Turkey’s politics, a witness to the decade of violence in the 1990s in the country’s Kurdish provinces, and politician who supported the Turkish government’s democratic reform process. Shaken and affected by the teargas fired into the hotel lobby, she described her escape from Gezi Park, which she had visited in a show of solidarity. “We tried to flee and the police pursued us. It was like war”.[1] She added the next day that it is the peaceful protestors in Gezi Park and elsewhere, braving police violence to stand up for the democratic right to speak out, who are providing the strongest argument for advocates of the future European integration of Turkey.

Only a few hours before Roth’s initial statement on Saturday, the protestors in the Gezi Park and Taksim Square were discussing the results of a meeting of their representatives with the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan seemed to have made some concessions and accepted part of the requests of the protestors to reconsider the construction scheme on Taksim and wait for a pending court decision. The Taksim Platform, the closest there is to a representative body of the protestors, had decided to take down the different tents of trade unions and political organizations and only leave one symbolic tent. Most protestors were getting ready for a final weekend in the park, before returning to their lives as usual. True, the Prime Minister had delivered a warning for the park to be cleared, but such warnings had been made before and passed without decisive action. The mood among the people in the park was to wind down the protests and consider new ways of political mobilization. So hopeful was the spirit on Saturday that families took their children to the park to plant trees and flowers and get a sense of what has arguably been Turkey’s largest and most peaceful civil society movement ever. No one was expecting a major crackdown. They have been proven terribly wrong.

Should they have listened to Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s EU minister and chief negotiator? On Saturday, well before the evening raid, he not only scolded international news channels like CNN and BBC for having made a “big mistake” by reporting the protests live and accused them for having been financed by a lobby intent on “doing everything to disturb the calm in our country.” He also declared that “from now on the state will unfortunately have to consider everyone who remains there [i.e. the Gezi Park] a supporter or member of a terror organization”.[2] In the last three weeks of the Turkey protests, we have already witnessed the Prime Minister turning to a progressively belligerent rhetoric for reasons of his power-political calculus. Now it appears that the Minister responsible Turkey’s European future has not only been aware of the massive police brutality that was to be unleashed on the peaceful protestors, but also that he fully endorsed it. No European politician, no representative of any European institution will be able to meet Mr Bağış from now on, without taking into consideration his justification of the breakdown and his inciting rhetoric, which confuses citizens pursuing their rights to free assembly with terrorists.

Within only a few hours, the government of Prime Minister Erdoğan has destroyed all hopes for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, which is now spreading all over the country. Yet no friend of Turkey would want to see the country descending into violence. So what remains as a possible way out of ever deepening polarization?

In recent weeks some members of the Justice and Development Party have publicly expressed their dismay at the unfolding events and the polarizing rhetoric of Erdoğan. President Abdullah Gül has voiced concern too, but he has stopped short of condemning the police violence and criticizing the Prime Minister openly. Gül is a respected politician and enjoys considerable public sympathy. Many have praised the President’s conciliatory style of politics. The time has come for him to show his statesmanship and to speak out clearly and forcefully against the abuse of power, which the government of the Justice and Development Party has been engaging in in recent days.

The president should in particular oppose the witch hunt against protestors and against the doctors and lawyers who have supported them. Such action may yet avert the country’s deterioration into further violence and polarization. The president would also do a great service for those, Turkey’s citizens and many European friends alike, who continue to believe in a common European future.

Gerald Knaus, European Stability Initiative, Berlin/Paris/Istanbul

Kerem Öktem, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford
PS: See also the appeal, in German and Turkish, just published by director Fatih Akin:

„Sehr geehrter Herr Gül,

ich schreibe Ihnen, um Sie über die Ereignisse vom Samstagabend zu informieren, da die türkischen Medien kaum bis gar nicht darüber berichtet haben.

Samstagabend wurden in Istanbul erneut hunderte von Zivilisten durch Polizeigewalt verletzt. Ein 14jähriger Jugendlicher wurde von einer Tränengaspatrone am Kopf getroffen und hat Gehirnblutungen erlitten. Er ist nach einer Operation in ein künstliches Koma versetzt worden und schwebt in Lebensgefahr.

Freiwillige Ärzte, die verletzten Demonstranten helfen wollten, wurden wegen Terrorverdacht festgenommen. Provisorische Lazarette wurden mit Tränengas beschossen.

Anwälte, die gerufen wurden, festgenommene Demonstranten zu verteidigen, wurden ebenfalls festgenommen.

Die Polizei feuerte Tränengaspatronen in geschlossene Räume, in denen sich Kinder aufgehalten haben.

Die bedrohten und eingeschüchterten türkischen Nachrichtensender zeigten währenddessen belanglose Dokumentarfilme. Diejenigen, die versuchen über die Ereignisse zu berichten, werden mit hohen Geldstrafen und anderen Mitteln versucht, zum Schweigen zu bringen.

Eine Trauerfeier für Ethem Sarisülük, der bei den Demonstrationen ums Leben gekommen ist, wurde verboten!

Stattdessen darf ein Staatssekretär hervortreten und alle Demonstranten, die am Taksim Platz erschienen sind, als Terroristen bezeichnen.

Und Sie, verehrter Staatspräsident, Sie schweigen!

Vor zehn Jahren sind Sie und Ihre Partei mit dem Versprechen angetreten, sich für die Grund- und Bürgerrechte eines jeden in der Türkei einzusetzen.

Ich möchte nicht glauben, dass Sie sich um der Macht wegen von Ihrem Gewissen verabschiedet haben. Ich appelliere an Ihr Gewissen: Stoppen Sie diesen Irrsinn!

Fatih Akin

 
Die türkische Version des offenen Briefes:

Sayın Cumhurbaskanım,

Belki duymamissinizdir diye dusunerek yaziyorum.

Dun aksam saatlerinde yeniden baslayan polis siddeti sonucunda yuzlerce insan yaralanmıstir.

14 yasinda bir cocuk, polisin attigi biber gazi mermisiyle beyin kanamasi gecirdi. Ameliyatin ardindan simdi uyutuluyor. Hayati tehlikesi yuksek.

Yaralilara yardim etmek isteyen gonullu doktorlar, terorist diye gozaltina alınıyor. Revirlere gaz bombalarıyla saldırılıyor.

Gozaltina alinanlarin haklarini savunmak isteyen avukatlar gozaltina alınıyor.

Polis, kapali alanlarda gaz bombası kullaniyor. Bu yetmezmis gibi, insanlarin kendilerini korumak için taktigi basit gaz maskelerini cikarttiriyor. Sularina el koyuyor.

Tehdit ve gozdagiyla susturulan medya, belgesel yayinlamaya devam ediyor.

Gercekleri gostermeye calisanlar agir para cezalari ve baskilarla susturulmaya calisiliyor.

Milletvekilleri de polis siddetinden payina duseni aliyor.

Gosterileder polis kursunuyla oldurulen Ethem’in cenaze torenine bile izin verilmiyor.

Bir bakan cikip, Taksim Meydanda olan herkesi terorist ilan edebiliyor.

Polis hicbir ayirim gozetmeden halka tonlarca biber gazi, gazli su, plastik mermiyle mudahale etmeye devam ediyor.

Ve siz, susuyorsunuz..

Cok degil, on yil once, temel hak ve ozgurlukleriniz icin mucadele eden siz ve sizin partiniz… Bu halki en iyi sizin anlamaniz gerekmez mi?

Iktidar gomlegini giyen digerleri gibi vicdanınızı soyunup bir tarafa biraktiginizi dusunmek istemiyorum.

Vicdani olanlara sesleniyorum; bu vahseti durdurun!

Fatih Akin


Leader of the German Green Party Claudia Roth, attacked by tear gas

Her interview on what this means for Turkey-EU relations is here (in German)

 

Filed under: Europe,Germany,Human rights,Turkey — Gerald @ 12:16 am
9 June 2013
.
.
What would it take for the vision of a Europe without political prisoners to become a reality in the 21st century?
.
The Congress of Europe, held in The Hague and presided over by Winston Churchill, proclaimed in 1948 the need for “a Charter of Human Rights guaranteeing liberty of thought, assembly, and expression as well as the right to form a political opposition”:

The Movement for European Unity must be a positive force, deriving its strength from our sense of common spiritual values. It is a dynamic expression of democratic faith based upon moral conceptions and inspired by a sense of mission. In the centre of our movement stands the idea of a Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law … To rebuild Europe from its ruins and make its light shine forth again upon the world, we must first of all conquer ourselves.”

The Statutes of the Council of Europe, signed at St. James Palace in London in May 1949, committed all members of this new organization to respect “the spiritual and moral values which are the common heritage of their people and the true source of individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law.”
.
The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, ready for signature in Rome in 1950, then spelled out these fundamental civic and political rights, which “the governments of European countries which are like-minded” committed to respect.
.
.
Repression of liberty of thought and of political opposition in Europe did not end with the creation of the Council of Europe and the adoption of the Convention, however. Hearing about two Portuguese students in Lisbon, sentenced to seven years imprisonment for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom motivated the British human rights lawyer Peter Benenson to write an article in the Observer about “forgotten prisoners” in 1961. He started:
“Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find areport from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government. There are several million such people in prison—by no means all of them behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains—and their numbers are growing. The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust all oer the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done.”
At the time five of Benenson’s eight “forgotten prisoners” were Europeans: a Romanian philosopher, a Spanish lawyer, a Greek trade unionist, a Hungarian Cardinal and the archbishop of Prague. Benenson of course went on to set up an innovative and new organisation in the wake of his successful camapaign: Amnesty International.
.
However, neither Portugal nor Spain, neither Romania nor Hungary nor Czechoslovakia were then members of the Council of Europe (Greece would withdraw from it in 1969 following its military coup). None of them had accepted and ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. More than half a century has since passed. The Council of Europe has expanded dramatically so that today 47 countries with a total population of 800 million people have pledged to respect the fundamental rights of the European Convention. But today there is again a challenge to its core values, and this time it is one that has emerged within the very institutions that were meant to protect them.
.
In October 2012 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a definition of “political prisoner”.  This definition was first developed by eminent European human rights lawyers working for the secretary general of the Council of Europe as independent experts. The adoption of this definition, following a heated and controversial debate, came at a moment of growing concern that in a number of Council of Europe member states we see a new wave of trials for political motives.  In some countries, one sees the re-emergence of the phenomenon familiar from an earlier period of European history: dissidents, sent to jail for speaking out loud.
.
The immediate question that emerged now was obvious: how would such a definition become operational? The first attempt to apply it – in the case of Azerbaijan in January 2013 – ended in defeat in the Parliamentary Assembly (see more here: http://www.esiweb.org/index.phplang=en&id=156&document_ID=136)
.
There are many wider policy questions raised by all this –which ESI together with the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation explores this week at a seminar in Stockholm: What should and could be done by the institutions of the Council of Europe to operationalize the definition of political prisoner that has just been adopted? Is the current system of monitors capable of confronting systemic violations? Are other member states, who are committed to defend the European Convention of Human Rights, able to define red lines that must not be crossed by Council of Europe members with impunity? How can European civil society do even more to use existing institutions and commitments to resist a rising authoritarian temptation?
.
The October 2012 PACE resolution sets concrete criteria for what defines a “political prisoner.”. According to Resolution 1900, adopted in a 100-64 vote, a person shall be regarded as a political prisoner if he or she has been deprived of personal liberty in violation of guarantees set forth by the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols, including freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; freedom of expression and information; and freedom of assembly and association. Additional criteria include detention imposed for purely political reasons without connection to any offense; the length or conditions of detention being clearly out of proportion to the offense; a clearly discriminatory manner of the detention; and unfair, politically motivated proceedings leading to the imprisonment.
.
But what can institutions like the Council of Europe do, going forward, to better defend the ideal of a Europe in which the values of the ECHR are fully respected and in which there would not be any political prisoners in the sense of the definition adopted by PACE in October 2012 (see below). Of course there is always the European Court of Human Rights for individual cases, but what if problems of political prisoners become systemic? It is important to put this debate in the current European context of challenges to the convention, including politically motivated arrests.
.
Situations are obviously different even among countries in which problems exist. Azerbaijan and Russia, along with several other post-Soviet states, are today members of the Council of Europe. Yet in recent years governments in these countries have become increasingly aggressive in challenging core values of the Convention – through legislation and through systematic arrests and intimidation of critics and possible political opposition. They have thus tested the instruments and institutions of today’s human rights regime in Europe and have found them to be weaker and easier to manipulate than anybody would have expected in the 1990s. Four decades after the rest of Europe learned about “dissidents” in former communist countries a new generation of dissidents is emerging in the European East … yet this time in countries which insist to be considered “like-minded members” of the club of European democracies.
.
Furthermore two other members of the Council of Europe, Turkey and Georgia, have also come into focus in this context, though
evidently the situation in both of these two countries are very different from that in Moscow and Baku, as well as very different from each other. In Turkey we have conceptually at least three different kinds of issues. There is a pattern – for decades – of a judiciary using repressive laws to attack free speech in the name of public morality; there are a range of cases on the basis of anti-terror legislation; and there are the recent high-profile cases against senior military officers and the “deep state”. There is noticeably a lot more freedom of speech than one decade ago, with competitive elections; yet there are also de facto more journalists in jail in Turkey than in any other countries in the world. The trials against many senior military members have been a key tool in a struggle by a civilian government to break the hold of power of the military; and yet there are many signs that they are also political trials, not too concerned about evidence and fairness. How promising then are current efforts to promote reforms of the legislation and the judiciary in Turkey to address such problems? Is the definition of political prisoners, is the Council of Europe a useful reference point in a Turkish context?
.
In contrast to its Caucasian neighbours, Georgia has seen a democratic election lead to a real change in power in October 2012; and there are strong and protective laws on freedom of speech. The Council of Europe definition on political prisoners has recently also been applied to set
people free from jail.  At the same time there are growing concerns about prosecutions of former UNM members. A lingering question is whether these cases will turn into witch-hunts, whether the judiciary will be able to preserve credibility and fairness, and how to ensure that the behaviour of the executive and prosecutors remains within limits of rule of law.
.
The aim of the Conference is to have an open discussion on the issues of political prisoners and political persecution, rule of law and the role of the judiciary overall in the context of the cooperation within the Council of Europe, in particular in the member states mentioned. The discussions will also focus on how the Council and its member states should act in a consistent fashion in addressing these issues.  And what options there are for different instruments available to in the Council of Europe framework to have more impact on the human rights situation in member states: the parliamentary assembly (PACE) and its monitors, the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee of Ministers and the office of the secretary general.
Some recommended reading:
.
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, The Definition of Political Prisoner, 2012
Rapporteur of the committee of Legal Affairs of PACE, The follow up to the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
http://www.assembly.coe.int/ASP/Doc/XrefViewPDF.asp?FileID=19217&Language=EN
European Stability Initiative, Showdown in Strasbourg: The political prisoner debate in October 2012
European Stabiliy Initiative, Azerbaijan debacle: The PACE debate on 23 January 2013
Human Rights Watch, Laws of AttritionCrackdown on Russia’s Civil Society after Putin’s Return to the Presidency, 2013                                http://www.hrw.org/reports/2013/04/24/laws-attrition
Andrew Drzemczewksi, The Prevention of Human Rights Violations: Monitoring Mechanisms of the Council of Europe, 1999
.
PS: The Council of Europe definition of political prisoner states:
The Assembly declares that a person deprived of his or her personal liberty is to be regarded as a “political prisoner” :
a. if the detention has been imposed in violation of one of the fundamental guarantees  set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols (ECHR), in particular freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and  information, freedom of assembly and association;
b. if the detention has been imposed for purely political reasons without connection to  any offence;Those deprived of their personal liberty for terrorist crimes shall not be considered political prisoners for having been prosecuted and sentenced for such crimes according to national legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights.
c. if, for political motives, the length of the detention or its conditions are clearly out of  proportion to the offence the person has been found guilty of or is suspected of;
d. if, for political motives, he or she is detained in a discriminatory manner as compared  to other persons; or,
e. if the detention is the result of proceedings which were clearly unfair and this appears  to be connected with political motives of the authorities.
Filed under: Azerbaijan,Human rights,Russia,Think Tanks,Turkey — Gerald @ 11:46 pm
3 June 2013

Reading what some of Turkey’s best journalists – and many friends  – describe as happening in Turkey right now – while sitting in France and reflecting on how this country’s very similar polarised and fractured politicaul culture changed in past decades, is an interesting experience. So before I am heading back to Istanbul here is a view from France: all this might be falsified within days: but as a momentary glimpse into the past and future of two proud nations, but perhaps this is interesting nonetheless. Here is why.

It is to France that Turks looked so often in the past when they built their state. It is to the French ideal of an elected but then imperial presidency that Turkey’s leader, prime minister Erdogan, may have unconsciously aspired as his plan for the next years. And it may well be that the most fruitful analogy for what happens in Turkey today is May 1968.

The popular protest revolt in May 1968 took place at a time of the fastest and most sustained period of economic growth in France. There was a youth bulge as the post war baby boomers reached adulthood, with universities expanding rapidly. There was an elected, conservative and increasingly autocratic president, who had gone from election victory to election victory, and was seen by his supporters (and saw himself) as saviour of the nation from the instability of a previous regime (in France the 4th Republic with ever changing governments, in Turkey the 1990s). But he also had lost touch with a young and urban population uninterested in the battles of the past that define him. The protestors cared less about France leadership role in the world and its prestige than about participation. They wanted a society attuned to different values than their president did, more diverse, less deferential. He, however, could not understand how – having restored his nation’s prestige and leading it to stable government and steady growth – he could be thus challenged.

As protests started over seemingly small issues (students in conflict with the university in Nanterre) heavy-handed responses by the police inflamed them and they spread like wildfire. The president is confused, outraged at this challenge; he first goes abroad, and then turns to the one answer he believes will resolve the fight over legitimacy. It is one he has chosen before in the face of challenges: early elections.

This dramatically changes the atmosphere, and indeed: his party wins the elections, again, as no clear opposition emerges among other established parties to channel the energy of the street into electoral change … and as the silent majority in this conservative country fears anarchy and chaos more than it welcomes dramatic change.

But for De Gaulle this broad challenge still has profound consequences. He cannot understand how a nation he has served can be so ungrateful. A year later De Gaulle puts himself behind a referendum over a  constitutional issue. In this referendum it turns out that his former close collaborators are lukewarm or oppose him:

“De Gaulle announced that if the reforms were refused, he would resign. The opposition urged people to vote no, and the general was equally hindered by popular former right-wing prime minister Georges Pompidou, who would stand as a presidential candidate if de Gaulle were to leave, reducing the fear of a power vacuum felt by the right-wing gaulliste electorate. Also, former finance minister Valéry Giscard d’Estaing declared that he would not vote yes.”

1969 turned into a referendum on the president himself and on his style. He looses and resigns.

As everybody gazes into a crystal ball, and nobody knows, this is certainly an interesting analogy. Who would be Turkey’s Pompidou in this scenario: The convervative successor of the autocratic father-of-the-nation president, less polarising than his predecessor?

The fact that the parliamentary opposition in France was divided, and ambiguous on where it stood on democracy itself, with its roots in an undemocratic ideology (French communism) also undercut it. Fill in the blanks in the analogy for Turkey.

Is it also true that super-centralised regimes with imperial (albeit elected) leaders – here the France of the 60s, there the Turkey of today – are most vulnerable to being out of touch when there is rapid generational change – and yet also find it hardest to transform changes in the mood into changes at the ballot box.

All this assumes that the response eventually chosen by the Turkish government remains “European”, becoming of a Council of Europe member, and will not be inspired by the real autocracies in Turkey’s neighourhood; in other words, it is not resolved by an escalalation of violence and repression.  Of this I still remain confident: Turkey is not Russia or Azerbaijan, and the AKP is not United Russia or the party of Ilham Aliyev. The most interesting issue for how things will develop might now well be the calculations within the broad conservative majority and its various leaders – in office and outside.

PS: A quick reader for those who are interested in the analogy: http://martinfrost.ws/htmlfiles/paris_1968.html.

PPS: Two of the best Turkish journalists and their observations of events are here. Cengiz Candar: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/06/turkey-velvet-revolution-istanbul-protests.html. Amberin Zaman here: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/06/istanbul-protests-who-are-protesters-turkey.html.

Amberin wites: “Be it through restrictions on alcohol or disregard for the environment, people who do not share Erdogan’s worldview are being made to feel like second-class citizens. The sentiment is especially strong among the country’s large Muslim Alevi minority whose long-running demands for recognition continue to be spurned much as they were by past governments. Hard-core secularists who massed in the district of Kadikoy, a CHP stronghold on the Asian side are keen to paint the protests as a backlash against the “Islamist” AKP. It’s not just CHP supporters who feel their lifestyles are being infringed upon. Conscientious objectors, atheists and gays, almost anyone who falls outside the AKP’S conservative base is feeling squeezed. The majority, however, are sick of old-style politicians and their tired ideas. So where will they go? The question is growing ever more pressing in the run-up to nationwide local elections that are to be held next year.”

She concludes: “Turkey is not on the brink of a revolution. A Turkish Spring is not afoot. Erdogan is no dictator. He is a democratically elected leader who has been acting in an increasingly undemocratic way. And as Erdogan himself acknowledged, his fate will be decided at the ballot box, not in the streets.”

Filed under: France,Turkey — Gerald @ 9:08 am
Rumeli Observer