In his wonderful book on Turkish history – The Young Turk Legacy And Nation Building - Dutch historian Eric J Zuercher has an intriguing chapter on “Turning Points and Missed Opportunitities in the Modern History of Turkey: Where Could Things Have Gone Differently?”. Here he discusses how Ottoman and later Turkey history might have developed if the wars of 1877 and 1912 had NOT taken place; if there had NOT been the Istanbul uprising of April 1909; if Kemal Ataturk had NOT established “an almost totalitarian grip” over the country in the 1920s; and if the transition to democracy after World War II had happened differently. And Zuercher concludes:
“it is a very useful exercise for us historians to remind ourselves that the historical developments with which we are all too familiar, should not be seen as inevitable … Thinking about what could have been makes us more sensitive to processes and contingencies that we too easily overlook when we already know how the story ends.”
It is indeed a useful exercise and I only regret that Zuercher stops his what if in the 1950s.
One of the most intriguing missed opportunities in Turkey’s modern history surely took place in the late 1970s, when Turkey decided not to follow Greece, Spain and Portugal and did not submit an application for full EU accession. Why did it not? Would it have succeeded? Was it discouraged by EU member states or was this above all a result of its internal politics?
I have long been puzzled by this question; and so far I have found it difficult to find detailed accounts of what actually happened then. For now I only hope that Zuercher, or some other curious historian, will go and look in the diplomatic archives to tell us the full and real story.
Here are, for now, the outlines of this missed opportunity as I have pieced them together from different sources.
On 12 June 1975 Greece, having just emerged from military rule, submitted its application to the (then) European Economic Community (EEC). Negotiations started in July 1976. On 28 March 1977 Spain submitted its application. This was followed by Portugal in July that same year.
If Turkey had submitted an application at the time chances are that it would have been very difficult for the EEC to reject it while accepting Greece. While some EEC countries (including, not surprisingly, the France led by president Valery Giscard d’Estaing) did not believe that a Greek and Turkish application would necessarily be treated together, others apparently disagreed. Armagan Emre Cakir discusses evidence that some high level European politicians and officials travelled to Ankara and urged the government of the prime minister Bulent Ecevit in 1978 to apply. Ecevit was opposed; so was his deputy prime minister at the time, the Islamist Necemettin Erbakan. It seems that for Ecevit the EU was too capitalist; for Erbakan it was too much a “Christian club.”
There were even then those in Turkey who urged the country to be more proactive. The Turkish ambassador in Brussels, Tevfik Saracoglu, returned to Ankara in summer 1975 (after Greece had just applied) urging the prime minister Demirel, and party leaders Turkes and Erbakan to do the same. He left empty handed.
In May 1978, as the membership for Greece was finalized, Ecevit, instead of submitting a Turkish application, froze relations with the EEC.
But this was not the last chance. In 1980 the foreign minister of Turkey, Hayrettin Erkmen, told the government of Suleyman Demirel that Turkey should apply urgently. Erkmen failed. In fact, in July 1980 the Islamist Erbakan brought a motion against him into the parliament because of his idea to take Turkey into the EEC. This motion was supported by the left-wing Kemalist Bulent Ecevit. And so Erkmen was removed from office on 5 September 1980.
A week later, on 12 September, tanks rolled in streets of Ankara and Istanbul, as a military junta took control of the country. One of Turkey’s darkest periods was about to begin.
This is the rough outline of what must surely be regarded as one of the great missed opportunities of modern European history. I wonder if a Turkey on route to joining the EEC would have experienced the brutal coup in 1980 that finally and decisively separated its fate from that of other European Mediterranean countries with autocratic traditions. Greece joined the EU in 1981. Spain and Portugal followed in 1986. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and the division of Europe ended. During this time Turkey first adopted a military-inspired constitution, then fought a bitter counterinsurgency campaign against the PKK – while trying in vain to suppress all expressions of a separate Kurdish identity. Economically the gap between Turkey on the one hand and Spain, Portugal and Greece on the other became ever wider during the two decades that followed.
I hope this fascinating episode will one day soon be researched in depth. Unfortunately Hayretting Erkmen died in 1999, so it is no longer possible to interview him. Erbakan also died, as did Ecevit. And yet, there must be witnesses and documents that would allow a diligent historian to reconstruct the events that led to such a tragic denouement.
This also qualifies a claim sometimes still made by Turkish politicians that the EU has prevented them from joining the EU “for half a century”. For much of that period it appears Turkey’s biggest obstacle were the attitudes of Turkey’s leaders.
One also hopes that Turkey’s leaders do not repeat the mistakes of this time and miss further windows of opportunities. I could think of a few even now. This is, however, another story.
PS: If any readers know of any more detailed study of this period, in English , German or Turkish, please let me know at email@example.com!
One decade has been lost. What about the next one?
Op-ed by Gerald Knaus (for Koha Ditore)
In Athens, spring 2003
One decade ago, in spring 2003, the New York Times published an appeal by four Balkan leaders, the presidents of Croatia and Macedonia and the prime ministers of Albania and Serbia. Its title: “The EU and South-East Europe need each other.” The occasion was a special Balkan meeting of the World Economic Forum in Athens where all these leaders also came together.
I was there too at the time, and I remember both the appeal and the atmosphere in Athens well. In fact, together with my friend Misha Glenny, I drafted it. There was a sense of urgency in the air, and of anticipation. Zoran Djindic, the prime minister of Serbia who had delivered Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague tribunal, had been assassinated by ultra-nationalist members of the Serbian security forces. Croatia had handed in its application to join the EU, the first Western Balkan state to do so. The host of the meeting, Greece, then the EU’s rotating president, pushed hard to get a European commitment to continued Balkan enlargement.
Shortly before the Athens gathering Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia, invited me to draft an appeal that he planned to ask other leaders to co-sign. He knew that the region would receive a better hearing if it spoke with one voice. He was concerned. His own country had recently been on the verge of civil war. Serbia was on the edge, its ultranationalists growing in confidence. The future of Montenegro and Kosovo was not yet settled. Would the EU, following its 2004 enlargement to Central Europe – then just about to happen – get tired of further expansion? The Balkan leaders’ appeal warned: “Until the whole Southeastern Europe is safely integrated into the European Union, the job will not be complete. And until it is, Europe cannot feel secure about itself.”
One decade later, where do we stand? Today, when EU leaders talk about crises in South-East Europe they think of Athens not Skopje, of Nikosia, not Belgrade. Europe does not feel “secure about itself” but it is not the Western Balkans or the threat of renewed conflict that keeps EU leaders awake, literally, at one crisis summit after another.
Montenegro and Kosovo are independent states; the fear of armed conflict in the region has never appeared more distant. And yet, despite these important breakthroughs, it is hard not to regard the years since 2003 as a lost decade for the Balkans. Boris Trajkovski tragically died in an airplane crash in the Bosnian mountains, on his way to submit Macedonia’s own application for EU membership. His country has been stalled for years now by a Greek veto (a threat which did not appear real in 2003 in Athens). Serbia, ten years after the death of Djindic, has still not even opened EU accession talks. Albania is not an EU candidate yet. The Greek foreign minister in spring 2003, George Papandreou, became prime minister, only to be swept away by the Greek economic melt-down. 2003 was perhaps the last success of Greek diplomacy. At the European Union summit on the Balkans in Thessaloniki in summer EU leaders stated their “unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.” Croatia used the past decade, opened accession talks, closed them, and is today on the verge of accession. And yet, it is likely that ten years from now in 2023 Croatia will still be the only Balkan country inside the EU.
Rereading the Trajkovski appeal today highlights a further disappointment. It contained a specific proposal: to make EU regional and cohesion funding available to the region, so as to help it catch up economically, rather than fall further behind. The appeal warned that “the long-term stability of Southeastern Europe depends on the region’s economic health, but this does not mean the usual plea for more money … We are committed to opening our markets to our neighbors and to the EU. We have made huge progress in curbing inflation. And we are now greatly encouraged by the proposal by Greece … that the Thessaloniki summit meeting focus on the possibility of applying cohesion and development policies in our region.”
This was a hope that has not come true. The Western Balkans remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. In Serbia today less than half of the working-age population is actually employed. Unemployment levels in Macedonia and Bosnia are disastrously high. Foreign direct investment in the region, which had transformed the economic structures of Central European countries, has fallen to very low levels. And yet, if a focus on underdevelopment in the Balkans has never been more urgent, the EU’s confidence in its ability to bring about convergence and growth in its own periphery has rarely been lower. The 2003 Trajkovski appeal stated that “The EU has a remarkable record of triggering economic success by helping poorer regions — Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal have experienced veritable revolutions in social and economic development in the last 20 years.” It is hard to imagine anybody writing like this today, in the wake of bail-outs, bank failures and rapidly rising unemployment in Spain or Greece.
EU leaders no longer worry about war in the Balkans. They are no longer confident in their ability to bring about economic convergence. They fear the weakness of democratic institutions in Romania or Greece. They worry about inadequate regulation in Cyprus or Spain. Given this state of affairs: what arguments can sway them to open their institutions to accept even poorer states, with even weaker institutions, and even worse images among the public and political elites in Berlin, Paris or The Hague?
Perhaps Greece will prepare for its EU presidency in 2014 by changing its policies on Skopje and Pristina. Perhaps Serbia and Kosovo will soon reach an agreement that allows both countries to move beyond their confrontation. Perhaps Albania will manage to hold free and fair elections this summer. Perhaps Bosnia’s leaders will soon be able to put together a credible application for EU accession. Perhaps Macedonia’s leaders will be capable of renewing the national consensus to focus on EU integration that existed in 2003. Perhaps politicians throughout the region will wake up late at night worrying about youth unemployment and the inadequacy of vocational training, about export opportunities and the best way to use scarce public resources for growth, rather than about building statutes or wasting public money on prestige infrastructure of little proven economic benefit. And then, perhaps, a successor of Boris Trajkovski will invite all his regional counterparts to an informal meeting to seriously discuss what they might do together to correct the image of their region, driven by the recognition that the whole region has dropped out of the focus of the rest of Europe.
If Boris Trajkovski would be around today, and would propose drafting a new appeal for Balkan leaders to sign and publish, what could it say? Appeals are expected to end with proposals, a sense of hope, recommendations. But sometimes it is better to resist this temptation. To acknowledge just how steep the wall is that one has to climb. To recognise that before any new appeals to the EU a whole series of steps have to be taken by the region itself. To recognise that time matters; and that April 2013 is another crucial moment which Balkan leaders miss at their peril. I believe Trajkovski would have realised this. Will his successors?
Perhaps this is not a time for appeals at all, but for a blunt and honest recognition: a decade has been lost. The next might be as well. And it is not by formulating words on paper that this can be prevented.
Macedonia and accession: how the arguments of supporters of early accession talks prevailed
As EU member states gathered last week to discuss Council Conclusions relating to Macedonia two camps of member states emerged with two versions of these conclusions. To understand whose arguments prevailed – and how to judge what happened – it is important to go beyond facile conclusions and take a closer look at both proposals.
On the one hand there was a majority of member states who favored very positive language. These states were hoping to encourage a proactive Commission to take the initiative and to prepare the ground to launch EU accession talks with Macedonia already in June 2013. They were hoping that in the end both Greece and Bulgaria would agree that this was also in their interest … that this was truly an issue where all sides could win.
In this group’s draft of the Council Conclusions a concrete date – June 2013 – is given for the possible opening of accession negotiations. This version states that the Council examines further progress in Macedonia on the basis of a Commission report before June 2013. It asks the Commission to submit “in due time” (i.e. at its own discretion, meaning it could start work on it right away in early 2013) a proposal for a negotiations framework, to be ready by June. It also invites the Commission to begin the “analytical examination of the acquis” (screening) right away.
Here are the key paragraphs of this maximalist proposal, backed by most member states and the Commission last week:
3. The Council largely shares the Commission’s assessment that the political criteria continue to be sufficiently met and takes note of its recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
5. With a view to the possible opening of accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in June 2013, the Council will examine progress in the implementation of reforms in the context of the High Level Accession Dialogue, on the basis of a report to be presented by the Commission in the first half of 2013. The Commission is invited to submit in due time a proposal for a framework for negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in line with the European Council’s December 2006 conclusions and established practice, which also takes into account good neighbourly relations. Taking into account the new approach to accession negotiations as regards the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security, the Commission is also invited to carry out the process of analytical examination of the EU acquis on these chapters.
Faced with this France, backed by a much smaller number of other EU states, put a counter-proposal on the table late last week. This version assesses progress in Macedonia less positively (the Council no longer “largely” but only “broadly” shares the Commission’s positive assessment). The minimalist proposal removes any reference to any concrete date. At an unspecified future moment, the European council would once again have to decide and invite the commission to submit a proposal for a negotiations framework. This would happen only “once all the conditions are met”, which is not explained. The minimalist version states that in order to start screening another Council decision would be needed to task the Commission to do so. For now the commission gets no mandate to do anything until further notice.
Here is the full text of the minimalist version:
3. The Council broadly shares the Commission’s assessment that the political criteria continue to be sufficiently met and takes note of its recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
5. Before opening accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a decision which will be considered in due time by the European Council, in line with established practice, the Council will continue to examine progress in the implementation of reforms including in the context of the High Level Accession Dialogue. Once all conditions are met, theEuropean Council will invite the Commission to submit a proposal for a framework for negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in line with the European Council’s December 2006 conclusions and established practice, which also takes into account good neighbourly relations. Taking into account the new approach to accession negotiations as regards the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security, the European Councilwill also invite the Commission to carry out the process of analytical examination of the EU acquis on these chapters.
So what actually happened? In all EU negotiations there is usually a give and take. However, if one takes a look at the final text of the Council Conclusions one sees clearly that the maximalist proposal emerged largely victorious.
In the final text the following was agreed:
- the council “largely” (not “broadely”) shares the Commission’s positive view that Macedonia was ready to open talks (the maximalist version).
- The council tasks the Commission already now to produce a report “in spring 2013” “with a view to a possible decision of the European Council to open accession negotiations”.
- The council commits that it will assess this report “during the next presidency”, i.e. before July 2013.
- Provided that the assessment is positive, the Commission will be invited to submit “without delay” (i.e. as quickly as it can) a framework for negotiations.
- Provided that the assessment is positive the Commission will be invited to start screening two chapters, i.e. before accession talks begin.
- The Council even “takes note” that the Commission “will conduct all the necessary preparatory work in this respect” … which means that Commission can start preparing both the negotiations framework and screening right away.
Look at the finally agreed text of the conclusions and the answer whose arguments won the day is obvious:
40. The Council largely shares the Commission’s assessment that the political criteria continue to be sufficiently met and takes note of its recommendation that accession negotiations be opened with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
42. With a view to a possible decision of the European Council to open accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Council will examine, on the basis of a report to be presented by the Commission in Spring 2013, implementation of reforms in the context of the HLAD, as well as steps taken to promote good neighbourly relations and to reach a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue under the auspices of the UN. In this perspective, the Council will assess the report during the next Presidency. Provided that the assessment is positive, the Commission will be invited by the European Council to: (1) submit without delay a proposal for a framework for negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in line with the European Council’s December 2006 conclusions and established practice; (2) carry out the process of analytical examination of the EU acquis beginning with the chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security. The Council takes note of the intention of the Commission to conduct all the necessary preparatory work in this respect.
The original plan of the Commission and of the member states who supported the maximalist version was to create a new momentum emerging from this Council. In this they succeeded.
- The Commission can immediately begin to prepare its “spring report” which the Council will assess before July 2013.
- The Commission can immediately begin to prepare for the analytical screening of two chapters and draft a proposal for negotiations.
- Once the Council accepts a positive Commission report the Commission will submit the framework for negotiations “without delay”
One basic reality has obviously not changed: Greece will have to agree to the opening of accession talks. Expecting anything else was always unrealistic. The hopes of the friends of opening accession talks were to kick-start a process of finding a solution to the name issue in the first few months of 2013. Both supporters of opening talks soon and minimalists agreed on this paragraph without arguing:
41. As set out in the European Council conclusions of June 2008, maintaining good neighbourly relations, including a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, remains essential. There is a need to bring the longstanding discussions on the name issue to a definitive conclusion without delay. The Council welcomes the momentum that has been generated by recent contacts/exchanges between the two parties, following the Greek proposal for a memorandum of understanding. The Council is, moreover, encouraged by recent contacts with the UN mediator.
The important point is this: if there is a positive European commission report following enough movement on the name issue and on good neighbourly relations all preparations will have been made to launch accession talks in 2013 without delay.
Clearly the pressure has increased further for a serious effort to find a breakthrough in early 2013. This is pressure on everyone: on the Commission, on interested EU member states, but above all on Skopje and Athens. The fact that Greece accepted these conclusions, however, is another small positive sign.
The European Commission’s hope from the very beginning was to energize the search for a mutually agreed solution to the name issue. The commission and most member states wanted a date in the conclusions when accession talks would possibly be opened. Now there are two dates in the conclusions: a report by the commission on progress by “spring” (April) with a view to start accession talks; and a Council assessment of this “before the next presidency” (before July).
An additional paragraph was also inserted upon the initiative of Bulgaria:
In light of the overall importance of maintaining good neighbourly relations, the Council also notes the recent high level contacts between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria and looks forward to their translation into concrete actions and results.
This means: if there is an agreed solution on the name issue soon, and if there are ‘concrete actions and results’ from high level meetings with Bulgaria till April, the goal to start accession talks in 2013 “before the next presidency” or very early in it remains alive. These are one big and one (slightly) smaller if. But a focused effort by the Commission and by member states supportive of opening accession talks soon has prepared a more promising playing field for a breakthrough than there has been in a while. What is needed now is a serious and imaginative solution to the name dispute before the commission reports “in the spring”; a solution that allows both Athens and Skopje to unlock the current destructive stalemate in a manner that both governments can defend before their domestic constituencies.
The Council was a warm up exercise. Now the real game begins. Athens and Skopje face a prisoners dilemma: if neither side believes that a solution is possible, and acts on this, both will lose. If both sides take a calculated risk to take the search for a mutually acceptable solution seriously both can win.
By spring 2013 we will know the outcome … sooner rather than later.
A few months ago I visited Macedonia to present EU diplomats, ambassadors, the Macedonian prime minister, the foreign minister and party leaders a slighly revised version of the ESI proposal for overcoming the stalemate in the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece.
I also presented this proposal once again in Brussels, Berlin and in other EU capitals. I gave everyone a paper copy of the revised proposal. Since then it has circulated among EU diplomats.
It would be foolish to be too optimistic that anything can help overcome such a complicated dispute. And yet, there are a number of reasons to be more optimistic this time than in a long while. I remain convinced also that nothing can be forced by outsiders on either party, not now, not later. It will take a compromise that national leaders can present to their publics in both Skopje and Athens as a step forward for their side; and one where both sides retain their leverage until actual EU accession of Macedonia.
Then, earlier this month, the Macedonian weekly Gradjanski reported the following:
“drawing on unnamed diplomats, reported that Brussels was working on a‘date for date’ strategy about the country in December: start of membership negotiations would be announced for next June with Skopje being obliged to deliver by then tangible results on good neighbourly relations (improved ties with Bulgaria and Greece, including essential reviving of the name negotiations). The sources stressed the importance in this context of a constructive response of Skopje to Greece’s memorandum, which would offer ideas, but also pointed at the government being reserved about the plan. The weekly also reported on an upgraded 2010 proposal by the European Stability Initiative that the name issue be resolved in the early stage of membership negotiations but the referendum on the solution take place at the end of the process, i.e. together with the referendum on EU membership. According to Gragjanski, the upgraded document, which is reportedly supported by an influential lobby group in Brussels, foresees for the new composite name to immediately replace the current reference and its wider use to enter into force together with EU accession. Constitutional changes are expected from Skopje in order to accept the new name for international use; the constitutional name will remain official name of the country in its official languages and the use of the adjective ‘Macedonian’ will not be called in question, says the proposal.”
I have since been asked by a number of people to share the new version of the proposal. This then is the latest version in full:
What is needed is a way forward that accepts the bottom lines for Athens and Skopje. This can be achieved through a constitutional amendment in Skopje that changes the name of the country with a geographic qualifier today: to replace Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia where the latter is currently in use, allowing Athens to support the start of EU accession talks and to sending an invitation to join NATO later this year or early next year, but which foresees that the change will enter into force permanently and erga omnes on the day Macedonia actually joins the EU.
Such a solution is possible if the following happens:
1. There is active mediation between both sides which focus solely on finding a compromise name for the country with a geographical modifier, dealing with the issues of RM NATO accession and the opening of EU
2. Greece and RM agree on a compromise name, XYZ, with a geographical modifier. This will immediately replace F.Y.R.O.M. wherever that is currently in use in international
3. Greece commits to allow RM to join NATO under this new provisional name XYZ and an invitation to join NATO is extended.
4. RM changes its constitution to say something like this:
“From the day the Republic of Macedonia joins the European Union the international name of the country will be XYZ, used erga omnes in all languages other than the official languages of the country.”
The promised referendum on EU accession at the end of the negotiation process becomes thereby de facto the real referendum on the name issue (there was no referendum for F.Y.R.O.M., and until accession the new name is used only in place of F.Y.R.O.M.).
Leaders in RM replace one name their citizens do not like (referring to a state that has disappeared decades ago, Yugoslavia) with another name they do not like, both used in the same way.
Neither side loses leverage in the future. If future Greek governments block EU accession of RM or make additional demands judged unacceptable in Skopje this would also delay the entering into force of the core provision of this compromise. Greece shows its EU partners that it remains actively in favor of Balkan enlargement. Greece also keeps its leverage until the very end of the accession process
I have spent the past month travelling through the Balkans (Skopje, Tirana, Pristina, Belgrade) and visiting Sweden, Bratislava and Chisinau. I presented on and drafted texts about a lot of different issues: debates in Greece and Macedonia about identities; debates in Turkey about Turkish Christians and their rights; debates in Germany about Islam and Turks; Swedish, Slovak and European debates on the future of Balkan and Turkish enlargement. In all these seemingly unrelated debates there was one common thread, however, always leading back to the question of what is at stake in the future of EU enlargement today: why enlargement matters.
For some time I have wondered whether the current discourse on the importance of South East European enlargement, its significance for the European project (and not just for the 20 some million people of the Western Balkans) has not become stale, unconvincing, full of wooden language and cliches.
If EU enlargement is to go ahead and not to turn into an agonizing technocratic exercise, in which very few people actually believe, a different narrative is needed. European leaders and thinkers have lost the vision of enlargement, and it is vital to recapture it (on the charge that this might be too elitist a way to think about this political project more later).
To try to explain this let me start from where I sit at this moment: in a cafe on the pier of Izmir, looking out at at the Aegean Sea and Mount Pagus.
The Destruction of Smyrna
If you arrive today in Izmir, the leading city of Aegean Turkey with 2 million inhabitants, the standard guidebooks tell you little. To quote what I first read, arriving here three days ago: “despite a long and illustrious history, most of the city is relentlessly modern – even enthusiasts will concede that a couple of days here as a tourist are plenty”; this is a city “not entirely without interest” due to its natural setting and ethnological museum. No wonder most of the tourists who flock to the Aegean coast do not pause here on their way to Ephesus or the coastal resorts.
One century ago Izmir, then known as Smyrna, boasted 11 Greek, 7 Turkish, 4 French and 5 Hebrew local daily newspapers; it had a Greek population of some 320,000, at least twice that of Athens at the time; it was famous for its large Jewish, Armenian, European and Turkish quarters; and it was reknown for a cosmopolitan business elite which included multilingual Levantine families (to find out more about who these go here: www.levantineheritage.com) ; a city which had
“long been celebrated as a beacon of tolerance – home to scores of nationalities with a shared outlook and intertwined lives. It was little wonder that the Americans living in the metropolis had named their colony Paradise; life here was remarkably free form prejudice and many found it ironic that they had to come to the Islamic world to find a place that had none of the bigotry so omnipresent at home.” (Giles Milton)
Even skeptics, of which even then there were many in Europe, were vulnerable to the appeal of Smyrna:
“Visiting European intellectuals were fascinated to observe such a racially mixed city at close quarters. When the Austrian savant, Charles de Scherzer, had visited Smyrna in 1874, he brought with him a most negative image of the Turks, yet he went away with all his preconceptions shattered. “In matters of religion”, he wrote, “they are – contrary to their reputation – the most tolerant people of the Orient.”
And yet, as we all know, one century ago cities like these – fin-de-siecle Czernowitz or Vilnius, Wraclaw, Vienna or Prague, late Ottoman Thessaloniki or Istanbul – lived under a dark shadow, cast by the dominant ideology of the age: romantic nationalism.
Early 20th century Smyrna was a majority-Christian city located in majority Muslim Anatolia, a land increasingly torn by religious and ethnic hatreds. At that time European leaders were about to “turn off the lights” for a century and allow a descent into collective madness. Those decisions were taken in Berlin, Vienna, Moscow and Paris, but they directly impacted on Istanbul, Athens and the people of Smyrna
In today’s terms Smyrna was “multicultural”: many communities living side by side, interacting, mingling, while preserving with some pride their own identities. It was multicultural at a moment in European history when the future belonged to nationalists, promising ethnic purity, the creation of nation states, and the need to assimilate or expel minorities, not to tolerate differences and live with them. It was an age which looked at pluralism with suspicion, where minorities were increasingly looking nervously to their mother countries for protection, and were simultaneously viewed by their co-citizens as fifth columns and security threats.
All of this was already clearly apparent in Anatolia at the time, where hatreds were fueled by the military defeats of the Ottomans in the Balkan wars in the early 20th century.
When the Ottomans lost control of all of Macedonia during the six-week long Balkan war in autumn 1912, a large number of Muslim refugees was expelled from the Balkans. This led the leaders of the Ottoman Empire to cast aside all ideas they might have had as late as 1908 about creating an Ottoman citizenship, and to embrace instead an increasingly racist and exclusivist vision of their state as a land of the Turks.
Anatolia’s hatreds erupted again during World War I. And they exploded into a savage war with the 1919 Greek invasion to annex Western Anatolia and the atrocities committed by the Greek invading army, dreaming of recreating a Byzantine Empire. This is a complex, but familiar story with one key theme: the idea that brutalities were permitted to destroy multiethnic life in order to create modern nation-states.
And thus it came that in September 1922 multicultural Smyrna literally went up in flames. 70 percent of the city burnt down following the reconquest by Turkish soldiers. The entire Christian population fled in terror. The destruction of Smyrna coincided with the uprooting of all of Anatolia’s Greek population.
And just as many of the Muslim refugees who had streamed into the Ottoman Empire following the Balkan wars had come from Macedonia, so many of Anatolia’s (and Smyrna’s) Greeks were directed to settle in Greek Macedonia following the tragic loss of their homeland.
More on that, and on the relationship between the debate on multicultural democracies and enlargement in Europe today, in my next entry.
“Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens”
German President Christian Wulff speaking to the Turkish Parliament on 19 October 2010.
“At the same time, we expect that Christians in Muslim countries be given the same rights to practice their beliefs in public, to educate new religious leaders and to build churches.”
This is, in fact, one of the most baffling problems of Turkey today.
Given that Turkish politicians are (rightly) noting that the EU should not be discriminating against people or indeed countries just because they are Muslim it is all the more remarkable that so little is done to improve the position of Turkey’s Christians. This seems one area where it should be easy and painless to do the right thing for Turkey’s citizens without paying a big domestic political price. In addition this would be a real boost for Turkey’s international image: initiatives such as opening the Halki Seminary (near Istanbul) for Orthodox clergy, addressing the Patriarch by his official name (Ecumenical) or allowing the small groups of Christians the right to set up churches or register associations would be widely noted and praised outside the country. So why is this proving so hard?
“Due to amendments made within the framework of EU harmonization laws (2004-2008 amendments), restrictive provisions in the Law on Associations and the Law on Foundations were eliminated and non-Muslim groups achieved the means of obtaining legal personality, even if not in an entirely satisfactory form. Whereas there were previously verdicts indicating that foundations and associations could not be established on behalf of a congregation, today some foundations and a number of associations in various provinces established by non-Muslims are in operation. While this unquestionably represents a step forward, it cannot be said that these associations and foundations fully meet the needs of the congregations in question. Turkey’s laws and legal practices are in conflict with the main model in Europe, which is that religious communities and institutions are recognized as such and “allowed to register and obtain legal personality, without having to go [indirectly] by way of other institutional arrangements.”"
“In its present state, the legislation that provides for non-Muslim groups to gain legal personality is confusing and open to potential abuse. In reality, granting non-Muslim groups the possibility of establishing an association limited to the purpose of “founding a church” creates ambiguity regarding the legal status of these associations.”
But the real explanation – and the reason behind these technical problems – is political.
In order to anwers this question ESI has set out to do extensive research over the past two years, which is going to be published soon on our website. We focused on two groups in particular, both tiny in terms of numbers: Turkey’s Orthodox Greek community (largely in Istanbul) and Turkey’s tiny Protestant community.
One of the most striking things in this matter (which will also be explored more in our report) is the position of the Turkish Armed Forces, supposed guardians of Turkish secularism. In May 2009 Emruhan Yalcin, a retired captain in the Armed Forces and graduate of the Turkish Land Forces Academy, who has spent some years in Germany in the 1990s, published a whole book on the Halki Theological School in May 2009. Its title: “The Last Crusader Fortress” (Son Hacli Kalesi). The final chapter of the book is as clear: “Why the Theological School on Heybeliada should not be opened”. For Yalcin the reopening of the Theological School “has to be evaluated as a political demand symbolizing Hellenic and Orthodox aspirations” Religious education of “men who are enemies of the Turks” will
“transform Istanbul under the roof of a cultural and tourism centre into a Vatican-style religious city with the status of a state, dividing Turkey and building on the divided parts, following the framework of the “Megali Idea”, a Great Byzantine Empire.”
“several commanders appointed by the general staff … openly mentioned that the Phanar patriarchate is an enemy institution seeking to destroy Turkey. … In these speeches it has been mentioned that Christians are continuing their missionary activities by which they aim to destroy the Turkish state. It is openly mentioned that those who support the European Union are traitors.”
This is striking indeed: Turkey, a founding member of the Council of Europe, a member of NATO and a candidate for accession to the EU has a military that teaches young Turks that Christians are trying to destroy the Turkish state!
Such views are not only prevalent in the Armed Forces, of course: it is noteworthy, however, how in Turkish civil society, in the media, in academia and in the arts such views are increasingly challenged. This too is a sign of a deeper change and it dates to the most recent years. This also means that Wulff’s views on this issue will be welcomed not only by Turkey’s minorities. Recent years have seen legal changes to improve the position of Christians. They have also seen a new debate emerge attitudes and policies behind discrimination in the past decades.
It is noteworthy that the almost complete destruction of the Greek population of Istanbul took place in a period of peace, in a Turkey already member of both the Council of Europe and NATO. It was the result of specific politics pursued and expressing a specific mindset.
In 1940 there were still more than 100,000 Greeks living in Istanbul. In 1965 the Turkish census asked (for the last time) questions about the mother tongue of people living in Turkey. It found that there were then 127,037 who spoke Greek (48,096 as their first and 78,941 as their second language). In 1965 there were still 42 Greek primary and 6 Greek secondary schools, attended by 6,002 pupils.
Table: Istanbul and its Greek population
1,200 – 5,000
By the end of the 1970s the total population of Greeks in Istanbul had fallen to below 8,000. In 1991, the year Bartholomew became patriarch, the number of students in all Greek schools in Istanbul was 415. Today it stands at 220.
Note that this means that even if recently things improved, there is an obvious need for the state to be more proactive. In fact, there is a risk today that both the Greek community and the Orthodox Church might disappear in Istanbul by the time the Turkish republic celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2023.
This week the German President will also meet with the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew. They are likely to get on well. Perhaps Christian Wulff will then also be able to quote Bartholomew when he returns to Germany, to convey his message that Turkey’s aspiration to be accepted as a full member of the European Union is also in Europe’s interest. In September 2008 the patriarch told the European Parliament:
“Turkey is a country that belongs to the big European family. … We are interested in this as citizens as well as a religious minority. … For accession to the European Union, some set criteria and European values must be respected. In Turkey, we can see efforts being made in this direction, to modernise the country and to fully implement the EU regulations in the national law.”
When a journalist asked him “do you think the process to bring Turkey closer to the EU can help its modernisation?” he responded:
“I am sure it can. In addition, I think the fact that we are a country with a very large Muslim majority should not be a problem, because the European Union sets itself as a reality that respects cultural and religious diversity.”
How better could Turkey advance its intereststhan by embracing both the message and the man, who is after all also a Turkish citizen, born in Turkey, who even served in the Turkish military?
And what could be a better message for Wulff to take back to Berlin and to share with his Christian Democratic friends?
UPCOMING ESI REPORT (soon to be found on the ESI website):
Turkey’s Greeks in Istanbul
Turkish Protestants and the Future of Ultranationalism
It was a fascinating, deeply emotional event: a commemoration gathering in Belgrade, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the 5th of October, the day Serbian citizens took their country back from Slobodan Milosevic exactly 10 years ago. The most poignant moment came at the very end, when a visibly moved Greek prime minister, George Papandreou (who had come in from Brussels on the way to Athens), told his audience about a promise he had made, after Zoran Djindic, Serbia’s prime minister, was killed in 2003, in his eulogy at Djindic’s funeral:
“There and then I made a pledge, to Zoran, but also to the Serbian people. It will continue to ensure that Serbia arrives in her natural home, the European Union. The EU is not complete without the Balkans. Anyone who argues against the Balkans joining the EU is arguing against geography, against economy, against history. Do not believe those who talk about enlargement fatigue. The EU is a long-term historical project and you have to be part of it.”
Papandreou recalled the first time he met Sonja Licht, the spiritus movens behind the whole anniversary event, at the time of the creation of the Helsiniki Citizens Assembly in Prague twenty years ago in 1990, and how much has changed since then. Sonja, sitting next to him, recalled that their’s was a friendship at first sight, “because, despite everything, we both realised that we were proud to be from the Balkans.” He then took her hand, and for a moment both seemed to be glowing, like two teenagers who had just jointly discovered a great romantic poem, as he added: “we are still proud to be from the Balkans. And the European future is the way to find unity amongst our diversity. This is what makes Europe special for the Balkans”
This vision, so often evoked in other settings, can seem banal, boring, mundane at times; the sort of thing EU and Balkan politicians evoke because it is the polite thing to say. But here, presented against the background of memories of another, darker Europe in the 1990s, recalling a velvet revolution that marks one of the happiest days in the tragic recent past of the region, recalling leaders who paid for it with their lives, not long ago, but recently, the vision of a European Serbia in a European Balkan seemed to recapture all its sparkle.
Papandreou managed to express, with a few, heartfelt words, the sense that our generation of leaders and activists are privileged, not only to watch, and also to try to contribute, to the writing of the next chapter in a book that might well be called in a hundred years the “book of European miracles”: that after the miracle on the Rhine (Franco-German reconciliation), the miracle on the Vistula (Germano-Polish reconciliation), the miracle on the Bosporus (the ongoing Europeanisation of Turkey) we are now in the middle of the miracle on the Sava and the Drina. And then the ghosts of that past, the Balkans of the 1990s, will be banished to their graves, never to return to haunt us.
(I could not help thinking of the day when, in the very same hotel this meeting took place, the mafia-paramilitary leader Arkan was shot in the lobby. The former Intercontinental has its own ghosts hanging around its corners).
But there was a more that made this event fascinating, and inspiring. It is also a reality that the transformation that received such a boost in 2000 is still incomplete. There are still enormous problems to be solved. The story of the past decade is one of many false starts, delays, failures to accept the new realities; of clashing visions, also and particularly in Serbia, as Goran Svilanovic recalled: of false priorities, and of denying realities when it came to ICTY, Serbia- Montenegro, and Serbian-Kosovo relations.
On the other hand, there is today real change in the air. Compared to previous meetings I attended in Belgrade, just slightly more than a year ago, the fact that the president himself could speak for 30 minutes without once mentioning the word “Kosovo”, talking about Serbia and the lessons from the past decade, reflects a new ordering of priorities. The fact that the foreign minister only mentions Kosovo in passing, as one of many challenges, without elaborating, is no less striking. There was also a remarkable intervention by the foreign minister of Slovakia, Dzurinda, calling on Serbia to embrace the “tough choices” lying ahead, and lauding the day the EU and Serbia had passed the joint UN resolution a few days back as the day Serbia’s leaders embraced reality and a European future. This obviously remains mined territory, and the fact that Serbia’s leaders are moving carefully, and not – as so often in recent years – recklessly does not mean that the problems are solved. Nor, and this was the key message of my presentation here, are all European leaders as clear about their vision of a European Balkans as Papandreou or Dzurinda are. It would indeed be tragic if shortsightedness leads some governments now to delay what used to be a mere bureaucratic step in the past, forwarding the Serbian membership application to the Commission to write its opinion. What is worse, most European and Serbian diplomats here seem to expect just this to happen, and whoever works on EU integration in Belgrade is not only exhausted but permanently on the verge of giving up …
But those practical concerns are for tomorrow, when we must descend from the mountain peak that offers a wider view of the distant lands that we try to reach, back to the planes where it is so easy to get lost. It is still good to rejoice, just for one instance: the past decade, for all its false starts, has led us to a moment where the vision of a European Balkans remains more alive than ever. As inspiring. And as vital.
Your proposal was discussed in Macedonia but not in Greece. Do you think that Greece could accept such an arrangement?
Yes, I do. There is a simple reason why both Macedonia and Greece could accept this: it is better than the status quo for both. At this moment EU Balkan enlargement is completely blocked. Serbia is blocked because of Kosovo; it is simply inconceivable that the EU will admit another country with an unsolved territorial dispute, as it has done in the case of Cyprus, and this is slowly becoming clear to Belgrade. Bosnia and Kosovo are blocked because they are still protectorates. Turkey is negotiating but moving at snail’s pace because of the Cyprus issue. And Macedonia, the frontrunner among the Balkan states so often in the past, is blocked because of the name. Some EU member states, eager to postpone the next wave of accession for another generation, hide behind these unresolved issues. The current government in Athens does not like this. Remember, Papandreou has taken political risks before to promote the EU integration of the region: in 1999 he changed decades of Greek foreign policy to support, rather than to oppose, Turkey becoming a candidate for EU accession. He put a lot of energy behind the Thessaloniki summit in 2003 to persuade a skeptical EU to give the Balkans a clear perspective. The same team in Athens is now trying to create new momentum in favour of Balkan enlargement again, which they see as a matter of Greek national interest.
Why would your proposal be acceptable for Greece?
Here is what could happen. First Macedonia and Greece agree on a name, such as “Republic of Macedonia Vardar”, or something similar, to replace Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia wherever FYROM is used now: in the EU, in the UN and in other international organizations. Macedonia changes its constitution to say that from the moment it becomes an EU member its international name will be, for instance, “Republic of Macedonia Vardar”. In the Macedonian language the country would remain “Republika Makedonija”. Next, Macedonia joins Nato and EU accession talks begin still in 2010. So what would happen in Athens? The Greek government would be attacked, of course. That is what oppositions do, and Samaras is not famous for his moderation in this particular matter. They could complain: “You allow Macedonia to join NATO and unblock the EU accession talks without a solution of the name entering into force now.” But Papandreou could say that this compromise is still better than what any other Greek government, including those in which Samaras served, have achieved in two decades. First, to have Macedonia join Nato and to see EU enlargement continue is in Athen’s vital interest. Second, he can point to the constitutional amendment and he could warn that those in Greece who want to press for further concessions from Skopje would risk losing everything. And third, he can ask what the policy of the past two decades has really achieved even for the most radical Greek nationalist? This compromise makes it unattractive for any future Greek government to use its veto at any stage in the accession process. Objectively it then becomes a Greek interest to see Macedonia join the EU rather sooner, whoever is in power in Athens.
Diplomatic sources in Athens say that the last deadline for Papandreou to find a solution for the name issue is end of August or mid September because the autumn will be difficult for the Greek government. How credible is this in your opinion?
I think it is credible. Papandreou is still popular in Greece, but the hardest economic and social reforms are yet to come. No unpopular Greek government would be able to make any compromise, which still has to be sold to the public. This promises to be a hot autumn in Greece, and managing the economic reforms and likely protests will absorb all the government’s attention. At this moment there are two strong governments, both in Skopje and in Athens. There will not be a better opportunity to resolve this than exists in the next few weeks. Perhaps not for another decade or more. Perhaps never.
How much the Greek crisis influences the search for the name solution?
I believe that this government in Athens would have wanted to solve the problem even without a crisis, but the economic crisis has given it additional arguments. First, it can argue that Greece needs to have good relations with all of its neighbours for economic reasons. It cannot afford to alienate either potential tourists or potential markets if it wants to get out of its economic hole. If South East Europe develops, it will also help Greek companies. Second, Greece has seen its European reputation undermined due to economic mismanagement. Any success in foreign policy would restore it as a credible actor in Brussels.
Have you had some contacts in the Macedonian government and do you believe that they could accept your proposal?
Yes and yes. Of course, some will say that there should never ever be a compromise. Some still believe – ignoring what the European Council hast now stated repeatedly – that perhaps the EU will not demand a compromise before opening accession talks. But even if you are opposed to ever changing to name you might like this particular proposal! Here is what the government could tell those who want no concession at all, ever: “First, we get Macedonia into Nato. At a moment when there is growing uncertainty again about the future of the Balkans this is good for investors, for interethnic relations and for Macedonia’s position in the world. Second, we start EU accession talks. This is also good in itself, even if in the end we decide that we do not want to join. Since Turkey started accession talks, it has seen its economy grow faster than ever before. The same has been the experience of other countries. Third, when our EU accession talks are completed the Macedonian public can decide in a referendum whether it actually wants to join the EU and change its international name or whether it does not want to join and keep the current name. This is a decision that will be taken then, and it is one that the people will make directly once they have a real choice. In the meantime, Macedonia reasserts its position as a frontrunner in the Balkans. In the very worst case, if a future Greek government or another EU government blocks Macedonia’s EU accession, nothing is lost. It is a win-win situation. So, even if you live in Australia and do not care much about Macedonia joining the EU, you might think that this is, at least, a tactical gain. If you live in Stip or Kumanovo or Ohrid or Skopje, you certainly do.”
If you have to say who is more credible saying that they want a compromise on the name issue, who would you choose between Skopje and Athens?
Both say that they want a compromise. What I do not know is whether the leaders will have the courage to take any decision, because clearly previous generations of leaders did not on this matter. As I said before, Papandreou has proven in the past, most spectacularly with Turkey, that he is capable of taking unpopular decisions if he believes they are in Greece’s long-term interest. In the context of implementing the Ohrid Agreement leaders in Macedonia have also shown courage and determination, which is why Skopje is now quite far ahead of Belgrade. At the same time both countries have red lines. No Macedonian leader will be able to change the name simply in return for the opening of talks, with no guarantee that there will not be more demands later, once a concession is made. And no Greek leader can give up totally on the idea of a change in the name. This means simply that both Skopje and Athens need a compromise they can defend, because in both countries, whatever is agreed, it will be attacked by some.
Do you believe in fast solution that would allow Macedonia to get into NATO and start EU talks?
If a solution is found in the next weeks, both NATO and the start of EU talks will happen very soon. This would be a very encouraging signal, benefiting Athens, Skopje and the whole Balkans. What makes me nervous is the alternative. If there is no solution now, when circumstances are better than they have ever been before, then there might not be another breakthrough for the next two decades. The name issue would become a truly frozen bilateral conflict, like Spain and the UK’s disagreement over Gibraltar, which nobody believes will ever be resolved. This is a very realistic danger.
You were recently in Brussels. How would you qualify the mood concerning the name issue? Are people there impatient or become more and more indifferent?
You have both. Those who work on enlargement are cautiously hopeful, but in a sense they have to be: the future of their job depends in part on finding a solution. People who work on enlargement believe that a solution has never been closer: this is what they have been told by the parties involved as well. As a result there would be tremendous disappointment if this fails. On the other hand there are people less keen on enlargement, which is a large number. They have become indifferent a long time ago. They think that this is simply another irrational Balkan dispute, which shows why it was a mistake to admit any Balkan countries to the EU in the first place. They fear the day when even more Balkan countries might join and welcome any reason for delay. They read the German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine a few weeks ago, which wrote that our proposal has only one problem: “it is too reasonable.” They do not believe that reasonable solutions ever work in the Balkans.
Does Brussels still believe that the name issue could be solved rapidly?
Few people believe in a rapid solution after 19 years without one, but some people certainly hope that it will be solved soon. This is particularly true for those who work in DG enlargement. They know that the credibility of an EU perspective cannot be stretched out forever. They want an end to this conflict almost as badly as people in the region. But I did not find many people in Brussels willing to put their own money on a breakthrough. When it will happen, it will still be a tremendous surprise to everyone. As one of the most optimistic officials told me: “While I believe that this time a breakthrough could happen, and ought to happen, and would be in everybody’s objective interest to happen, I still cannot believe that it will happen.”
EC is not satisfied with the reform process in Macedonia. Can Macedonia expect more critical remarks from Brussels in the following months?
Yes. The problem is, however, that without a credible enlargement perspective any critical remarks from Brussels, however justified, are unlikely to achieve much. If a country does not believe it will ever join, whatever the state of reforms, why worry about a critical report from Brussels? The next weeks will also decide about the future of the EU’s leverage and influence, not only in Skopje but in the whole Western Balkans.