You have been involved in a major project titled “The White List Project” on visa liberalization for the Western Balkans and been credited for contributing to its success. Would you tell us about it?
I have lived and worked many years in Bulgaria and in Bosnia and Herzegovina and I remember well the frustrations that the visa requirement brought, particularly for young people. For two decades governments and civil society in those countries complained about visa to the EU.
However, when we started our White List Project in 2006 we realized that you never obtain anything on such a sensitive issue by complaining. To lift visa you need enough votes in the EU Council to change the visa regulation! To get the votes you need to address the fears that EU ministers have about what happens after visa are lifted. If they feel that nothing bad will happen, if they feel they can trust a country, they will take the political risk.
And so we started to do research on how to reduce the risk. We even formed an advisory group of former interior ministers of big EU countries – Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom. When they said that there was only limited risk their colleagues would listen. And we started reaching out to public opinion, and hundreds of articles were written about the White List Project. And in the end this approach worked.
Will it also work with Turkey?
The latest I learned last week is that there is now a proposal on the desk of Foreign Minister Davutoglu that could work: a proposal how to respond to a recent offer by the EU to open a visa dialogue on liberalisation. It has the backing of key Turkish officials and experts, but would also be acceptable to the Commission. So a breakthrough is still possible this year. My hope is that there will be a visa liberalisation process starting in 2013.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in the Demirkan vs. Germany case that Turkish citizens may not travel to EU countries without a visa to receive services. With this verdict, do you think the ECJ closes the doors for visa-free travel for Turks in the European Union member states?
No, I do not think so. One door has been closed by the ECJ: it is now clear that it will not be possible to obtain visa free travel for Turks through the courts. But another way, the one taken in recent years by all other countries of South East Europe, remains open, and that is to get rid of visa through a process of negotiations between Turkey and the EU, a “visa dialogue.” The sooner this process starts now, the better.
The image of many of these Balkan countries in 2008 in some EU member states was very bad. They were seen as a source of all problems: illegal migration, organized crime, instability. Each of these countries is small but remember: there were then an estimated 700,000 illegal immigrants in the EU just from small Albania. No other region generated as many refugees to the EU in recent decades.
So the key challenge for the Balkans was to build trust, and the way to do so was through reforms, yes, but above all through contacts with EU counterparts, in the police, in customs, in interior ministries, on the working level. And so the Balkan governments made fulfilling the requirements of the visa roadmap a top priority. And then they surprised skeptics. When German or French interior ministry officials came to Albania or Macedonia as part of the visa dialogue to check what was happening, and left impressed by what they had seen, this was worth more than ten speeches on visa by a Balkan foreign minister.
What is the importance of the roadmap given to Turkey by the Council of the European Union at the end of last year toward a visa-free regime?
There is absolutely no reason that exactly the same happens in Turkey as happened in the Balkans if a visa liberalization dialogue would finally begin, which it has not yet! Sometimes I am told in Ankara that Turkey is different from the Balkans: it is bigger, there are more prejudices in the EU, etc …But in reality Turkey is different in a way that is good for Turkey: the per capita GDP in Turkey is higher than in allBalkan countries which had the visa lifted, including Bulgaria and Rumania. And the EU allows already now more than 1 million holders of Turkish green passports visa free travel and there are no problems.
The real difference between the Balkans and Turkey is how governments approach the visa dialogue. The Balkan countries took the roadmap, set out to fulfill the conditions, and made very effective advocacy to convince skeptics in Berlin and Paris and Brussels. Until now Turkey feels that the EU cannot be trusted and hesitates to even sit down. The other difference, of course, lies in the results of these two approaches: today all Albanians, Macedonians, Serbs travel without a visa.
What developments have occurred since the Council of the European Union gave the roadmap to Turkey?
More time has been lost. In the case of the Balkans the visa liberalization dialogue lasted 2, at most 3 years before visa were lifted. Turkey was presented a roadmap in summer 2012, but there is still no dialogue. The main reason is that Turkey does not want to sign a readmission agreement with the EU, something all Balkan and all East European countries have done. A readmission agreement commits Turkey to take back from the EU illegal immigrants who cross into the EU through Turkey.
There is a fear in Ankara that this might involve tens of thousands of people. But this is just wrong. We did a detailed study of all readmission agreements in the world that the EU has made and the total of all readmission cases every year for all of them together are a few hundred. Even if there would be 4,000 readmission requests to Turkey in a year – which I do not believe – this would not be a problem. Turkey arrested tens of thousands of illegal migrants inside Turkey every year and hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrians. In addition for the first three years the readmission agreement with the EU does not require Turkey to take back more illegal immigrants than it wants to, there is a three year transition phase! So our recommendation is: Turkey ratifies this agreement, starts the visa dialogue, sees how many requests come, sets its own limit on how many it will accept. It should also set the EU a deadline: if by the end of 2015 we do not have visa free travel, we will cancel the readmission agreement.
Turkey was also expected to fulfill some conditions for visa liberalization including biometric passport, integrated border management and signature of the readmission agreement. Where does Turkey stand in regards to what it’s been expected to do?
There is a lot that Turkey has done, and there is a lot that remains to be done. Take integrated border management. It is in Turkey‘s own interest to control its borders well. There is a lot of experience on this in the EU. I just returned from Finland, which has a very long land border and a sea border with Russia, and a very experienced Border Service. Turkish border officials know the Finnish system, they studied it, but so far they were not able to carry out the same reforms. Why? Because it involves changing the roles of the police, customs and especially the armed forces which still do a lot of the land border control in Turkey. And no institution likes to give up any influence. So the result is that Turkey has good plans but still has a very inefficient system. This can change, easily. If Albania or Serbia can reform border management, Turkey can do it for sure! But it requires a political push from above. It must be a priority.
In an article titled “The Future of European Turkey” on June 17, written on the Gezi protests, you expressed concern about Turkey’s future and its EU integration. Would you share those concerns with us?
It is normal for a democracy to see protests over big construction projects: this happens in Germany, in Austria, even in Sweden. Sometimes, when police intervenes to stop protests there are clashes also in European countries. I have lived in Berlin, where this happens every 1 May. What shocked European observers about the handling of the Gezi protests was the unnecessarily aggressive response by the police. Even on 1 May you do not see the whole center of Berlin under a huge cloud of tear gas for weeks. What also surprised many observers was an official rhetoric that described all these protesters as “terrorists.”
When such events happen in the middle of the tourist season in the center of one of the most visited cities in Europe it is obvious that media interest will be huge and the Gezi protests were headline news for weeks. And if read what was written in European papers you see a consensus, from the right to the left, from Turkey’s oldest friends to the biggest skeptics, that this was very badly handled by the authorities.
What do you observe about Turkish government’s and Turkish citizens’ attitudes about their beliefs in regards to a common European future?
I see a paradox.
On the one hand there is a tradition in Turkey of distrust of outsiders, rooted in history, in the education system and in political rhetoric. Remember, already in the late 1970s there was a great opportunity for Turkey to join the European Community, together with Greece. Then it was the left and the right, Ecevit and Erbakan, who were opposed to submitting even an application. This skepticism can be found across the political spectrum, then, and now.
But on the other hand you have a new Turkey: the new middle class that wants their children to learn foreign languages, that wants to travel, the new entrepreneurs who want to expand and compete and upgrade their technology, the tourism sector that is now world class and sees many more opportunities, and millions of students who want to do what European students do, get on a cheap flight and visit other European countries for a few days. In all these groups people are also frustrated with the EU, but they see that in many ways Turkey is already part of an integrating Europe. Europe is where most foreign direct investment, most tourists, and most ideas come from, and Europe is where most Turks who live abroad live today. It is Europe, not Syria or Egypt, that is the stable partner. So there will be a common European future, because there already is a common European present. The real question is whether the new generation of Turks can experience the rest of Europe easily, which is why the visa obligation is such a problem. If there are more contacts between people there will be more trust. This happened between Poland and Germany in the past two decades, and it can happen between Turkey and the EU as well
To find our more: recent ESI publications on the Turkish Visa issue:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
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”. 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”. 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!
Die türkische Version des offenen Briefes:
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!
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
Die Visumspflicht der Europäischen Union für Bürger der Türkei ist Unsinn. Sie sollte endlich fallen
Von Gerald Knaus
Süddeutsche Zeitung, 26. April 2012
Jedes Jahr bemühen sich Hunderttausende Türken um ein Visum, um in die Europäische Union reisen zu können; im Jahr 2010 waren es mehr als 625000. Meist erhalten sie Visa, die zur einmaligen Einreise berechtigen und nur für wenige Tage gültig sind; manchmal wird ihnen die Einreise gänzlich verweigert. In jedem Fall sehen sie sich und ihr Land ungerecht behandelt. Zu Recht.
2008 begann die EU einen Prozess zur Liberalisierung der Visabestimmungen für die Staaten des westlichen Balkans. Diesen Ländern überreichte sie sogenannte Roadmaps, Fahrpläne. Diese definierten eine Reihe von Reformen als Vorleistung für die Reisefreiheit: Fälschungssichere Dokumente und ein besserer Grenzschutz gehörten dazu wie Asylgesetze nach EU-Standards und die Achtung der Menschenrechte. Auch sollte die Zusammenarbeit lokaler Sicherheitsbehörden mit jenen aus den EU-Staaten enger werden, umorganisierte Kriminalität, Menschenschmuggel und illegale Migration besser bekämpfen zu können. Am Ende wurde die Visumpflicht für Mazedonien, Serbien und Montenegro, Albanien und Bosnien aufgehoben. Mit der Türkei jedoch verweigert die EU bislang selbst Gespräche darüber, wie Türken die Einreise zu erleichtern wäre.
Dabei wäre es, folgt man der Logik, höchste Zeit, auch der Türkei eine Roadmap wie vor vier Jahren den Balkanländern zu geben – das Land ist schließlich mit der EU durch eine Zollunion und durch die Beitrittsverhandlungen bereits auf das engste verbunden. An diesem Donnerstag treffen sich die EU-Innenminister in Luxemburg. Sie sollten dort ihre bisherige Visumpolitik gegenüber der Türkei überdenken.
Die derzeitige Politik hat zwei große Schwächen. Zum einen läuft sie den rechtlichen Verpflichtungen der EU zuwider und wird von immer mehr Gerichten in Frage gestellt – vom Europäischen Gerichtshof und in den EU-Mitgliedsstaaten, auch in Deutschland. Zum anderen verhindert sie eine Sicherheitspartnerschaft im beiderseitigen Interesse.
Beginnen wir mit der Rechtslage. Im August 2011 ordnete das Amtsgericht im oberpfälzischen Cham die sofortige Freilassung eines türkischen Staatsbürgers aus der Haft der Bundespolizei an. Der Betroffene verfügte über kein Visum und war aus Tschechien eingereist, um in Deutschland ein Auto zu kaufen. Das Gericht befand, dass der Betroffene sich auf die Visumfreiheit gemäß der sogenannten Standstill-Klausel berufen könne.
Das Gericht bezog sich auf ein Zusatzprotokoll zum Assoziationsabkommen zwischen der damaligen Europäischen Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft und der Türkei von 1963. Es besagte, dass “die Vertragsparteien untereinander keine neuen Beschränkungen der Niederlassungsfreiheit und des freien Dienstleistungsverkehrs einführen werden”. Der Autokauf des Türken sei eine erweiterte Dienstleistung, urteilten die Richter. Als das Protokoll 1973 in Kraft trat, gab es übrigens in elf der 27 heutigen EU-Mitgliedsstaaten keine Einreisebeschränkungen für Türken, auch nicht in Deutschland. Diese wurden erst 1980 eingeführt, unter Verletzung der Standstill-Klausel.
Im Februar 2009 entschied der Europäische Gerichtshof, dass die türkischen Lastwagenfahrer Mehmet Soysal und Ibrahim Savatli als Dienstleister kein Visum benötigten, um nach Deutschland einzureisen. Das Münchner und das niederländische Verwaltungsgericht Haarlem stellten 2011 in zwei getrennten Verfahren fest, dass türkische Touristen und Geschäftsleute kein Visum benötigen. Im Januar 2011 sprach das Amtsgericht Hannover einen inhaftierten Türken frei, der ohne Visum eingereist war. Im Juni 2011 kam ein Gutachten des Wissenschaftlichen Dienstes des Bundestags zu dem Schluss, es dürfte durch die Entscheidungen des Europäischen Gerichtshofs endgültig geklärt sein, “dass türkische Staatsangehörige visumfrei in das Bundesgebiet einreisen und sich ohne Aufenthaltstitel dort aufhalten dürfen.”
Solche Entscheidungen häufen sich derzeit vor deutschen und niederländischen Gerichten. Auch Leyla Demirkan, eine türkische Jugendliche, die ihren deutschen Stiefvater und ihre türkische Mutter besuchen wollte, als diese wegen einer Krankenhausbehandlung des Mannes in Stuttgart war, erhielt kein Visum von Deutschland. Ihr Fall, der nun vor dem Europäischen Gerichtshof verhandelt wird, könnte die Visumspflicht bald gänzlich zu Fall bringen.
Experten wissen das, doch in vielen europäischen Innenministerien wird dies lieber verschwiegen. Dort hält man die visafreie Einreise von türkischen Staatsbürgern für ein Sicherheitsrisiko – auf jeden Fall sei sie den Bürgern schwer zu vermitteln. Das sind wenig rationale Argumente, wie überhaupt die derzeitige Politik der EU angesichts der Sicherheitsinteressen Europas irrational ist.
Erst vor kurzem haben die europäischen Innenminister wieder einmal darauf hingewiesen, dass die Sicherung der griechisch-türkischen Grenze eines der größten Probleme der Schengenzone ist. Im vergangenen Jahr wurden dort mehr als 61000 illegale Einwanderer aufgegriffen – vor allem Afghanen, Algerier und Somalier. Und keine Türken. Tatsächlich verlassen inzwischen mehr Türken Deutschland, als Menschen aus der Türkei ins Land kommen. Oft vergessen wird auch, dass das Durchschnittseinkommen in der Türkei über dem aller jener Balkanländer liegt, deren Bürger bereits ohne Visum reisen dürfen.
Die EU braucht keine Visumpflicht für türkische Bürger. Sie braucht stattdessen die enge Zusammenarbeit der Türkei mit der EU-Grenzagentur Frontex, um die illegale Einwanderung nach Griechenland zu stoppen. Würde die Europäische Kommission der Türkei eine Roadmap wie den Staaten des Westbalkans anbieten, wäre dies ein Anreiz für eine solche Zusammenarbeit. Von einem Liberalisierungsprozess mit klaren Vorgaben könnten alle Seiten profitieren. Die angestoßenen Reformen würden auch die Menschenrechtslage in der Türkei verbessern und das Vertrauen zwischen der Türkei und der EU wiederherstellen. Dies ist einem Szenario vorzuziehen, in dem der Europäische Gerichtshof den Mitgliedsstaaten die Aufhebung der Visabeschränkungen schlicht auferlegt.
Es geht um gemeinsame Sicherheitsinteressen und um den Respekt vor bestehendem Recht. Beides ist im Interesse der EU-Innenminister. Und vor allem im Interesse der Bürger Europas.
Gerald Knaus, 41, ist Vorsitzender der Europäischen Stabilitätsinitiative (ESI) und leitet das Visa Roadmap Turkey Projekt von ESI und der Stiftung Mercator.
In early February 2008 one of the Malatya victims’ lawyers, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, published a series of four articles entitled “The Deep State is smiling at me in the Malatya massacre case” (see below).
From the beginning of the trial, wrote Cengiz, there were signs that some people were unhappy about the strong legal team that had come to the defence of the victims’ interests:
“We first went to Malatya a few days before the first hearing. Then we realized that there had already been a local media campaign against me and the legal team. It was quite surprising to see the hostility towards us … In addition to that, when we looked into some of the details in that news we came to the conclusion that some of the information contained in these pieces could not have been gathered without intercepting our telephone conversations and electronic communication.”
The trial had started on a bad note. In addition to the indictment, there were 32 additional files prepared with the help of the police. Remarkably, only 8 of them dealt with the crime, while the rest contained information about Christians in Malatya. Umut Sahin, general secretary of the Association of Protestant Churches, later told us:
“At the beginning there was an attempt to turn the trial against the murderers of Christians into a trial against Christians. That is why these folders contained information from the victims’ computers: what articles and books they read, their bank details. But there was nothing from the computers of the murderers.”
So what can one say about the way the Malatya trial has unfolded since 2007? Already the length of the trial has proven to be encouraging for the victims’ legal team. As lawyer Erdal Dogan told ESI in October 2009:
“Initially some wanted to finish the Malatya court case as quickly as the Santoro murder case in Trabzon. The indictment was short and focused only on the 5 main suspects. But here this did not work. We succeeded in bringing many details to the attention of the court. We urged them to conduct further investigations. We have seen that the prosecutors and judges changed their attitude during the trial. This is already a success.”
In 2006 the trial into the killing of Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in Trabzon closed after nine hearings, which took place between 15 May and 14 October 2006. Santoro’s 16 year old murderer was sentenced to 10 years and 5 months behind bars. A court of appeals later confirmed the verdict. Nobody investigated the question whether somebody else might have incited a 16 year old (and provided him with a weapon) to kill a priest of a church that had already been a target for ultranationalist groups before.
Further reading on Malatya:
Here are a few recommendations for those who want to know more about the case.
First, media which regularly cover the Malatya trial in English online:
There was a time not long ago when pro-globalization authors argued that the forces of international economic integration would soon make national boundaries redundant. Recently, others have suggested the opposite: that globalization is making national boundaries, at least those between rich and poor societies, all the more impenetrable. In fact, reality is more complex and more interesting than any of the latest grand theories would suggest. When it comes to policing their borders, rich societies face real choices; these choices can produce very different outcomes.
Comparing the choices made in recent years by the member states of the EU with those made by the US has been the topic of a seminar held this week at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The seminar, co-organised by ESI, featured Europeans, Americans and Mexicans, lecturers on Mexican politics at Harvard, experts in border management and technologies, columnists, officials working for Mexican institutions, and private sector representatives. Our opening question was: can anything be learned from comparing the EU and the US approaches to border management? Our hypothesis, based on our work in Southeast and Eastern Europe, is that there is plenty that the EU and the US can learn from each other.
Let me start with the conventional wisdom embraced by many of those who study trends along the US-Mexican border since the early 1990s. In a world without strong boundaries, migration pressures cannot be contained, the argument goes. In response to illegal migration pressures and the threat of organised crime, the militarisation of boundaries between rich and poor countries becomes the natural political response to popular feelings of insecurity. As Joseph Nevi writes in Operation Gatekeeper – The Rise of the “Illegal Alien” and the Making of the US-Mexico Boundary,
“Intensified policing efforts are taking place along a variety of international boundaries between South Africa and Mozambique, Spain (Ceuta and Melilla) and Morocco, and Germany and Poland. Such efforts are parts of a war of sorts by relatively wealthy countries against ‘illegal’ or unauthorized immigrants. Yet at the same time, these same countries are increasingly opening their boundaries to the flows of capital, finance, manufactured goods and services.”
This is only an apparent contradiction, Nevin argues. It is natural that rich states seek to increase the benefits and limit the costs of transnational integration. This then leads to the creation of fortresses (‘Fortress America’ or ‘Fortress Europe’) and ‘gated communities’ of wealthy societies. A good illustration of this trend is, of course, the increase in the number of border agents in the US, which has gone from 450 in 1925 to 1,110 in 1950, 1,803 in 1975 and 9,212 in 2000 (Operation Gatekeeper, p. 197). Edward Schumacher Matos estimates that today it is close to 20,000. What these numbers show is that the effort to control the southern boundary of the US is a relatively recent phenomenon. One hundred years ago there was no serious concern about unauthorized entry across the US-Mexican border. Along the Arizona-Mexico border in 1900, one expert notes, “there was no need for coyotes, guides to sneak illegals through the border; there was no border markings (save a few stone pillars here and there), no immigration control and thus no illegals.” (OG, p.26)
Today, the situation has changed considerably. The stretch of boundary between San Diego and Tijuana, writes Nevins, “is perhaps the world’s most policed international divide between two nonbelligerent countries.” For unauthorized migrants, the US-Mexican border is harder to cross now than at any point in history. At the same time, trade between the US and Mexico has grown sharply. Increasing commerce and more militarised boundaries – in an age of global insecurity, claims Nevins, such is the global trend.
Except, of course, that this is not the case.
Not only is there no militarised border between Germany and Poland; today, there is no physical boundary at all. When Poland joined the EU’s Schengen zone in 2007, border installations were dismantled. When Romania joins Schengen sometime in 2011, Germany’s external boundary will de facto shift from Poland’s Eastern border to the Prut River between Romania and Moldova. (To be admitted into Schengen, Romania has had to make significant investments in its ability to control its Eastern boundary.) Having crossed the Prut, you will be able to travel all the way to Gibraltar in southern Spain.
The promise is simple, and it has been made to other countries before: if Moldova carries out reforms that enhance the ability of Moldovan institutions (police, border guard, the ministries of justice and interior) to partner with EU institutions in fighting common threats, the EU will lift its visa requirements. Turn yourself into a partner, the logic goes, and your citizens can travel to the EU much more easily.
It is important to underline that every one of these steps has been controversial, debated, and held up by concerns about security (this includes the next big step, the expansion of the Schengen area to Romania and Bulgaria, currently put into question by France). Likewise, the debate on visa free travel for Turkish citizens promises to be intense. At every stage, Europe’s border revolution has been contested; and at no stage can further progress simply be taken for granted.
However, those who focus on the political debate of the moment would do well to look at the trajectory of Europe’s border revolution. Very soon after Schengen was created by five European countries in 1985, concerns increased in France. The fact that the idea of a borderless EU core (which led to Schengen) had been a Franco-German brainchild did not stop France from delaying implementation of the Schengen convention for many years even after it officially entered into force in September 1993, with French leaders citing concerns about the security implications of letting people enter France from Belgium or the Netherlands as late as in 1996. The fact that Italy had been a founding member of the EU did not make it any easier for it to join Schengen: the process actually lasted for over a decade, from Italy’s application in 1987 to its eventual entry in 1997.
It is also useful to reflect on what has happened in Albania in the past two decades. At our seminar at Harvard, I began my presentation with a video clip of Albania’s collapse into chaos in 1997:
It is not only Albanians but also the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina who will enjoy the right to visa free travel in coming days for the first time in almost two decades. Bosnia-Herzegovina? In the early 1990s Ed Vulliamy was a reporter there, covering the country’s collapse into war, and then writing up his experiences in Seasons in Hell. At the time, Bosnia was the scene of massive ethnic cleansing, genocidal violence and collapsing institutions, and Ed’s book captured the sheer horror of it in Central Bosnia:
“By the middle of the Saturday afternoon, more than 30,000 escapees from the bloody mayhem left behind in Jajce – and the pitiful ramshackle remnants of an army, some 7,000 soldiers -had crossed the new, retreated Bosnian front at Karaula and now jammed every square of Travnik … The soldiers wandered aimlessly among them and their beasts and wagons, as lost and destitute as the civilians. It was like some woeful landscape from Tolstoy, or a war from another time: the life of a country town and its surrounding villages uprooted and driven out by war, with all its flotsam and jetsam. And another 15,000 were still out there, trapped by gunfire on the front … “
Since then Bosniaks have returned in significant numbers to Jajce; Travnik has a multiethnic police; and Bosnia’s crises are political and non-violent. Bosnia’s crime rate is below that of the Baltic states (which joined the EU in 2004); its police forces work; and its citizens feel safe crossing the former frontlines. These lines – which many had expected in 1995 to harden into Cyprus-style militarised internal boundaries – have since become basically invisible to the traveller. A decade ago, Bosnia did not control its own boundaries. Since then it has received ample praise (including by the US State Department) for its record on fighting human trafficking.
Ed Vulliamy: from Bosnia to Amexica
I mention Ed Vulliamy not only because his book is a useful reminder how far Bosnia (and the Balkans) have come since the 1990s, but also because Ed has since moved to the US and written a book about a very different war. As he tells his readers in Amexica – War Along the Borderline (2010), “I have been a reporter on many battlefields, yet nowhere has violence been so strange and commanded such revulsion and compulsion as it does along the borderline.” The borderline Ed writes about is that between the US and Mexico; the war he refers to is the “narco war” wreaking havoc on communities from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico.
While Europe has dismantled and made more porous thousands of kilometres of borders (by taking apart the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, abolishing border controls within the Schengen system, lifting visa requirements for Central Europeans, extending Schengen to the East, and, most recently, lifting visa requirements for the Balkans), the US has done the opposite. As Ed writes,
“In 1994 the United States initiated Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego, Operation Hold the Line in El Paso, and another similar operation in the Rio Grande Valley. Since then … the border has become, and continues to become, a military front line, along which run more than six hundred miles of fence enhanced by guard posts, searchlights, and heavily armed patrols. In places where there is no fence, there are infrared cameras, sensors, National Guard soldiers and SWAT teams from other, specialist law enforcement columns, like the Drug Enforcement Administration … from the other side, apart from the tidal wave of drugs and migrants smuggled across the border, there are the killings …”
Vulliamy takes his readers to Ciudad Juarez, “the world’s most murderous city”, on the Mexican side of the border opposite El Paso. Juarez saw 2,657 people killed in 2009 (the total number of people killed in Mexico since President Calderon launched a military offensive against the drug cartels in December 2006 has now exceeded 23,000).
Vulliamy notes that one in five Mexicans either visits, or works in, the US at one time in his life. He describes the economy that has developed around the narco-trade and the gun shows in Arizona and Texas. He estimates that there are more than 6,700 arms dealers within a half day’s drive from the border in the US (three dealers per mile of frontier) and that between 90-95 percent of weapons seized in Mexico’s narco war originate from the US. As a June 2009 report by the US Government Accountability Office notes, although the violence in Mexico “has raised concern, there has not been a coordinated US government effort to combat the illicit arms trafficking to Mexico that US and Mexican government officials agree is fueling much of the drug-related violence.” Ed also writes about the paradoxical effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has seen business ties increase and the border harden.
Death in North America
Not long ago every book or article about the Balkans started with references to killings and cults of irrational violence. The same is true today in descriptions of the US-Mexican border. One book Operation Gatekeeper starts with a description of the owner of a gas station/cafe in Ocotilio Wells, 90 miles east of San Diego in California:
“On one bulletin board he had tacked up photographs of seven or eight cadavers: all of them young Mexican men he had discovered in the arroyos between Ocotillo Wells and the nearby Border. … “They was all shot. In the back.”
Another book by John Annerino, Dead in their Tracks – Crossing America’s Desert Borderlands in the New Era (2009) includes a “comprehensive border death toll” (2003: 336 people died trying to cross the US-Mexico border; 2004: 214; 2005: 241; … 2007: 237). It opens with a glossary of key terms for the border:
“I have used the terms bajadores (bandits, take-down crews or kidnappers), bandidos (border bandits), burreros(drug mules), caza-migrantes (migrant hunters), contrabandistas (smugglers), coyotes (people smugglers), narcotraficantes (drug traffickers), pistoleros (gunmen), polleros (“chicken dealers” or people smugglers) and raiteros (drivers who shuttle imigrants from pickup points).”
Annerino also points out just how lucrative smuggling people across the border has become, describing the scene in the Mexican border town of Altar:
“This afternoon I count roughly 500 people walking the streets and church plaza, so I start running the numbers … If the crossing fee is closer to $ 2,500 per person, or the coyote increases the $ 1,500 fee to $ 2,500 or more during the border crossing which I am told is common, get out your calculator and do the new border math. A recent Associated Press report put Arizona’s human smuggling revenues at $ 2.5 billion a year.”
And as another author, Luis Alberto Urrea, describes in Across the Wire – Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border, focusing on the Tijuana region, paying this amount does not guarantee safe passage:
“If the coyote does not turn on you suddenly with a gun and take everything from you himself, you might still be attacked by the rateros. If the rateros don’t get you, there are roving zombies that can smell you from fifty yards downwind – these are the junkies who hunt in shambling packs. If the junkies somehow miss you there are the pandilleros – gang-bangers from either side of the border who are looking for some bloody fun. They adore “tacking off” illegals because it is the perfect crime: there is no way they can ever be caught”
Now, beyond the sheer human tragedy in all these descriptions, there is a poignant policy question raised by all these accounts: is this border regime, are these changes – the militarisation that has taken place in recent decades – actually in the interests of those in the US who are concerned about security? Just take a look at a recent article in the New York Times from summer 2010 for another horrific description of trends along the border (The Mexican Border’s Lost World):
“Never a particularly pretty place, the border is at its ugliest right now, with violence, tensions and temperatures all… on high. Once thought of by Americans as just a naughty playland, the divide between the United States and Mexico is now most associated with the awful things that happen here. In towns from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, drug gangs brutalize each other, tourists risk getting caught in the cross-fire, and Mexican laborers crossing the desert northward brave both the bullets and the heat. Last week, a federal judge in Arizona blocked portions of new far-reaching immigration restrictions that she said went way too far in ousting Mexicans. Meanwhile, National Guard troops are preparing to fill in as border sentries. All these developments are unfolding in what used to be a meeting place between two countries, a zone of escape where cultures merged, albeit often amid copious amounts of tequila. The potential casualties at the border now include a way of life, generations old, well-documented but decaying by the day.”
After all, European citizens are as concerned about illegal migrants as those in the US. There are right wing parties in many European countries. The amount of illegal drugs entering the EU is comparable (in fact, according to UN figures, even higher) to those that enter the US.
And yet, in a process driven by interior ministers and focused on increasing security, the EU’s response to concerns about events on the other side of its Eastern border has been very different from that pursued by their US counterparts. This has been the European border revolution of the past three decades, which ESI has set out to analyse and understand.
This was not a project of humanitarians … it was a conscious decision that new thinking was required to ensure security in an age of globalisation. It was a process controlled by interior ministers, in which critical questions were asked at every stage. As French Foreign Minister, Herve de Charette, put it in September 1995, explaining France’s unwillingness to lift its controls at the Belgian (!) frontier:
“If it seems, as it is the case, that our citizens’ security depends also on the border controls, it is understood that we have to keep them.”
In the end, however, the dramatic transformation of Europe’s border regimes continued.
Is any of it relevant to debates in North America? Certainly the consensus at the Harvard seminar was that it is worth exploring in more depth. At the very least it suggests that even under conditions of globalisation policy makers have choices – and that there is more than one way in which to think about creating secure borders.
PS: Next steps forward
The Harvard seminar turned into a very informative meeting, and out of it emerged an agenda for further steps.
First, it is necessary to establish a network of scholars and policymakers in the US and in Mexico who had worked on the border issues, including those who had done any comparative work. (If you read this and if you are interested in becoming part of such a network please write to email@example.com and Gerald_Knaus@hks.harvard.edu)
Second, there is a need to present the complex politics and security logic behind the recent EU border revolution; this was not after all a humanitarian transformation, nor was it at any moment easy. In fact, the revolution is far from over, as the dramatic events in recent months along the Greek-Turkish border have made clear (not to mention the EU’s Southern border). How will the EU respond to the challenge of Turkey when it comes to freedom of movement and travel?
Third, there is a need to better understand the US policy process, the politics as well as the technocratic arguments which most shape the debate.
Fourth and most importantly there is a need to understand how the current status quo along the US-Mexican border is working and how it is failing; and for whom it is working and who is losing.
Particularly the comparison in relations between the US and Mexico and the EU and Turkey promises to be revealing in what it tells us about US and European soft power, about the choices facing rich countries and about the politics behind border management. For more, watch this space; and stay tuned to the ESI “Border Revolution website”.
A few facts as background to inform a serious debate on comparative border experiences. Look at GDP per capita (in PPP) in 2009 according to the IMF. On the one side of the border wealthy countries:
USA (46,000 USD per capita)
Germany (34,000 USD per capita)
On the other side poorer countries:
Poland (18,000 USD pc), which has joined the EU in 2004
Mexico (14,000 USD pc)
Turkey (12,000 USD pc)
Romania (12,000 USD pc), which has joined the EU in 2007
Albania (7,000) USD pc), which has visa free travel since end 2010
As for the relative size of the populations concerned:
USA: 311 million vs. Mexico: 112 million
EU 15: 398 million
EU 27: 500 million
Poland: 38 million (visa free access since the early 1990s)
Eastern Balkans (Romania/Bulgaria): 30 million (members of the EU since 2007)
Western Balkans: 25 million (visa free travel since late 2009 and 2010)
Turkey: 73 million