Solomon Passy: Turkey is Hungry for Pro-European Reforms
Interview of Novinite.com and Novinite.bg with Dr. Solomon Passy, founder and President of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria and former foreign minister, on Turkey’s unrest.
Tensions in Turkey are escalating every day. Where did Prime Minister Erdogan get it wrong, did he make any mistakes?
I have had the chance to work with Prime Minister Erdogan. He is an exceptional politician, leader and statesman, whose qualities are rare to find not only in Europe but globally. Over the last decade Erdogan managed to turn Turkey into an economic power house, which has the potential to become the world leader of this century.
But Erdogan has one more extremely ambitious goal - to turn Turkey into a leader of the Islamic world, while at the same usher it into the European Union. These two objectives are very difficult to pursue simultaneously. The protests that swept Turkey are basically a reflection of those centrifugal processes that these two priorities produced.
Aren’t we witnessing just another wave of protests, coming in the wake of those in Northern Africa and Southern Europe?
The protests in Turkey have nothing to do with the previous examples of unrest in the Mediterranean region. Turkey is a country with powerful economy and politics that the world respects. Unlike other protests in Europe, there is no economic motivation behind Turkey’s unrest. Here people are protesting not for more money, but for more rights.
Nor can we draw parallels with the Arab Spring protests - they erupted over basic rights in countries, where people have no rights at all.
How did it happen that a purely environmental protest widened to such a great extent with demonstrators accusing Erdogan's government of becoming increasingly authoritarian and trying to impose conservative Islamic values on a secular state?
Environmental issues unite people unlike any other and easily can trigger a true political tsunami. That was the case in Bulgaria back in 1988-89.
But there are other, purely objective reasons, that led to those protests, the first being the Erdogan has been in power for more than 11 years already.
This is quite a long time for European standards, which brings fatigue to those being ruled. Let’s not forget that the average Turk is aged 28 years - and young people get sick and tired of politicians much faster.
On the other hand, there is no serious opposition force in Turkey able to win the trust of people and ride the popularity wave. The people that took to the streets just filled in that vacancy.
The protests also showed that there are my European-oriented people who value their European values and who can be a crucial factor in Turkey’s political life. These people are not ready to sacrifice their European values in the name of Turkey becoming the leader of the Islamic world.
This is the strongest proof that Turkey has great potential to reform and be welcomed into the EU.
How far will Turkey’s protesters go? After the Arab spring, shall we see a Turkish summer?
Politics is like a bowl of water. When you push it forward, you never know whether the water will slop on this side or that side. In any case the protests in Turkey showed that the country is hungry for serious pro-European reforms.
The reaction of the international community seems to be rather lukewarm…
Turkey has been an ally and partner of the Western world for nearly 70 years. It played a key role as the West struggled to topple the communism regime in the 20th century. Patience has a much longer shelf life when it comes to deal with such partners. It is a fact that huge protests in defense of the secular orientation of Turkey were held immediately before the presidential elections in Turkey in 2007. But they did not deter Erdogan.
In order to succeed, protesters should know what they want, have wide support and charismatic leaders.
Turkish army is no longer able to intervene in politics. Is this a good or bad thing?
Turkey was unique in using the military in order to support democracy. The army was stripped of this role, but it was not assigned to anybody else. This created a vacuum that led to the affirmation of Islamic values (quite moderate now). So the country steered away from its European goals just because it wanted to behave like a European country.
What should be Bulgaria’s stance being Turkey’s neighbor?
Unfortunately Bulgaria has no long-term strategy in its relations with Turkey, even though it is the most powerful of all our neighbors. What we should do is build a strong relationship, get involved together in large-scale projects, to be passed on from government to government regardless of the political turbulences in the two countries.
Following Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union in 2007, the Atlantic Club has called on numerous occasions for mapping out a long-term foreign policy for our country. This task continues to be on the agenda.
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