by Yavuz Baydar
‘When universal values and international law are cast aside, global affairs are governed by force.’
This powerful remark printed at the end of a long, detailed report by Freedom House (FH) – titled ‘Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Democracy’ – mapping the state of global liberties in 2017, brings up a most fundamental question: as the Post-WW2 Order is being turned viciously upside down, what language should leaderships of democracies apply to those who work to undermine them?
FH report makes an alarming reading, gloomier than those ever before. It marks a decline of freedoms and democratic structures in 11th consecutive year.
But this time the anti-democratic virus has made remarkable advances, it notes:
‘While in past years the declines in freedom were generally concentrated among autocracies and dictatorships that simply went from bad to worse, in 2016 it was established democracies—countries rated Free in the report’s ranking system—that dominated the list of countries suffering setbacks. In fact, Free countries accounted for a larger share of the countries with declines than at any time in the past decade, and nearly one-quarter of the countries registering declines in 2016 were in Europe.’
‘In the wake of last year’s developments, it is no longer possible to speak with confidence about the long-term durability of the EU; the incorporation of democracy and human rights priorities into American foreign policy; the resilience of democratic institutions in Central Europe, Brazil, or South Africa; or even the expectation that actions like the assault on Myanmar’s Rohingya minority or indiscriminate bombing in Yemen will draw international criticism from democratic governments and UN human rights bodies. No such assumption, it seems, is entirely safe.’
Of course, the performance of Turkey stands out, under the most extraordinary proportions; noteworthy, in particular, because of its status – at least on paper – as an EU partner in accession negotiations.
Already marked as ‘Not Free’ in FH’s ‘Freedom of the Media’ and ‘Freedom of the Net’ reports, Turkey is marked as second in the list of countries which has been in constant decline:
In the past decade, FH says, it lost 28 points – 15 points of it only last year – declared once more ‘Partly Free’ but closing in on the position ‘Not Free’ even in this survey. Needless to say, it is a free fall into seemingly bottomless pit of oppression, and everybody knows why.
FH report sheds indirect light also on how the major international bodies – UN, NATO as well as the EU – are now crackling. To understand the magnitude of the spontaneous global change, one should focus on the harsh formats of dialogues and the growing gaps between the languages applied by democracies and autocratic leaderships.
In no other case is it more apparent than Turkey. The past years have marked a clash between a democratic language and a not-so-polite one between the EU and Turkey, and the former had to note bitterly a defeat in creating a common understanding. The contrary happened.
The reason? Turkish President Erdoğan had been inspired strongly by Russian leader Putin’s approach to the EU, and realized how efficiently it has worked.
But, it was another story when these two tough leaders clashed with each other.
Even the minimal courtesy placed aside, Putin set out to implement a series of sanctions against Turkey, accompanied by a relentless rhetoric, and his counterpart at the end had to blink.
The way Russia handled the aftermath the downing of its jet, bringing closer an adversary – a member of NATO – to its sphere is a case study that will enlighten all those who want to understand the modes and codes of the new world emerging.
But there you have the dilemma of stable democracies. How to deal with the patterns of bitter confrontationalism, diplomatic thuggery? What are the limits of concessions, and how much bowing to autocratic pressure will serve similar anti-democratic tendencies at home?
While FH report takes a global snapshot, the EU is now waiting for Venice Commission of the Council of Europe to deliver its verdict on how compatible ith the European criteria the referendum package that will change the identity of Turkey.
What marks the growing gap between Ankara and the EU is that the AKP, while drafting these extremely radical changes, did not bother to seek any advice or dialogue with the European institutions. This is a sharp deviation from 2010, where it had on constitutional amendments that overhauled the judicial system sought and received approval of Venice Commission before going to referendum.
This time one can guess, more or less, what the Venice Commission’s output will be. As put by Marc Pierini, a former EU diplomat with Carnegie Europe.
In a new analysis, titled Turkey’s Gift From God, he described the model of ‘party-affiliated executive presidency’ as such:
‘If passed, this new power architecture would allow Erdoğan not only to possess all the levers of power but also to impose a religious-conservative society that reflects the views of about half of Turkish citizens. This would mean the triumph of the AKP’s narrative of “it’s our turn.” Turkey’s religious conservatives, who have felt suppressed and oppressed by Kemalism since 1923, would shape Turkish society their way. If Erdoğan attains his goal, he will largely dismantle the foundations of the Turkish secular republic proclaimed in 1923 by Kemal Atatürk, who pivoted the country toward Western legal, dress, and cultural standards and even changed peoples’ names and the alphabet used by the Turkish language. The political, social, and economic consequences of shifting away from the system established ninety-four years ago would be profound and unpredictable.’
‘Internationally, the EU and the United States are on notice that post-referendum Turkey may no longer be an ally that values its ethnic, social, and religious diversity. An authoritarian regime would put Turkey at odds with its memberships of NATO and the Council of Europe and would send Ankara’s EU application into an irreversible coma. These are momentous consequences that would be felt most strongly in the economic arena.’
But cynics – and they are all having a field day in these darkening times – see it differently: Erdoğan is the ideal counterpart for the EU, he has developed into one. Not only lashing out his anger and rejectionism over the EU, he went even further with domestic measures that only confirm those in Europe who have long argued that Turkey with its own peculiar values never belongs to Europe.
He has shaped an aura of admiration for all Turkophobes who rejoice discreetly before every oppressive move. Behind closed doors in Europe’s decision-making circles Erdoğan emerges also as a guarantor of blocked influx of refugees: his recent declaration to naturalize hundreds of thousands of Syrians as well as restrictions of travel imposed for Turkish citizens, take it for granted, may caused cheers in main corridors of the EU.
Cynics are right also when they say that as soon as Erdoğan receives a ‘yes’ in the referendum, all perspectives on a Turkish accession will be over. No more is needed.
‘Conversely, the Turkish president would supposedly be gladly relieved of EU rule-of-law norms, which, if implemented in Turkey, would impede his power’ concluded Pierini. ‘If this is the calculus, both sides will quickly come to measure the magnitude of the negative fallout of such a divorce.’
‘Are we losing Turkey?’ was a popular question in the past years. We are this close to find the answer, which seems to be a yes.
Merkel knows this, leaving us with another haunting question:
What is the new Turkey strategy?
Is there any?