Turkey remains on the path to the European Union, yet there are still many vast cultural and political differences remaining between the country and the bloc.
By Özgür Ögret, 6.11.2010, Hürriyet Daily News Turkey remains on the path to the European Union, yet there are still many vast cultural and political differences remaining between the country and the bloc, according to a liberal European Parliament politician who recently visited Istanbul. Marietje Schaake, a member of the Democrats 66 Party, or D66, came to the city with members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education to be briefed on Istanbul's experience as a European capital of culture, said there were a number of issues over which European and Turkish political and cultural attitudes differ. • Protecting a legacy through laws and bans As a politician with an interest in social media, Schaake said she was aware of Turkey’s YouTube ban and was concerned about laws regarding the Internet that have led to access to thousands of websites being blocked in Turkey. “The Internet law is just one symptom of the challenge the society has in the scope of freedom of expression in general,” she said, adding that banning an entire platform because of some of the information on the site in question was unappealing. In the EU, there are also matters of explicit content like discrimination, promoting hatred or child pornography, but banning content is not taken to the Turkish extreme, she said. Since the original YouTube ban was caused by the website’s “insulting of Atatürk,” a punishable offense in Turkey, Schaake argued that the terminology of insulting the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, could be applied too easily and subjectively. “I am not sure his legacy is served by being so strict on the way he is discussed,” Schaake said. “[I don’t think] it would hurt in any way if some people are satirical about [Atatürk].” Banning the manifestation of satirical or critical content does not remove the content in any way, Schaake said. • Freedom of expression: a fundamental issue The crucial issue of freedom of expression is not just an issue that concerns the media, Schaake said in regard to Turkey’s Internet laws. “I think what Turkey should invest in is creating a more resilient society of open debates, with much more room for expression [and] criticism, where more iconic elements of society can be challenged. Freedom of expression is exclusive for fundamental freedom – it is a human right [that] relates to so many issues,” she said. • A democratic new world through new media Schaake said new digital media was enhancing the principles of democracy and equality. “In general, I think technology is changing democracy,” she said, adding that the “revolution” is only beginning. With popular tools like Facebook and Twitter among others, new media offer various opportunities to increase democratic participation and decision making and provoke more interaction between citizens and politicians through accountability and transparency, she said. • The cost of polarization is a loss of representation Schaake said Turkish society, although vibrant and hopeful, still suffers politically for its lack of genuine representational difference. “When I talk to young Turkish people, there is such tension between different ways of thinking – that worries me a bit,” she said. “Often, there are two sides to each debate – “either you are with us or against us” is not a healthy stance. Although I believe there is so much diversity in Turkey, if you look at the political spectrum, there are two major parties but there is no liberal party such as my own.” Such a situation leads to a gulf of representation for many, according to Schaake. “[The political system in Turkey] is not really accessible for new parties.” However, she has a lot of faith in the young generation who want more freedom and to build a better life for themselves, she said. • Turkey in the EU still an accessible goal Schaake is a devoted supporter of Turkey’s bid to join the EU and says she “works for this everyday.” Turkey should be a member sooner rather than later, although there are many reforms still needed and much work still to be done, she said. She said the administration and the main opposition claims to be the only political parties capable of reaching such a goal were false. The matter goes beyond the lifespan of a political career which needs to be renewed every four years and it should not be a matter of debate for daily politics, she said. The matter goes far beyond the political parties too, because “while my party is in favor of Turkey joining the EU, if it would happen today, politically speaking, we are on a completely different side than the AKP, we are a progressive party, the AKP is a more conservative party.” D66’s support for Turkey in the EU notwithstanding, they would be politically opposed to the CHP also. “We are not social democrats, we are classic liberals,” she said, saying that the CHP's “nationalist tendencies” do not sit well with liberalism. “We think that the EU is really the best opportunity for economic stability and fundamental freedoms for its citizens and they are challenges that one country cannot solve alone,” she said.