The change in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rhetoric has been an obvious one to us, Turks. Until recently, it was not that obvious to the foreign observers. I recall an anecdote of a Turkish think tank member, who accompanied a foreign visitor at his meeting with Prime Minister Erdoğan, in his early days in office. “The guest was very much impressed by his soft-spoken nature,” he told me.
The Davos spat where the prime minister walked out of the panel after a harsh exchange of words with Israeli President Shimon Peres was a turning point familiarizing the international community with his temper. Still many thought he was right on getting angry. In fact many felt he did something not many leaders could dare to do. Turkey observers were rather slow in seeing the transformation of Erdoğan, who was getting less and less tolerant to criticism.
Erdoğan has received a warm welcome during his previous visits to the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe. He was hailed as a true reformer. His latest visit to Strasbourg shows that the mood seems to have changed.
Believe me, many journalists would have preferred to be in the place of the parliamentarians to ask him questions, since it has become quiet risky to address the prime minister as a journalist especially on sensitive issues.
The prime minister was the target of several questions that were in fact criticisms formulated as questions.
I have to congratulate him or his advisers to deliberately touch upon the subject of arrested journalists in his opening speech. This is what I call a “preemptive strike.” You explain your position on the issue you expect to be addressed, and this way decrease the intensity of the discussion. Similarly, the prime minister’s statement that he as asked the Secretary General of Council of Europe, to send a fact-finding mission, is part of this “preemptive strike” strategy.
In contrast to previous governments, who used to resist any kind of fact-finding mission on problematic human rights issues, Erdoğan has put his difference by giving a message of self-confidence. “We are confident enough to invite a delegation to Turkey,” is the underlying message.
Yet that was not enough to stop the wave of criticism. The answers he provided were not based on explaining and convincing. His confidence did not stem from the fact that he felt 100 percent right, it stemmed from the fact that he did not care about the criticism. When he was asked why his government did not lower the 10 percent threshold, he talked about how Roma people were sent back to Romania by France. He said there is no respect for personal religious freedoms, implying the recent French ban on wearing facial veils. In other words he resorted to the old but always ineffective tool of redirecting criticism, based on “Who are you to criticize me?”
He said, “Those who are judging us should first take a look at themselves,” he said. “If we have to lower the threshold, we are not going to ask you, we will ask our nation.”
At one stage, he said, “Maybe you do not share my arguments. You don’t have to. And I don’t expect you to do so.” He probably said this seeing the disapproval on the faces of the parliamentarians. It is not too difficult to understand their disapproval. His rhetoric is in contrast of the Council of Europe’s working culture. This is an organization that upholds values that Turkey has also said it endorses. Not only are its countries expected to be open to criticism, the views of the organization are also asked for on these common values.
Take the example of the election threshold. As Turkey is a member of the European Court of Human Rights, the issue came in front of the court. It actually decided in favor of Turkey, saying in short that election threshold is a tool resorted for political stability. The court underlined in its judgment however that 10 percent threshold is very high, (the highest in Europe in fact, where the average is around 5 percent) falling short of making any suggestion as to the ratio.
One cannot expect the prime minister to know those details. Yet his rhetoric has probably cast doubt on his credentials as a true democrat.
By the way I have to recall that his advisers are very fond of resorting to the Council of Europe’s different institutions when it suits their interests. They have made ample use of the Venice Commission in reference to constitutional amendments.
A final note: While he said the executive, that is the government had nothing to do with the arrests of journalists, saying it is the responsibility of judiciary, he nevertheless could not keep himself from making a defensive statement. His likening of Ahmet Şık’s book, which has not even been published, to a bomb and that the police can apprehend not only those possessing the bomb but the material to make a bomb, did not make sense at all. This sort of likening can only be justified by a mentality that sees expression of thoughts as deadly as a bomb. Expressing thoughts that incite violence is dangerous, but everyone in Turkey that had a look at the draft of the book said it does not fall within that category.
The secretary-general of the Council of Europe should not waste a minute and seize upon the invitation of the prime minister to send a delegation to Turkey to take a closer look at this issue for itself.
Source : Hurriyet Daily News