TCS Daily

What Price Freedom?

By Ruslan Konstantinov - October 18, 2004 12:00 AM

Americans like to pick on the European Union for not letting Turkey in the club right away. Can't blame them -- Europeans have already had their share of didactic rhetoric aiming at the U.S.: GMOs, the Kyoto protocol, death penalty, guns, American foreign policy, American culture, you name it. However, are Americans right about the Turkish question? Having Turkey in the European Union would mean 70 million more Muslims, many radicalized; a direct clash of the European values with the Turkish ones; uncontrolled democracy in Turkey that can currently help only fundamentalists; and importing the Kurdish problem. All of this will result in less stability in the fragile post-9/11 realm.

Most European politicians are too politically correct to say this out loud. Nevertheless, it is a public secret that these are popular concerns. Next to the new fashion of suggesting referenda in the European Union on the Turkish membership, the typical way of avoiding a direct approach to the question is to kick the ball back in the yard of the Turks: mend your democracy and human rights and then we may think of working on your membership. Of course, this does not fix the problem. It does not need to, since no matter what happens, both the European elites and public opinion will not let Turkey in; it is just procrastination and looking for excuses.

This may turn out to be too expensive of an excuse. What if Turks really transform their democracy into something that meets formal European standards? What if the influence of the Turkish pro-Western and anti-fundamentalist military decreases dramatically and all essential questions are left to elected officials alone? Many would applaud this, but it may most likely turn out to be a real disaster. Remember Algeria's democratic experiments in the 1990s? Fundamentalists in Turkey are too powerful anyway (they actually form the current government), so it does not require too much imagination to see what would happen if these folks are left uncontrolled by the military.

No matter how sad it is, genuine democracy is not necessarily the best option anywhere and at all costs. In the version involving strong Islamic fundamentalists it can hardly facilitate freedom and development -- both social and economic. Freedom and development come with the slow evolvement of social capital, and this is how they may be sustainable and not fall victim to radical religion. This is what the West should promote, not only in Turkey, but also in the areas south-east of that country. And this takes generations.

So, what to do about Turkey now? Certainly stop pushing it towards further democratization. Even though the Europeans will not formally welcome Turkey to their club, they should let Turkish companies enjoy the benefits of the common market, since it is economic freedom and prosperity that can beat Islamic fundamentalism and eventually build democracy from the bottom up. In the meantime, maintaining controlled democracy seems to be the only reasonable option: one tolerant of genuine civil society and not of fundamentalism disguised as civil society; one that can help a beautiful flower grow and keep all the weeds out. Westerners (both Europeans and Americans) should make sure that the Turkish-controlled democracy exercise the right selectivity criteria in this process, so we can eventually hope for a genuine democracy in several decades.

Very politically incorrect, I know.


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