Birth Rate Falling in Turkey

I recall a few years back Turkey’s Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan getting a lot of stick in certain circles for exhorting families to have three children. At the time, I felt the criticism was a little unfair. Families in poorer regions of the country have traditionally had numerous offspring – and three would be a very moderate number for some. A student once told me she was the seventh child in her family. Her name was “Yeter” – Turkish for “That’s enough”.

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And they’re easier to get rid of when you’re tired of them

On the other hand, more affluent couples, especially in larger cities in the west of the country, are emulating their peers in “civilised” post-modern societies and choosing to limit themselves to one child, or maybe to have none at all.

Fair enough, of course. Far be it from me to interfere with a woman’s right to choose. Nevertheless, it’s common knowledge that that those wealthy post-modern societies in the West have difficult times ahead. Their age/sex pyramids are becoming top-heavy as the baby-boomer demographic moves into the high-maintenance social welfare bracket, collecting old age pensions and demanding more of health services. Younger generations are faced with the prospect of heavier taxation at the same time as burgeoning property prices make it increasingly difficult to put a secure roof over their own heads.

These headlines appeared recently in UK news media:

How Europe is slowly dying despite an increasing world population (Telegraph)

Europe needs many more babies to avert a population disaster (Guardian)

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Looking a few years ahead . . .

The Telegraph reported that “Italy is dying and newborns are not replacing those who die, according to the country’s health minister”; and other European countries face a similar situation. Germany’s population is expected to plunge from 81 million to 67 million by 2060, and an increasing proportion of those will be “grey” voters, turning the country into a “gerontocratic” society – one governed by the old.

The Guardian warned “Europe desperately needs more young people to run its health services, populate its rural areas and look after its elderly because, increasingly, its societies are no longer self-sustaining.”

In 1970, Italy’s predominantly Catholic population was joyously reproducing at a rate of 2.37 babies per woman, comfortably above the number required to maintain a steady population. In 2013 the rate had fallen to 1.39, approaching the figure demographers refer to as “lowest-low fertility”.

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Many a true word spoken in jest

Average fertility rate over the entire European Union is 1.58. Ironically, even this low figure is largely attributable to the tendency of poorer migrants to have larger families. Europe’s determination to shut its doors to migrants and refugees may prove to be costly or even fatal in the long-term.

Well, Turkey is not yet in quite such dire straits, but an article in our English language daily the other day reported:

Turkey’s fertility rate falls to critical level of 2.1 for first time since WWI.

2.1 is generally accepted as the minimum number of live births per woman necessary to maintain a stable population. The figure has been declining steadily in recent years. In 1998 it was 2.8. In fact, forecasts for 2016 had suggested the rate would drop to 1.85 – but apparently the influx of refugees from war-torn Syria, currently producing 70,000 new babies each year, is boosting the national average.

Well, every cloud has a silver lining.

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Italian police tortured and abused migrants who refused to be fingerprinted, Amnesty report claims

I haven’t heard of anything like this in Turkey – despite the hammering it gets from the Western media about human rights abuses:

Several migrants allege they were electrocuted and one man says his testicles were pulled by pliers

“Italian police officers used torture on some migrants while trying to process them, an Amnesty International report has claimed.

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Welcome to Europe! Just be grateful you people haven’t got 3 million refugees, as Turkey has.

The rights watchdog also said it had received “consistent accounts that arbitrary detention, intimidation and excessive physical force” had been used to force migrants – survivors of the treacherous Mediterranean crossing – to give their fingerprints to the authorities for processing.

The Italian authorities have strongly denied the allegations.

Fingerprinting is used to identify where migrants first entered the EU and can be used prevent them from moving to different countries. Out of 170 migrants in Italy interviewed by Amnesty, most voluntarily gave their fingerprints and reported no problems, but 24 people alleged having been subjected to ill-treatment by police.

Several others said unnecessary or excessive force had been used to make them give their fingerprints, the group added.

A man named only as Adam, a 27-year-old from Darfur, Sudan, told Amnesty that policemen beat him and subjected him to electric shocks with a stun baton after he refused to provide his fingerprints.

Adam claimed the officers then made him take off his clothes and pulled on his genitals with a tool. “They held me from shoulders and legs, took my testicles with the plier, and pulled twice,” Adam said. “I can’t say how painful it was.”

“I categorically deny that violent methods are used on migrants both during identification and during repatriation,” said Italian police chief Franco Gabrielli.

Read the article in The Independent

Just out of curiosity, I wonder what the meaning of “categorically” is in this context.

Liberty, Equality and Democracy – Lessons from the experts

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Yeh, I know we’re great – I mean great-ER!

I visited the Donald Trump official website today. I know you’ll hate me for it, but I couldn’t help it. I promise you I didn’t donate to his campaign or buy a T-shirt. I simply wanted to see what the guy’s planning to do – and now I know. “Together,” he says, “we are bringing back the American Dream. The time is now. Together, we WILL Make America Great Again!”

To be scrupulously fair, I checked out Mrs Clinton’s site too. The only thing I could find vaguely resembling a slogan was “Join the official campaign—and help stop Donald Trump!” Now whether that’s because Mme Hillary is so out of touch with reality that she still believes in the American dream and the greatness of America, or whether she thinks getting back there is a lost cause, I can’t say – but it got me thinking. What exactly was it that made America great?

Normally I find Google very helpful. I go to it in times of trouble, as the Beatles and others once went to Mother Mary. This time I just ended up confused. It seems books have been written on the subject, but I wanted a quick answer. You know, something like: George Washington; Abe Lincoln; mom and apple-pie; or black slaves from Africa. Well, I can tell you, it’s not that simple. Was it The Constitution? Free-market capitalism? Was it because God was on their side? Did Harry Truman and Arthur Vandenberg have something to do with it? Was it all about conquest and greed?

Personally I liked the sound of “The Constitution” – until I learned that even Ben Franklin, according to Wikipedia, had doubts about it at the time. There have been 27 amendments to the original document, including No 2, which allows certified maniacs to carry assault rifles and massacre school children in their classrooms; and No.6, officially protecting “the right to a fair and speedy public trial by jury, including the rights to be notified of the accusations, to confront the accuser, to obtain witnesses and to retain counsel” – which would seem to preclude institutions like Guantanamo, and summary assassination by drone strike. The 18th Amendment of 1917 actually prohibited the manufacturing and sale of alcohol within the United States, until it was repealed in 1933. On the other hand, some seemingly worthwhile suggestions have been rejected, for example a proposal to limit, regulate and prohibit child labour, which has been languishing on the books since 1924.

quotes+freedom+(17)OK, smart-alec, I hear you say. What’s your idea? And I’m going to tell you. Out in the sea at the entrance to New York Harbour, a colossal statue stands on an island. Standing 93 metres from the base of the pedestal to the tip of the torch, the copper and iron figure is of a woman, the Roman goddess Libertas, The torch represents liberty bringing enlightenment to a benighted world, and the document under the goddess’s arm bears the date of the American Declaration of Independence. The statue was a gift to the United States from the government of France – from one shining beacon of liberty and equality to another, so to speak. Closely associated with the Statue of Liberty are the words from a sonnet written by poet Emma Lazarus: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.

Now I also don’t know, so I can’t say to what extent the respective governments of those two exemplary republics actually believed what they were saying when the symbolic lady was dedicated on 28 October, 1886. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. We’ve all seen Leonardo de Caprio in  “Titanic”. It is certainly true that shiploads of poor immigrants from the Old World flocked to America in the 19th and early 20th centuries seeking a better life for themselves and their children. No doubt some of them found it, and their stories gave credence to the myth of the American Dream. After the abolition of slavery, their cheap labour may also have given a boost to the American industrial machine.

But something’s changed, hasn’t it! The Big DT is right! The question is, however, is he the one to fix it? I’m not sure how his rants about restricting immigration relate to those words about sharing America’s fresh air (and wealth of resources) with the poor huddled masses of less fortunate countries. Still, at least he’s talking about immigration, even if he’s against it. Hillary’s preferred solution seems to be, bomb those poor tired sods before they can even get on a plane and head in our direction.

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Neece – not nice!

As for France, that self-righteous paragon of liberty, equality and brotherhood, you may have seen the news report from Nice where four armed police wearing body armour rousted up a burkini-clad Muslim woman napping on the sand and forced her to remove her clothing. That’s FOUR ARMED police! And the woman wasn’t even in the sea – just lying on the beach minding her own business. Seems it is not only illegal to wear a burkini in the sea in France, it is actually compulsory for women to wear almost nothing while sunbathing!

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Where are your bikinis, girls?

Then an Italian imam with a sense of humour posted a photo on his Facebook page of seven Catholic nuns wearing grey and white habits frolicking in the sea. According to reports, he got two thousand Likes in a short space of time before the champions of social media freedom of expression shut down his account.

So who is the new champion of liberty and the so-called “American” Dream? My vote goes to Turkey. There are now close to three million refugees from war-torn Syria in Turkey. Some voices have been raised in protest, but on the whole the government and people of Turkey have lived up to their reputation for hospitality by allowing these tired, poor, mostly blameless, displaced masses to escape from the horrors in their native land.

One family’s story was recounted in our local newspaper yesterday: A young Syrian, Zaher Battah, graduated from the medical faculty of Aleppo University in 2006 and went on to specialise in heart and vein surgery at the University of Damascus. He married his wife in 2011 and they had a son, Enver. Then civil war broke out. Fearing for his family’s safety, Dr Battah escaped with them to Lebanon in 2014. Sadly, their little son was diagnosed as autistic. Thinking that the child would get better treatment there, the couple moved to Turkey. However, because of local regulations Zaher has been unable to work as a doctor. Formerly earning $5,000 a month in his own country, he is now struggling to pay for little Enver’s treatment, working as a tailor in Izmir for 800 TL (less than $300).

By doing their best to portray these refugees as Islamic terrorists, wealthy nations in the West are trying to justify their own selfish, heartless refusal to address the enormous human tragedy unfolding in the Middle East. Some of us are actually of the opinion that the root cause of that tragedy is the acquisitive greed of those Western nations. But leave that aside. According to Wikipedia, Germany, with 600,000 Syrian refugees is the most hospitable European country, although Sweden, with 110,000, does better on a per capita basis. France has 12,000, the UK 11,000, and the USA 7,123. When it comes to donations to international organisations working with displaced persons, Turkey again tops the list with $8 billion. The United States, God bless them, are second with $4.6 billion. The UK government has given $1.5 billion, Germany 1.3 billion – and France? $150 million. These figures, incidentally, do not include government spending on domestic hosting and development, where, of course, Turkey, with its three million asylum-seekers, again comes out on top.

Desperate not to have more of these poor desperate souls at their own doorsteps, European Union member states negotiated a deal with Turkey earlier this year. A recent article in The Economist acknowledged that “In exchange for visa-free travel for some of its citizens, €6 billion ($7 billion) in refugee aid and revived talks on possible future accession to the EU, Turkey was to take back migrants who had made their way to Greece and try to secure its borders.” It’s not that easy, of course. Turkey has over 4,000 km of coastline on the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, and Greece, thanks to past meddling by Western Powers, owns dozens of islands within a stone’s throw of the Turkish mainland.

pied piper

It’s your history, people! What happens when you renege on an agreement?

Turkish authorities did their best. After agreement was reached, the flow of migrants to those Greek Islands, and hence, into the Euro Zone, slowed to a trickle. Unfortunately, like the mayor and corporation of Hamelin Town after the Pied Piper got rid of their rats, the EU began to show their true colours. Turkey and their evil president, Tayyip Erdoğan, were using those poor refugees to blackmail Europe for their own selfish ends. “A thousand guilders? Come, take fifty!” “Did we promise visa-free entry to Europe? Fast-track the process for membership of the EU? Oh no!”

As far as I am aware, there hasn’t been any money forthcoming either. Only accusations that Turkish border guards have begun shooting Syrians trying to cross into Turkey. Well, I don’t know about that – but I do know that there was another news item this week reporting an attack on a boatload of refugees by a Greek coastguard vessel. The inflatable boat with thirteen Afghans on board was heading for the island of Kalymnos, about 20 km from Turkey’s Bodrum Peninsula and apparently failed to stop when ordered to do so by the Greek coastguards, who then opened fire. Three people were wounded, two of them Turkish.

yunan-sahil-guvenligi-kacak-teknesine-ates-acti-140067What do you make of that? It may be that those Turkish guys were breaking international law, and taking a fee from the Afghans for ferrying them to the Greek island. Maybe they did disobey an order to stop, and try to escape apprehension – but does that justify machine-gunning them in cold blood? Western governments are quick to insist on the rights of their own citizens, even when they have flagrantly broken the law in another state, drug smuggling, or whatever. That old anti-Turkey propaganda movie “Midnight Express” comes to mind.

I hesitate to accuse the Greek government of ordering its coastguards to fire on unarmed refugees; or to suggest that the gnomes of Brussels have instructed Greece to do whatever is necessary to stem the tide. But I do wonder.

German MPs label the 1915 massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire a “genocide,”

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Ms Merkel, apparently, had pressing business elsewhere. We call it ‘having a dollar each way.’

Well done, the Germans! I hope it makes you feel better in some way. No doubt you have all done exhaustive research on the issue, listened to both sides of the story, weighed up the political implications of what you are doing, and decided that your vote here is somehow going to make the world a better place for all of us.

Sad to say, however, I suspect not. I suspect you are just going with the flow, listening to the loudest voices, kidding yourselves that you are sensitive new-age humanitarians, and picking on a country you think is a soft target.

I’m not going to argue the alternative view here. It is available on-line for anyone with a genuine interest in learning the truth. Just a quick summary:

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French massacres of Algerians. The hypocrisy is breath-taking!

Apart from the exaggerated numbers, the fact that the Ottoman Empire was not Turkey, and numerous other lies and distortions, there is the matter of selective morality. Is it only Jews and Christians who can be genocided? What about the 1.5 miilion Algerians killed by France ? What about the Native Americans virtually wiped out by deliberate US Government policies? What about the Australian Aborigines? The Russian ethnic cleansing of the Caucasus? How many Muslims and Jews lived where modern Greece now is before the modern Greeks took over? How many innocent civilians have died and continue to die in Iraq? Afghanistan? Syria? Killed by whom, with weapons manufactured where?

I read that Turkey’s government is trying to ‘blackmail’ Europe on this matter using the refugee agreement. Of course the issues are entirely separate, but this vote in the German parliament does seem pretty stupid at a time when Europe desperately needs Turkey’s self-sacrifice to stem the flood of refugees.

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One of many Armenian cemeteries in an up-market part of Istanbul. Check the dates on the gravestones. Then ask what happened to the historic Jewish cemetery in Greek Salonika.

There are already 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, placing an enormous financial and social burden on the country’s resources. A similar number have escaped to Jordan and Lebanon. None of these countries is to blame for the chaos that is causing this ongoing human disaster, and rich Western governments whose thirst for oil is the fundamental cause have refused to respond to United Nations’ repeated appeals for assistance.

Western Europe does not want these poor displaced people. They want Turkey to deal with the situation so they can get on with their self-indulgent lifestyles. They offered Turkey a package involving visa-free travel and fast-track entry to the European Union. In fact they will never deliver on either of those promises. All that’s left is a bribe of a few billion euros to their poor neighbour to close their borders and keep the refugees out of sight and out of mind.

They may learn to their cost that Turks are proud people. George W Bush offered a large bribe back in 2003 for Turkey to join the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ in ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom.’ The USA desperately wanted a Muslim country in there with them to dispel the criticism that this was another Christian Crusade. Turkey’s Government in the end turned down the bribe and kept out. Probably there are other, less independently-minded countries who now wish they had done the same.

EU, Turkey remain divided, despite shared migrant challenge

This is the most balanced view of Turkey’s relations with the outside world I’ve seen recently. Finally the privileged states of Europe have realized that they need Turkey – and the best they can do is haggle over the size of the payment they will make to persuade Turkey’s government to stem the flood of refugees from the Middle East. At last Turkey has a powerful diplomatic card to play – and it was dealt to them by the West.

Turkey's President Erdoğan offers his hand to Germany's Merkel - who seems reluctant to take it.

Turkey’s President Erdoğan offers his hand to Germany’s Merkel – who seems reluctant to take it.

BRUSSELS (AP) ” Never waste a crisis, the political adage goes. The European Union and Turkey may be doing so right now, failing to build a closer partnership while facing a common challenge in the Syrian refugee crisis.

Instead of bringing the two sides together, the past few weeks have mainly highlighted why the relationship has been troubled for decades. Even if the EU persuades Turkey to keep refugees from spilling into Europe ” in exchange for money and political sweeteners ” the deep-seated causes of the antagonism will remain.

In recent days, Cyprus has thrown water on rekindled hopes for speeding up Turkey’s EU membership bid, and France and Holland stressed the need for stringent conditions before visa-free travel for Turks becomes a reality. An angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded by accusing the EU of being “not sincere” about bringing Turkey into the European fold. Meanwhile, the two sides are bickering over how much money Turkey should get for helping to keep migrants out of Europe.

The EU sees Turkey as a sieve letting through too many Syrian refugees, while Ankara says Europe is not doing its part in helping Turkey deal with the crisis ” and has always shown disdain for Turkey’s attempts to get closer to wealthy bloc.

Even as relations soured, Erdogan has been able to bolster Turkey’s national pride, economic clout and strategic importance. The country no longer has much reason to be subservient to a troubled economic power like the EU.

A glance at a map of the region drives home Turkey’s vital strategic importance as a bridge to Asia, and the volatile Middle East ” making it a key EU partner by force of geography alone. The conundrum is that Europe knows that it needs Turkey, but can’t seem to find a way to make the relationship work, especially with an increasingly assertive Erdogan.

Read the whole article

International Hypocrisy – What about Egypt or your own backyard, Mr Gauck?

To be fair, international media didn’t seem to pay much attention to it. Even the German press seemed to have more important things on its collective mind – which may be understandable given that the role of President is largely ceremonial there, as it is in Turkey.
German President speaking at METU –
a diplomatic faux-pas?
Nevertheless, the visit of German Federal President Joachim Gauck generated some heat in our local media. Normally you would expect such a visit to focus largely on PR activities and photo ops. You’d dine with your Turkish counterpart, open a bi-national university (which, to be fair, he did), utter warm fuzzy words in public about long-standing friendship and hopes for positive cooperation in the future – and save any criticism for meetings behind closed doors.
But no. Apparently Mr Gauck had his agenda mapped out (as you would expect) before touching down in Ankara. English language news outlets in Germany say that, ‘according to the German president’s office the rule of law and fundamental rights will be at the heart of the four-day trip . . . Gauck intends to talk about freedom of the press and freedom of expression.’
Well, given that Germany and France are the two main opponents of Turkey’s admission to the European Union, it’s probably to be expected that the German President would raise those issues. And so he did. In a joint press conference with Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül on April 28, Gauck posed questions about the Turkish government’s intervention in the judicial process and the blocking of access to Twitter and YouTube. Not surprisingly, he didn’t receive anything resembling an explanatory answer. Gül’s response was to mention attacks by ultra-nationalist groups on Turkish residents in Germany, to imply that all countries have issues with democracy, and to suggest that the important thing was for governments to address these issues in a positive way.
That might have been the end of the matter, except that the German President subsequently made a speech at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, scene of ongoing anti-government protests over the past year. In what some might see as an unnecessarily inflammatory address, Glauck spoke of ‘voices of disappointment, bitterness and outrage at a style of leadership which many see as a risk to democracy.’ He went on to say that ‘he was shocked by the government’s attempts to stamp out street protests and clamp down on the media.’ I don’t know what word Mr Gauck used in German (I assume he was speaking German), but one English language Turkish daily reported that he had said ‘these developments terrify me.’
Turkey’s Prime Minister was characteristically less tactful than his presidential colleague. He was quoted as saying that Mr Gauck should probably keep his opinions on such matters to himself, and that he took a dim view of outsiders interfering in his country’s domestic affairs. In typically abrasive fashion, Mr Erdoğan implied that the former Lutheran pastor was perhaps more accustomed to preaching, and could be having trouble adjusting to his new role as a statesman. You might indeed wonder how US politicians would have viewed the matter if a visiting dignitary from Turkey had made a speech expressing solidarity with ‘Occupy Wall St’ protesters in Zuccotti Park, or how UK parliamentarians would have reacted had Mr Gül sided with rioters in London in late 2011. It’s just not the done thing, as my Grandma Jessie used to say.
Mr Erdoğan went on to question the commitment of Western leaders to democracy when they seemed to be maintaining a determined silence over actions of the military government in Egypt, and I have to say, I’m curious about that too.
News media and politicians in the West were ecstatic when, towards the end of 2010, apparently spontaneous popular movements broke out across the Arab world leading to the overthrow of several manifestly dictatorial regimes. Eighteen days of mass protests in Egypt led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak after a 29-year rule under state of emergency regulations. In what was generally accepted as a democratic election, Mohammed Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party emerged victorious and he became the new president. Morsi, however, only managed one year in office before being deposed by military intervention in June 2013.
Since then, repression of Morsi’s supporters has become increasingly harsh. The so-called Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organization, and, in two separate trials, more than 1,200 alleged members have been sentenced to death.
Families of condemned protesters weep in Egypt
In recent weeks, residents of Istanbul have seen US warships steaming through the Bosporus Straits on their way to rattle sabres in the Black Sea in response to the Russian government’s activities in Ukraine. In contrast, the US government and its European allies have been twisting their vocal chords in gymnastic contortions trying to call the military coup in Egypt anything but what it actually was – and maintained a commendably non-interventionist position as the regime killed 1,400 protesting citizens and now condemns a similar number to death with barely a nod in the direction of judicial process.
The CIA website informs me that Egypt has an estimated population of 86,895,099, of whom 90% are Muslims. The country’s ‘constitution’, however, forbids religious involvement in politics – and this seems to be the main justification for the military crackdown. At the same time, Germany lays claim to the democratic high ground while having a President who is a former Lutheran minister, despite nearly 40% of their people not being Christian. I’m not even going to mention the ‘United’ Kingdom of Great Britain, whose Head of State is also head of the state religion – because they’re Christian and so it’s ok. As for born-again George Dubya and his Roman Catholic convert poodle Tony Blah . . .
What the CIA website does not say (but Wikipedia does) is that Egypt has one of the largest armed forces in the world. It has a major arms industry manufacturing equipment under licence from the USA, France and Britain. It has its own spy satellite and the largest navy in Africa, the Middle East and the Arab World. Most of this has been financed by aid from the United States of America, which has reputedly contributed on average $2 billion per year since 1979.
Egypt was one of the early opponents of the new state of Israel when it was founded in 1948. Egypt’s government and people were bitterly opposed to the establishment of Israel, and fought several unsuccessful wars against it. Since 1979, however, successive Egyptian governments, probably against the wishes of most of their people, have adopted a more peaceful stance, established diplomatic relations and even performed a mediating role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Any connection with the provision of that American aid, I wonder?
Most of that period passed under the rule of President Mubarak who came to power in 1981 after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Mubarak was apparently wounded in the hand during the assassination, though none of my sources made it clear that the wound was sustained in self-sacrificing defence of his president. Sadat’s nephew Talaat spent a year in prison for suggesting that his uncle’s killing had been the result of an international conspiracy involving the United States, Israel and the Egyptian military. Mubarak was ‘elected’ and ‘re-elected’ four times by ‘referendum’, in three of which there was no alternative candidate.
In spite of widespread poverty and serious wealth disparities, and major concerns expressed by Amnesty International and other human rights groups about political censorship, police brutality, arbitrary detention, torture and restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, Egypt’s GDP increased significantly during the Mubarak years. Apart from the military aid, it seems that the US and its European allies made other financial contributions as well. Gratitude for Egypt’s participation in Bush the Father’s 1991 Gulf War apparently took the form of major assistance, reputed to have been around $500,000 per soldier provided. In addition, it is said that America, the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, and Europe, forgave Egypt around $14 billion of debt.
What happened after Mubarak resigned, and Mohammed Morsi was elected in the first democratic elections since . . .  ever? The economy suffered a major reverse, ‘popular’ unrest manifested itself in political demonstrations, and the army stepped in to ‘restore order’. The subsequent unrest has been portrayed as Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, and viciously suppressed. I would like to be persuaded that I am being overly cynical here, but I have a bad feeling our Western leaders are less interested in the spread of democracy than they would have us believe.
German police dealing with Blockupy demonstrators
in Stuttgart
I freely confess I am annoyed about the continued inaccessibility of You Tube in Turkey – and I feel government taxes on petrol and alcohol could be a little less swingeing. At the same time, I have to say I am not unhappy to see a political leader of a major European state taken to task for hypocrisy. If you’re going to dish it out, you’d better be prepared to take it. Joachim Gauck’s freedom-fighting credentials apparently trace back to younger days in East Germany before reunification. Two points need to be made here. The first is that no reasonable comparison can be made between the Soviet era German Democratic Republic and the modern Republic of Turkey. Does Mr Gauck imagine he would have been allowed to deliver such an address on a radicalised university campus in such a state? The second is that police in Germany have shown themselves in recent years just as capable as their Turkish counterparts of suppressing the right to assembly with water cannons, gas and physical violence.
Signs of Germany’s unsavoury history of racist violence still lurk not far beneath the surface. Anti-Turk and anti-Islamic violence, right-wing demonstrations against immigrant communities, and aspiring politicians using nationalist rhetoric to advance their careers seem a recurring feature of the political landscape. One such politician is Thilo Sarrazin, a former banker with well-publicised negative views on Muslim communities in Germany. Our Joachim Gauck is apparently on record as having expressed admiration for Herr Sarrazin’s outspoken opinions. Both gentlemen espouse free-market views on finance and economics, and had little sympathy for German supporters of the ‘Occupy’ movement two years ago.
 
On another related issue, I was somewhat amused to see that PM Erdoğan is asking the United States to extradite ex-patriate Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen to answer charges of conspiring to bring down the government. I have no idea whether those charges have any foundation or not, but I’m as close to stone-cold certain as I can be that we will not be seeing Mr Gülen in Turkey any time soon. The US is very keen to get hold of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden for very similar reasons, and they are not at all happy that the governments of Ecuador and Russia are obstructing them – but I can’t see them sending the Pennsylvania Hodja back to Turkey. The New Zealand government would have been only to happy to hand over Kim Dotcom to US legal processes, but the guy is rich enough and smart enough to have kept himself out of harm’s way so far. Interestingly, two of those three are not even US citizens – which doesn’t seem to worry the Americans much in their pursuit of ‘justice’.

Threat to Democracy in Turkey

Much ink is spilled and breath expended within Turkey and beyond its shores on the ‘increasing polarisation’of the population. Generally this phenomenon is attributed to the machinations of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP)’ government. Most recently I read of a workshopplanned for May 2014 in the enlightened Aegean coastal city of Izmir, entitled ‘Encounters with Europe in an Era of Democratic Stagnation in Turkey’.
The convenors, from Bilgi University in Istanbul, speak, in their abstract for the workshop, of an ‘authoritarian regime’, ‘legal and de facto restrictions [on] the freedom of press’, ‘use of disproportionate force by the police’, ‘anger and resentment against the government’s policies’, and ‘the EU . . . stressing its concerns.’
CHP’s new mayoral candidate
Sevinç Özdemir
Well, all these things may be true, and if so, those Bilgi University academics are to be admired and congratulated for their courage in organizing such a workshop and allowing their names to be published. However, for all the talk of ‘authoritarian regimes’ Turkey remains a multi-party parliamentary democracy holding free elections every four years. What really puzzles me is the apparent inability of the opposite pole of this ‘polarised society’ to get their act together and support a political party capable of mounting a serious challenge to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) people.
It has long seemed to me, and at last I hear other voices singing the same refrain, that the greatest threat to democracy in Turkey is not the paternalistic certainty of AK Party Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, but the lack of a parliamentary opposition with the nous to come up with some credible alternative policies or programmes that will encourage people to vote for them in sufficient numbers. It is not enough merely to say NO to everything the government of the day proposes, and engage in personal attacks on its leader (or his wife).
Unfortunately, on the contrary, the other two main parties (MHP – Nationalist People’s Party, and CHP – Republican People’s Party) represented in Turkey’s parliament seem completely devoid of any positive ideas to offer the electorate. What is worse, after saying NO and NO again to the government’s ‘Islamist-rooted’ proposals, they then do a complete about-face and adopt the policy they had just finished slamming the AK Party for. Possibly this is tacit recognition of the fact that Turkey’s population is ninety-nine percent Muslim – but at the same time it shows a rather sad ignorance of very real problems within the country that could be addressed by a serious opposition ‘people’s’ party. Three that spring to mind are:
  • The education system. Pretty much everyone agrees that education in Turkey is unsatisfactory at every level, and the government, after ten years in office, has so far failed to show that it has any idea how to fix it.
  • Conditions of employment and rights in the workplace. According to government statistics, Turkey has a workforce of twenty-five million, of whom a mere 3.9 million belong to any kind of trade union. As a result, collective bargaining is almost non-existent and workplace conditions are very much in favour of employers.
  • Many work places display on the wall somewhere a framed certificate proudly announcing that here workers are paid asgari ücret– the basic minimum wage – currently amounting to 773 TL net per month (about $US 384), not much to support a family on, even in Turkey.
Instead of formulating policies to rectify these problems, and in so doing winning themselves a good deal of popular support, recent news items tell me that:
  • The Republican People’s party, supposedly the heirs of Atatürk’s secular legacy, have nominated a head-scarved lady by the name of Sevinç Özdemir as a mayoral candidate in the forth-coming local body elections.
  • Not to be outdone in the race for the Islamic vote, a Nationalist People’s Party member of parliament Yusuf Halaçoğlu has introduced a bill proposing that the 1,500 year-old Byzantine cathedral church of St Sophia, established as a museum by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1935, should be converted back into a mosque, as it was after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

What can you say? Will the true secular democrats in Turkey please stand up?