Until recently Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan looked untouchable. His Justice and Development Party won the elections three times in a row and Turkey’s economy progressed rapidly. In the Arab world, but also in the West, Turkey was regarded as a model of reconciliation of Islam and democracy, and Erdogan as a ‘demo-Muslim’, similar to European Christian-Democratic political leaders. Therefore, major anti-government protests in Turkey and a violent police response was a bolt from the blue for many.
Kader Sevinç, the representative of the main Turkish opposition party (Republican People’s Party) in Brussels, and a member of the Presidency of the Party of European Socialists (PES), willingly accepted our invitation to discuss the situation in Turkey.
Why are the citizens protesting against the Turkish government?
They ask for respecting a pluralistic society, individual freedoms, women rights, accountability of the political authority and the protection of the environment.
Has the reaction of the police been unexpected?
It was not at all expected. This is the first time since the military takeover of 1980 that such excessive violence is used by the police. This violence has targeted youths, ordinary citizens dancing, singing and manifesting peacefully. Maybe there were some provocative marginal groups that we do not approve of but the vast majority of the security forces violence has been towards citizens and their freedoms.
The Turkish security apparatus has been repressive for decades, for instance against Kurdish activists. Now many people objects to police brutality. Are these two sides of the same coin?
Repression against any civilian movement undermining the freedom of speech has been – from time to time – a pathological problem which resurrects. The terrorist actions of the PKK have been violent against the civilians and the country’s security as well. The state had to be more careful in making a difference between the legitimate fight against terrorism and guaranteeing the rights of citizens.
Prime Minister Erdogan won three elections in a row, and more than half of the voters supported his party. Does that make his moves towards partial re-Islamization of the public sphere legitimate?
Free elections require a free media, impartial justice and extensive liberties. This being said, the religious dogmas may be a derivative of the increasing authoritarian rule but the problem is not with any religious belief or ethnic identity, it is about a culture of democracy and the definition of relations between citizens and the state. We are in the 21st century and Turkish citizens have proved that democracy needs to evolve everywhere.
Is the Turkish opposition, especially the CHP, really a credible alternative to the ruling AKP?
The CHP’s social democrat and progressive programme and policy proposals are very clear. Under a CHP government Turkey will be a country with an open society, competitive economy and in full compliance with European standards.
Does Erdogan’s emphasis on the Ottoman legacy mean that we should expect more direct involvement of Turkey among the Muslims in the Balkans?
Historical legacies can be helpful in better illustrating the cultural dimensions of new policy perspectives but the world turns around real issues and not past times’ nostalgia.
Turkey has not progressed very far on the road towards the EU, while Croatia will join the EU soon. Do you believe Turkey will become an EU Member State during this decade?
Yes. Turkey needs Europe and the EU has a clear interest in enlarging its democracy and economy to Turkey. This is the rational choice for both sides and hopefully, with better leadership on both sides, this will happen and the all European citizens, including Turkish citizens, will be the beneficiaries of this historical enlargement. This would also be good news for all other democracies of the world.
This interview was conducted by Goran Kotur for Slobodna Dalmacija.