If Erdogan Loses

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

. . . if he loses next Sunday’s Sultan Referendum on expanding his Presidential powers, what then? Have you thought about it? No particular reason that you should have, but journalist Karen van Eyken of the Belgian (Flemish) paper Het Laatste Nieuws has done so, and lays out an analysis in an excellent piece, in which she posits three scenarios.

None of them includes Erdogan just peaceably accepting such a result and moving on, by the way, but you already knew that, right?


1) Here’s the closest we get to that: He accepts, and he’s soon gone.

It does seem so unlikely. As Van Eyken notes:

… that is perhaps too optimistic an estimate because in the past months an over-eager Erdogan has struck his opponents dumb by throwing into jail politicians from other parties and so-called Gülen-supporters.

Indeed, in its essence what this referendum is about is handing over dictatorial powers, but he has been no less dictatorial before the fact in trying to bum-rush the entire country (together with expat Turkish voters in Europe – until the governments there intervened) to a Yes vote. It’s really a miracle how, as I write this five days before the election, indications are that the Yes vote is only slightly ahead.

But OK, if the vote is No: Scenario 1 is that that would be such a setback that it would catapult him out of politics altogether. Note that this is not just Van Eyken herself here, she does cite to this effect a couple of Turkey experts in the academy and the press. These claim that there are enough opponents even within his own AKP Party who are ready to push him out should the referendum fail.

2) Erdogan calls for a re-try: Especially if the No vote passes with a thin margin, the Turkish president is likely to give his country an early opportunity to get things right the second time. (Note the similarity here to the EU’s own practices when it comes to referenda. But this whole sorry tale shows yet again why referenda are such a flawed political instrument, something I have repeatedly brought up within this weblog.)

Remember, this would be little more than what Erdogan already did in 2015, when in the June general election his AKP party lost its majority in parliament; Erdogan arranged for early elections again in November. (He also went to war with the country’s Kurds, to assure he would get victory at that second try. And now he’s suffering from that unnecessary step, especially in Syria.) Remember as well that, as a result of that November victory, the AKP party with its renewed parliamentary majority can easily arrange that second-chance referendum.

3) Turkey descends into general violence: This is intriguing, and does seem quite possible. Is Turkey even a democracy now? Don’t we have Erdogan already far exceeding the given powers of his presidential office, de facto, to be allowed to act like the sultan he aspires to be de jure? Then what can happen when the figurehead of what is actually a top-heavy state faces such a setback is that everyone comes out of the woodwork ready for violence: the Kurds, ISIL, but also dissidents within the AKP. For the country is still on a knife-edge after the trauma of last July’s attempted coup d’état.

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Para. 103: More Bark Than Bite

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Many Germany observers are confused these days by the so-called Böhmermann Affair: Jan Böhmermann has his own show, called Neo Magazin Royale, on the German public television network ZDF, and on March 31 he recited on-air a poem concerning Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that was not so nice, including as it did i.a. several references to the President’s alleged sexual practices. Top officials of the Turkish government, including Erdoğan personally, lobbied the German government to press criminal charges against Böhmermann; Angela Merkel herself eventually announced that the German State would indeed give its required go-ahead for a criminal investigation of Böhmermann for insulting a foreign Head of State.

What is going on with Germany? Isn’t it the country which, for some time now, has topped all opinion polls for world-wide admiration. This abridgement of elementary freedom of speech seems to hark back to the bad old Nazi times.

Not really, though; if anything, it harks back to the mid-1950s, when after a decade of Allied occupation Germany was getting back on its feet as an independent Western country. The former Shah of Iran – were he still around – would be glad to remind us of how speech in modern Germany is far from fully free.

Shah
Indeed, that paragraph of German federal law under which Böhmermann might be prosecuted – paragraph 103 StGB, forbidding “the insulting of organs and representatives of foreign States” – was for quite a while known as the Shah-paragraph, so often did the Persian monarch use it in his relations with the Federal Republic.

But first back to 1953, when German criminal law, having been suspended since that country’s defeat in 1945, is being restored – and authorities take care to re-institute paragraph 103, which dates back to Second Reich, that is, to the rule of German Emperors following the country’s unification in 1871. The political system of post-WWII Germany naturally was carefully designed by the occupying powers to try to ensure that such dictatorship as was seen during the Nazi regime could never happen again; for one thing, the peculiar American concept of federalism was introduced, so that the country was broken up into individual states each having rights and powers at their own local level.

But this new Germany was by no means designed to be any sort of liberal paradise with the world’s greatest personal freedoms. People’s memories were still fresh in 1953, only eight years after the Nazis’ gross crimes against humanity had been ended, and Germany was still to some degree a pariah state. There was no room, in other words, for the inevitable satirists and smart-alecks which such a fertile culture would inevitably produce to spoil the German government’s attempts to get back into the world’s good graces by ill-conceived, badly timed and just plain rude cross-border insults. Indeed, in 1958 Konrad Adenauer’s government wanted to go even further to prevent that sort of thing, namely to adding a paragraph 103a which would have outlawed the spreading of any sort of denigrating reference concerning the private lives of foreign heads of state or their families – whether true or not.

That extension was rejected by the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s federal parliament. But even in rejection the proposed law had a name: Lex Soraya, or “Soraya’s Law,” after the Persian Empress who was the Shah’s second wife, whom he was busy divorcing.

Nobody Cares; Nobody Really Punished

So the Shah lacked that extra bit of legal machinery to go after critics in Germany who said something insulting about his wives. But paragraph 103 gave him plenty of leeway to file charges against those insulting him personally, and he did so in three instances, the first in 1958. The same stricture applied, of course, against insults directed at other countries’ representatives, but the interesting point in this taz.de article is rather how the very prospect of such a foreign head of state complaining often caused the German police to move in ahead of the game and start confiscating materials and even arresting people being rude to foreign political figures, as they did in the case of insulting materials directed at such figures as then-Chinese President Li Peng, against the Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, against Pope Benedict XVI and against visiting American Presidents Ronald Reagen and George W. Bush.

In all of those latter cases the police then had to back off and apologize because one key element required to prosecute such acts – namely, an official complaint coming from the “insulted” party – was not forthcoming. Thus we see that it has really mainly been the Shah who has actively taken advantage of this paragraph 103 during its post-War history. It is also important to note that the harshest punishment that ever resulted was “low-level fines” collected from editors at a Cologne newspaper (after a three-year trial) which published a disrespectful set of cartoons about the Shah in the 1960s.

Now the Turkish government is seeking legal redress as well. (Vice President Numan Kurtulmus has even publicly characterized Böhmermann’s poem as a “crime against humanity.”) That fact has caused many to worry that President Erdoğan, buoyed by how dependent Chancellor Merkel is upon him regarding the refugee situation, is deliberately using these insults directed against him to force her to turn Germany into something it has not been since 1945. Such concerns are misplaced, however, for a Bad and a Good Reason:

  • The Bad Reason: Paragraph 103 has been there as part of German federal law since that law was resurrected in the mid-1950s, so it’s nothing new; and
  • The Good Reason: Over-enthusiastic policing aside (which has always eventually been called back), it seems clear that the modern German legal system does have a good understanding of, and sympathy for, the right of freedom of speech, as we can see from the minor penalties courts have issued even when Paragraph 103 cases have managed to go all the way to trial and judgment.

In other words, while for much of its post-War history German diplomacy has operated within a difficult and awkward framework, so that measures such as Paragraph 103 were useful to have when citizens “misbehaved” vis-à-vis foreign potentates, in the final analysis they have amounted to mere window-dressing. When necessary, “action” can be seen to be taken, whereas no one is seriously punished as a result, and nothing (including the German people’s right to express themselves, in particular) fundamentally changes. OK, Jan Böhmermann may now be under police protection, and he has had to cancel the taping of a number of his shows – but he should enjoy his new status as media martyr, history shows he won’t pay much for it, if anything, and it might even enhance his career.

One might well see a parallel here with the “promises” concerning a resurrection of Turkey’s EU membership bid that are part of the recent agreement concerning the refugees – but that would require a separate post.

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Talkin’ Turkey? Turkey Talkin’?

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Hopefully my readers are willing to indulge me today as I depart from usual custom to address an article I came across written in English. As EurActiv reports, the Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu visited Brussels yesterday.

Turkey
Of course, my eye was caught by that headline: “Holy Roman attitude”! Here is the paragraph from Davutoglu out of which that came:

Nobody can tell me “we Europeans” and “you Turks” […] But we are part of European history. And we are part of contemporary Europe. There are 45 million Muslims living in Europe and more than 6 million Turks. […] We have to have an inclusive European identity. But if you have a Holy Roman-German-Christian type of understanding, then Europe has ended, sorry.

We can all rest easy now, right? We have this Turkish, Muslim official from outside of Europe standing by ready to tell us when Europe has officially “ended.” But he is right with that “we are part of European history” part: Tours, 732; Constantinople, 1453; Vienna, 1529 and 1683. For those with lesser background in European history, those were dates at which Europeans tried (mostly successfully) to beat the invading Muslims/Turks back, out of Europe.

What kind of “inclusive European identity” can there be that includes the Turks? Our civilizations are based on totally different philosophical/moral foundations: the European, on a Judeo-Christian basis; the Muslim, on the Koran and sharia law. Yes, Turkey is a country that directly borders on Europe – it is not part of Europe, geographically speaking, other than an insignificant piece of land to the West of the Bosphorus – and close trade relations, to include as-low-as-possible tariffs, would be a good thing. But not EU membership, not suddenly handing the 77 million Turks living in Asia (note!) Minor the power to co-determine all the many other aspects of life that we now look to the European Union to regulate.

Admitting Turkey to the EU makes about as much sense as – and is a very analogous idea to – admitting Mexico as America’s 51st state. But regular readers (Hi, Mom!) will already know that I delved much further into this point in a blogpost of quite a while ago. And that is even when you’re dealing with a squeaky-clean, smiling, democratic Turkey. That’s hardly what we have now, and the mass-arrests of journalists in that country of last month and the brutal response to the Taksim Square protests in Istanbul are just a couple of available data-points that make that only too plain.

(Now, to give it credit, Turkey has put in super-human efforts to accommodate the flood of refugees coming to it from across the Syrian border, and remains the world’s foremost enemy to that bloodthirsty dictator and child-torturer Bashar al-Assad.)

Yet more:

The Turkish Prime Minister made ironic remarks about the lack of political stability in EU countries, saying that at a NATO meeting in his previous capacity as foreign minister, he was the only [sic] to have been in office for four full years. Another country which he didn’t name had changed seven ministers in the meantime, and some others six or five.

Yes, isn’t that something? National governments that actually reflect the popular will! Not so easy to find in other lands where the government even blocks Twitter (or tries) to try to keep its public uninformed about allegations of widespread corruption within it – as was the case not so long ago in your country, Mr. Prime Minister.

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Take 2 Rocket-Launchers, Call In AM

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

“Something a bit like the flu” – does that phrase sum up for you the recent geopolitical struggle over the Eastern Ukraine? No? It doesn’t cut it for Polskie Radio, the Polish State radio & TV broadcaster, either.

PrezCzech
Translation: “Czech President is for lifting sanctions on Russia. He appeared at a conference organized by a colleague of Putin.”

That first individual mentioned would be President Miloš Zeman, the second is Vladimir Yakunin, president of the Russian railways. We all know that you don’t get that sort of high-profile executive job at a State agency in Russia without Vladimir Putin’s personal approval; in fact, Yakunin is originally from Leningrad, like the Russian dictator, and is a close neighbor at a restricted zone of country dachas fronting an idyllic lake just to the North of the city.

He is also President of something called “World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations,” which provided the occasion – on the Mediterranean island of Rhodes, no less – for President Zeman’s disparaging remarks about the Ukraine confrontation. Zeman knew very well who was behind the conference, this article reports, as they happen yearly and he has attended them regularly – just not before as Czech President. What’s more, he delivered his remarks there in Russian. (But he is old-school enough to come from that period in Czechoslovak history when you had to learn Russian to get ahead.)

The Poles have quite a different evaluation of the situation in Ukraine; you can be sure that they are not pleased with this official Czech line, nor with Miloš Zeman’s choice of associates.

Swing Your Partner – If He’s There

In related news from Polskie Radio, Ukraine President Poroshenko recently announced an initial slate of 60 reforms to his country’s laws and legal practices designed to make it ready to become an EU member-state by the year 2020. “Without reform,” he declared, “we have only one road – to Russia.”

That’s very fine – and, Lord knows, the way business and government is run in the Ukraine is badly in need of such reform – but joining a club also depends on the willingness of that club to accept one as a new member. Is Poroshenko quite sure that the EU will be ready to admit the Ukraine in 2020, or ever? Has the EU offered the Ukraine any concrete indications or guidance on the question? (The European body-politic it purports to represent would surely like to know! There does exist an entire EU Commission DG/body of bureaucrats, named “Enlargement,” that is supposed to be on top of such matters.)

Or, having learned nothing from its 27-year-long Turkish tease (applied for full EU membership in 1987; still has no chance in Hell of getting it), is the EU about to embark upon another awkward, ultimately fruitless accession lap-dance with a geopolitically crucial country?

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“Now Recep – BeHAVE Yourself!”

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

A heads-up for whoever is going to be in Cologne tomorrow, things could get interesting.

You might recall how we wrote on these pages about a month ago about German President Joachim Gauck’s visit to Turkey a month ago, and the waves he made there. Well, what goes around, comes around: the Turkish Premier Erdogan is due in Cologne on Saturday:

Erdogan_in_DE
“Cologne visit by Turkish PM: Merkel calls for restraint from Erdogan.” Now, this is no sort of state visit, neither Merkel nor Gauck will be anywhere near him, but rather the sort of sojourn Erdogan likes to make from time to time to go shore up his support among the many citizens of Turkish nationality living in Germany.

Unfortunately, the political situation back in the Motherland has been steadily deteriorating, hurried along by the deaths of 301 workers in the recent Soma mine disaster there and the public’s angry reaction to that. In a newspaper interview earlier in the week, Merkel said Erdogan was of course welcome to come give his speech, but “I insist that he does this on Saturday with a sense of responsibility and sensitivity.”

Sensitivity, however, has rarely proven to be PM Erdogan’s strong suit. Indeed, his people seem not to be approaching the event in a very constructive manner:

RP_ErdoganFall
“Turkey fears a trap for Erdogan in Cologne.” But why? Because the German authorities also approved no less than eight counter-demonstrations in the city on the same day. No wonder the Turks are suspicious: they would simply forbid any such counter-demonstrations, and no doubt were ready to do so during President Gauck’s visit there last month – if anyone had actually applied to hold any.

Cologne streets could turn into quite a scrum on Saturday, but the latter Rheinische Post article at least has published the following almost military-looking map to help you make your way. FYI, the stadium-event where Erdogan will actually be speaking is the one the furthest to the right that says Veranstaltung UETD.

Koln
(For those asking, the title to this post was inspired by the Beatles, who even back in the early 1960s could sing remarkably presciently about world affairs.)

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Conduct Unbecoming a Guest

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

The current sojourn by German President Joachim Gauck in Turkey has turned out to be far from your garden-variety Head-of-State visit (quite apart from the strange paranoia against mobile telephones exhibited by security services there that I tweeted about earlier). These sorts of occasions tend to be scheduled quite far in advance, but in this case you wonder just how far ahead – before the Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan started to see videos pop up on YouTube implicating him and those around him in corruption, before he started to get all sorts of nasty back-talk on Twitter, for example? Before he went so far as to ban – or to try to ban – both YouTube and Twitter in Turkey, for example?

Yes, before all those developments, you’d have to think. But the show must go on, and Gauck is a trooper for Germany. Let me hasten to add: not THAT kind of trooper for Germany, not at all, really rather a trooper for Truth and Justice. I am serious, he was a civil rights activitist in the former East Germany, which is one of the most unpleasant, pain-inducing job-descriptions you can come up with. But this also means that, although Gauck easily agreed to fulfill his previously-scheduled duty to visit Turkey, he did not intend to shut up about what he found there.

And so we have this:

Gauck in Turkey
“Erdogan rejects Gauck’s criticism.” Mind you, this is while Gauck is still in Turkey.
And the situation is rendered even more awkward by the fact that Prime Minister Erdogan is just one of a pair of Gauck’s official hosts for his visit, the other one of course being Turkish President Abdullah Gül, once almost as politically close to Erdogan as a brother, but now clearly worried about the anti-democratic direction his prime minister is taking the country. (And in addition, completely dismissive of Erdogan’s attempted Twitter-ban – an attitude he communicated via a tweet from his presidential account.) (more…)

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Behind the Taksim Square Protests

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

One surprising thing that you may not know about the recent anti-regime protests that rocked Istanbul and other Turkish cities over the past week (and which show every sign of continuing) is that the premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the main target of the demonstrators’ wrath, was not even in the country as they erupted, but rather off on a state-visit tour. But he’s back now, as of Thursday evening.

Erdogan keert strijdbaar terug in roerig Turkijehttp://t.co/vhRT2T1wqJ

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


Roerig: “In turmoil.” Yep, that’s the scene to which he returned. But he was strijdbaar as he did so, “combative,” boosted in his self-belief by thousands who turned out to the airport to welcome him back. He showed no indication of taking anything other than a hard line on the demonstrations, terming them mere “vandalism.”

It’s all sort of strange when you think about it, all this “vandalism” – isn’t this supposed to be about whether they tear up a park in order to make a shopping mall? In other words, isn’t this at bottom just a municipal Istanbul dispute? Why is the prime minister getting involved?

Writing in the Volkskrant, the linguist and editor-in-chief of the Dutch political magazine De Republikein Rik Smits brings up some other, more significant things you also might not be aware of concerning these Turkish troubles. The title of his piece (quotes in the original): “On Taksim Square a giga-mosque will be erected.”

Taksim Square is of course the ground-zero of the dispute, the location of Gezi Park that is in danger of being razed. The general point here is that it’s not really the supposed new shopping center that is at issue, the authorities have more far-reaching ambitions for that location – ambitions which, by the way, even if the Turkish press were aware of, it would not mention given the notorious heavy hand that the State holds above it.

Smits has not come up with anything particularly new here, it’s just a matter of going back to the historical record – in particular, back to the mid-1990s when Erdogan served as Istanbul’s mayor. Then he also had plans to have a gigantic mosque built on Taksim Square. But Turkey has always had to maintain an uneasy balance between the secular and the religious, and he did not then get his way. Indeed: the military regarded him as rather a bit too religious, and jailed him for six months. But now, of course, he is rather more powerful as Prime Minister (having already taken his revenge on the military – sorry, that’s a blog-post’s worth of material by itself).

There’s even more to it than that, though: Why this spot, why must this particular park die? Is Erdogan perchance the ultimate anti-Green? No, Smits rather shows us how Taksim Square holds a special significance, to those Turkish citizens of a secular persuasion. You have there a big monument from 1928 commemorating Turkish “independence” – in reality, its conversion from the Ottoman Empire, the work of Atatürk. Right next door is the Atatürk Cultural Center. Presumably, according to Smits’ argument, these would have to make way as well for the new mosque – the perfect symbolism of the displacement of the secular by the religious that Erdogan has allegedly been searching for since his mayoral days.

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Does Turkey Need Air Defence Help?

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Here, let me ask you this (answers and/or commentary as usual welcome at the €S e-mail address): Does Turkey currently face a military threat across the Syrian border? At least through the air?

Those are the important questions now before the German parliament, or Bundestag:

Luftabwehr für Türkei: Patriots-Debatte zwischen Skepsis und Fremdscham http://t.co/RSZflivE

@BMOnline

Berliner Morgenpost


Or rather: they are supposed to be before the Bundestag, as we learn in the Berliner Morgenpost article. Rather incredibly, though, it actually seems that the German government was ready to deploy Patriot anti-aircraft missile units to Turkey just on its own authority.

But Homey don’t play that, as opposition politicians are now reminding the German public. Indeed, as a spokesman for the opposition Socialist Party (SPD), Rainer Arnold, maintained in a separate newspaper interview, the German “Supreme Court” (Bundesverfassungsgericht) has made it clear in its decisions that such a deployment outside the country must be approved by the Bundestag.

If you ask Arnold’s boss, the SPD’s faction-leader in the Bundestag, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, it’s not clear-cut that Turkey lies under any threat. And his Green Party counterpart, Jürgen Trittin, will be glad to tell you – you don’t need to ask – that in fact a UN mandate (presumably from the Security Council) is also necessary for such a deployment. (That’s his own opinion, though, not that of the Bundesverfassungsgericht.)

On the other hand, the article also says that Turkey had asked for – or was very close to asking for – NATO assistance of that kind, so that this can easily be viewed as a case of providing solidarity to another NATO ally. That’s certainly the line that the governing coalition has taken up; some leading spokespersons profess to be ashamed that there is even any doubt that Germany is willing to come help.

Then again – is there really a threat? German deployments outside Germany for decades (after the mega-deployment known as WWII) never happened at all, but in any event are very sensitive matters domestically – and the latest one that is just winding down, to Afghanistan, did little to inspire confidence. Anyway, the nature of the Turkish situation is not decided in Berlin, yet, and so neither is the whole issue of Patriot deployment.

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Enter the Turks

Monday, November 21st, 2011

So now the latest trick Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has up his sleeve is to quibble with the Arab League about terms & conditions for the the 500-person monitoring team they want to send there? He needs to start paying attention to that rumbling sound coming from his borders:

Intervention gefordert: Die kriegerischen Planspiele der Türkei gegen Syrien http://t.co/VbhCTKZ7

@weltonline

Welt Online


This links to an article from the authoritative German national daily Die Welt about how Syria’s neighbor Turkey – whose Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once termed al-Assad his “brother” – is beginning plans to make its own intervention into the Syrian national uprising go beyond mere words. First of all, it’s starting to prepare to impose its own no-fly-zone on the country. Also, according to the authoritative English-language Beirut newspaper The Daily Star, Turkey wants to seize a strip of Syrian land along the common border as a “security zone.”

Don’t get too excited here about the Turks’ zeal to help out their neighbors, though: the main function of such a zone would be as a place for Syrian refugees to be able to stay for a while in safety from their government, rather than have to cross over into Turkey proper. To the south, Jordan is said to be considering this sort of a move too, and both countries are gaining support for it among Western and other Arab countries as al-Assad continues to be intransigent.

By the way, there is an important US airbase in Turkey, at Incirlik, maybe 120km from the Syrian border. The Welt article also mentions US support of Jordanian armed forces, which might get the Americans involved here that way.

Of course, some representatives of the Syrian rebels – in particular the Muslim Brotherhood there – have already called for full-scale military intervention. Turkish, that is; most still will not accept any such explicit help from Western powers. Still, for all the Turkish sabre-rattling, there are also important questions to give its leaders pause. A no-fly-zone – and even just trying to seize enough Syrian territory for the “security zone” – would require disabling Syria’s air force, built around 100 advanced MiG-29 fighters – is the Turkish air force up to the job by itself? Foreign Minister Davutoglu has also made recent statements that Turkey would really rather not go it alone when it comes to any intervention. It would surely require explicit Arab League and UN Security Council approval for any such step, as well as probably co-belligerents (and Jordan alone would likely not be sufficient).

Then again, Syria also currently depends on Turkey for much of its electricity, and for the water coming over the border from Turkish highlands in the form of the Euphrates river. What’s more, the recent attack by a Damascus mob on the Turkish embassy there – complete with burning Turkish flags – was itself not very “brotherly.”

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Press Predators

Friday, May 6th, 2011

You’ve certainly heard of Médecins sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, the international medical-aid charity founded in 1971 by among others Bernard Kouchner, who not so long ago was Nicolas Sarkozy’s Foreign Minister. But there’s also Reporters Without Frontiers – a similar name, somewhat of a similar function, namely upholding the rights of news reporters to go about their work no matter where in the world they may happen to be. The Belgian paper La Dernière Heure now reminds us that Reporters Without Borders has released its annual list of “Predators of Freedom of the Press in 2011.”

No tweet here this time, sorry if you were expecting one, it seems La Dernière Heure is not on Twitter. You can follow Reporters Without Borders on Twitter, though, if that makes you feel any better, although they tweet – or is it pépier? – in French.

More to the point, though, they have their list of 2011’s 38 press-freedom “predators” on-line (and in English), although it’s in a one-webpage-per-predator format that enables a full treatment of each dictator but also makes it rather cumbersome to move from one to another. (At least the first one you encounter when you go to that webpage is Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad, an excellent candidate for the head-of-the-class.)

Really, La Dernière Heure’s analysis is itself sufficient to gain an appreciation of what’s going on with this year’s list. What’s mainly been going on – haven’t you heard? – is the “Arab Spring,” which has added some new entrants to this list as their true repressive colors were revealed amid the unrest, such as King Hamad Al-Khalifa of Bahrain. That has also tightened up the anti-press behavior of some of the world press’ perennial predators, such as in the People’s Republic of China and Azerbaijan, where authorities have felt the need to get even more nasty to try to head off anything like an “Arab Spring” happening where they live.

Otherwise, you’ll find the usual suspects here: Iran’s Ahmadinejad, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Belarus’ Lukashenko, and so on. But there are also some unusual suspects: the Israeli Defense Forces, say, or countries like Italy, Spain, Mexico, and the Philippines where it is not the government per se but rather violent groups operating within the country (respectively, the Mafia and other organized crime, ETA, drug cartels, and private militias) that serve to make reporters’ lives hell.

And then – EU enlargement officials take note! – there is Turkey. It is not actually on the list of 38 predators, but rather gets an honorable mention on Reporters Without Borders’ own analysis page:

In Turkey (which received a Reporters Without Borders country visit in April), the problem is not just repressive laws, especially the counter-terrorism and state security laws, but also and above all abusive practices by the courts and judges due to their lack of knowledge of investigative journalism.

Think of this in, say, Standard & Poor’s terms: The outlook on Turkey has been set to “negative,” presaging a possible “downgrade” next year onto the “predators list” proper.

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Denmark’s Rasmussen To Head NATO

Monday, April 6th, 2009

You likely missed it in the thick series of happenings and photo-ops that have flooded the world’s front pages since Barack Obama first took flight last Tuesday for London, but there was a bit of a mini-crisis brewing at the NATO summit (his next stop after the G20 meeting in London) even as he addressed all those German and French students in Strasbourg at that “town hall” meeting on Friday. It wasn’t very complicated: the current Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was lined up to succeed Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO Secretary-General at the summit, but there was a serious monkey-wrench in the works: the top Turkish leaders did not want Rasmussen in that post, and they were ready to insist that he not get it and so exercise the effective veto they and every other one of NATO’s 28 members have on such a top position. (The Turkish complaints against him related to the late 2005/early 2006 Danish cartoons affair, plus a Kurdish-language TV station – “Roj TV” – that broadcasts in Denmark.) Things even reached the point that – horrors! – the news conference scheduled for 1:00 PM on Saturday afternoon did not happen until a good two-and-a-half hours later, which is when De Hoop Scheffer could finally appear on the stage shaking hands with his Danish successor.

As befitting its status as one of Denmark’s best-regarded daily newspapers, Berlingske Tidende has some good coverage of this affair (NATO’s declaration-of-confidence in Denmark), written by Ole Bang Nielsen. First off, Nielsen makes it clear just what this appointment means to the Danes themselves, namely a recognition that Denmark is no longer just a “footnote-nation and hesitant member of NATO,” as well as a personal vote of support to Rasmussen himself. To get there past the Turkish opposition, though, truly took a tremendous diplomatic full-court press – “the large European NATO lands finally threw in all their political ballast against Turkey,” as Nielsen writes. Breaking up that NATO meeting without having Rasmussen in place as the Secretary-General would have been a humiliation – especially for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who basically had announced the day before that Rasmussen would be named – so those European countries did indeed throw in everything, including Turkey’s prospective EU membership. Yes, EU matters generally do not belong being linked to NATO issues (the memberships of the two organizations don’t match very exactly, anyway), but Nielsen writes that certain threats were made nonetheless against Turkey’s EU membership process should it continue to hold out against the Dane. It seems even that the EU enlargement commissioner (Olli Rehn, a Finn) was on-hand personally to utter authoritative remarks toward the Turks such as “This does not look good from a European perspective, if Turkey does not give way.” There you have it: ordinarily Rehn did not even belong there at the NATO meeting at all, since he is an EU official, and because Finland is not a member of NATO anyway. (more…)

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Deadly Istanbul Bomb Attack Not Necessarily From the PKK

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Yes, the Olympics are coming up fast, and they will inevitably dominate what is normally the news-bereft August “cucumber season” – the term for the yearly summer low point in the daily news-beat used particularly in Central Europe, I suppose because August is harvest time there for cucumbers. You can expect this blog in the coming weeks to treat articles about the Beijing Olympics on a regular basis. But realize that my approach is a jaundiced one already and is likely to remain so. Frankly, the original Olympic ideal is dead, crushed between rampant commercialism on the one side and the biological/pharmacological progress that now makes it inevitable for athletes to cheat on the other. That latter aspect we have already had the occasion to address in connection with the Tour de France; as for the former, this excellent piece by Sally Jenkins in today’s Washington Post will set you straight for now, but I do have accumulated in my RSS reader some excellent recent articles about the International Olympic Committee which I hope soon to have time to bring up and discuss on this forum.

For now, though, let’s take up the following interesting article out of the august German weekly Die Zeit: Bomb Attack in Istanbul: BND Chief Doubts Involvement of the PKK. As reported here by CNN, on Sunday, 27 July, there occurred a particularly nasty double-bomb attack in a crowded area of Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul. An initial blast, no more than that of a stun grenade, was designed to draw people’s attention and mass them together, so that a second and much-stronger explosion, ten minutes later, could inflict that many more casualties, which turned out to number seventeen killed and at least 154 injured. (more…)

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France Divided on Turkish EU Accession

Monday, December 20th, 2004

Last weekend’s regularly-scheduled European Council summit (the half-yearly meeting of European Union heads of government) was dominated by the prospect of Turkey as an EU member-state, and its most news-worthy result was the approval by the assembled leaders of the commencement of negotiations with Turkey to that end beginning in October of next year.

For me, the question of Turkey’s accession to the European Union brings with it two epiphenomena, one minor and one major. There is the way the question has already become entangled in the historic Turkey-Greece enmity, although at second-remove. Relations are now good between Turkey and Greece themselves, so that any veto of Turkish membership by the latter is hard to imagine (at least in the present situation). But there also remains the problem of the divided Turkish-Greek island of Cyprus, which Turkish armed forces invaded in 1974, and which more importantly is also an EU member-state. It seems that a lot of sweat and toil was expended at this just-concluded EU summit to find some compromise between Cypriot (and, actually, also Greek) insistence that Turkey recognize the Greek half of the island, and Turkish reluctance to do so. The compromise was that Turkey would not make such a recognition now, but would certainly do so before those entry negotiations start next October.

But that is the minor epiphenomenon, and so not of much interest to me. (Although it is nonetheless conceivable that future problems along this line could be enough ultimately to torpedo Turkish entry, thus rendering the following “major” epiphenomenon moot.) In my view, that “major” epiphenonemon is the gulf that has opened up between the negative attitudes of EU national electorates (not all of them, to be sure, but quite a number) towards Turkish accession and the continued behavior of their political leaders in keeping that accession process on-track. By the very nature of the way the EU works in important membership questions such as this, that behavior has to be well-nigh unanimous, as serious objections from any member-state can substantially slow down the process or even stop it. (Ultimately, of course, ratification of any Turkish EU-entry will have to be unanimous among all current member-states.) Meanwhile, the level of actual political support for Turkish membership is nowhere near unanimous across the continent. When will one reality catch up with the other? Or is that alleged EU “democratic deficit” for real, even to the extent that the epochal decision of admitting Turkey could be made even in the face of its rejection by the voters who actually make up the EU’s population?

In this light, the French press is the most appropriate prism to use to examine last weekend’s summit – and not only because an eventual referendum to enable French public opinion on the subject to find its political expression has been promised. (more…)

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Cardinal Ratzinger Says “No” to Turkish EU Membership

Sunday, August 15th, 2004

Today’s foreign-press reference comes courtesy of the New York Times Sunday editorial page, which cites a recent interview I missed in France’s Le Figaro of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Vatican prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Times editors condemn Cardinal Ratzinger – who can accurately be termed the Vatican’s ideologue-in-chief, and so is certainly close to Pope John Paul II – as a “meddlesome cleric” for offering his view that Turkey is “in permanent contrast to Europe” and so does not belong as a member-state of the European Union. Perhaps mid-August is a slow period to find things to comment on, or perhaps those Times editors really are so enthusiastic about seeing Turkey join the EU, but it’s at least curious that they want to offer comment on a piece which the vast majority of their own readers cannot read themselves – readable, in fact, only by ipso facto traitorous John F. Kerry-types who know French! – and so who are dependent on the quotes and extracts that those editors are willing to reproduce for them in English. A prime case, one could think, for EuroSavant to go take a look. (more…)

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Turkey and Other Bones of Franco-American Contention

Tuesday, June 29th, 2004

At the NATO summit in Istanbul, wrapping up its second and final day today, relations between the United States and France have certainly not gotten any better. Bush did not help prepare things very well with an interview he had with RTE (Irish Radio and Television – official transcript here) as he made his way to Istanbul by way of Ireland (and a summit there with top EU officials over the weekend). In the interview he strongly suggested that it was really only France that opposed the Coalition attack on Iraq – “And, really, what you’re talking about is France, isn’t it?” – an assertion which seems to be in contradiction with widely-held facts. Then, once in Istanbul, Bush seemed to think he had the authority to advise the EU to admit Turkey as a member-state, which prompted French President Jacques Chirac to declare that Bush “not only [went] too far, but he went into territory that isn’t his. . . . It is not his purpose and his goal to give any advice to the EU, and in this area it was a bit as if I were to tell Americans how they should handle their relationship with Mexico.” Undaunted, Bush has since repeated this line today at a speech at an Istanbul university: “America believes that as a European power, Turkey belongs in the European Union.” (This CNN report has all the details of the spat in English.) (more…)

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The Netherlands Looks Ahead to its Upcoming EU Presidency

Friday, June 25th, 2004

Euro2004 Championships, sovereignty hand-over in Iraq, etc.: What many people are letting pass them by is the fact that, as of July 1, the EU’s rotating presidency goes to the Netherlands. Most of the on-line Dutch press has ignored this so far, too, but at least De Volkskrant is willing to devote an article to looking ahead at that: The Netherlands “Realistic, but Ambitious” as EU- Chairman. (Yes, it seems the Dutch also refer to the rotating “presidency” as the “chairmanship.”) This mainly reports the presentation Dutch foreign minister B.R. Bot and his state-secretary Atzo Nicolaï gave on Wednesday in Brussels which outlined the Netherlands’ plans for the upcoming six-month “chairmanship.” (more…)

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The French Press Responds to Bush

Tuesday, September 9th, 2003

Here we go! (Lost the thread? See the beginning of my previous post, i.e. of “Mon Sep 08, 2003,” as the peculiar pMachine software formatting puts it.) Plenty, plenty of commentary on Bush’s Sunday speech in the French press – let me try to cover as much as I can, in the time I’ve allotted myself (and it’s a generous slice, you can be sure, dear reader!) to write this.

Why not start with Le Figaro? My reflexive instinct is rather to start with Le Monde (“France’s New York Times,” and all that), but Tuesday’s print edition of Le Figaro irresistibly draws me with its big front-page, above-the-fold headline above the standard picture of Bush addressing the nation in the Oval Office: Qui veut aider Bush? – “Who Wants to Help Bush?” (more…)

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Democracy in Iraq

Monday, August 11th, 2003

Can democracy be established in Iraq? Would that then solve our problems, our “gripe,” with that country? Or do we really want democracy there at all?

Die Zeit On-Line is currently particularly rich with opinion pieces which address these issues, and so (in different ways) are natural sequels to Georges Suffert’s assessment in Le Figaro of the American efforts in Iraq which I reviewed here. For one, there is the article by Richard Herzinger which was the subject of my last post: Yes, things are going well in Iraq and democracy is being built, is his view. Anyway, even if they aren’t going well Europeans have their own obligation to help out to make sure that they do.

But then there are a couple of additional pieces sharing homepage-space on the current Die Zeit website which take rather more subtle views. Jens Jessen offers an interesting viewpoint in Die hilflosen Missionäre – “the helpless missionaries.” OK, our objective is to transplant our political system, democracy, into Iraq; it’s also to transplant our economic system (namely capitalism) there. The rationale behind these objectives is that successfully completing them will ensure that Iraq will become a friendly, reasonable sort of state that we can welcome back into the community of nations. (more…)

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Eurovision: Turkey Tops, Great Britain Null

Monday, May 26th, 2003

Time now to switch from overtly political subjects – the lifting of Iraqi sanctions at the UN Security Council – to a phenomenon which may seem apolitical (in fact, it’s downright shmaltzy) but which contains within itself potentially very serious political implications. I refer here to the Eurovision Song Contest, which came to its conclusion on Saturday night by declaring the Turkish entry, “Everyway [sic] That I Can,” sung by Ms. Sertab Erener, the winner of the 26-nation competition. (Those of you from outside of the European continent who don’t know what I’m talking about – or, bless you, even those of you who actually live in Europe but still haven’t a clue – click here for an explanation.) That Turkey would win – and for the very first time in the contest’s 48-year existence – is serious enough. Really: serious. I’m working on an essay on the subject, to tell you what I mean. When I post its link to the left side of this website under “My Articles,” I’ll re-edit this entry to announce this and give you the link directly.

But right here I’d rather like to call your attention to the other end of the scale, namely the very bottom, occupied for the year 2003 by Great Britain whose entry, the song “Cry Baby” by the boy-girl duo JEMINI, came in dead last with zero points. (more…)

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