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It is necessary that Turkey joins the EU - Dirk Verhofstadt

Does Turkey deserve a spot in the European Union? The past months and years, a lot of opposition arose, especially from France and The Netherlands, two countries that, by referendum, declined the European constitution draft. Add to the equation the Polish conservative Catholic attitude, which continues to fight for a reference to Christianity in the European constitution, and we know that the Turkish chances reduce day by day. The definitive closure of the European door to Turkey would be a historical mistake. Of course, the country needs to take numerous measures to comply with the current conditions, which apply to every candidate-member state. The fact that the death sentence of the Kurdian leader Abdullah Öcalan was converted to life long imprisonment shows that Turkey is willing to carry through the necessary reformations. Nevertheless, there are many more reasons to call a Turkish membership not only useful but even necessary. The are expressed by Nobel price winner Orhan Pamuk in his lecture ‘Kars’ta ve Frankfurt’ta’.

‘I write to let the entire world know what kind of life I, the others, we, all of us in Istanbul, in entire Turkey have led and still lead’, Pamuk says. He does so with an open view from a city which, because of her history and location, lies on the crossroad of the eastern and western culture. The author experiences the emotion of shame hidden in the relations between the East and the West, between Islam and Christianity, or –as he defines it – between tradition and modernity. ‘Shame, pride, humiliation and anger are important sources of inspiration for my novels. And because I origin from a country knocking at Europe’s door, I know how easy these feelings can be offended and how dangerous they can blaze up’. He is a great advocate for the entrance of his country to the European Union. It is good to place his arguments against those of his adversaries, like Frits Bolkestein, who claims Turkey not to be a European country.

That doesn’t make sense. A significant part of Turkey lies within the geographic European territory and counts more inhabitants than Belgium. The country is a member of the Council of Europe since 1949 and a member of the NATO since 1952. Turkey has known a Greek-Roman and Christian influence. Those who might have doubts should read the book The Middle Sea. A History of the Mediterranean by John Julius Norwich. The Greek culture got widely spread in the East, even to Afghanistan and the valley of the Indus. The Roman Empire (in 330, Constantinople became the new capital) and later on, the Byzantian-Christian Empire had a great impact in the East. The Osmanian Empire overtook about the entire culture and state organisation and numerous Byzantian-Greek artists, architects and scholars worked for Islamic courts. Pamuk contains the desire of every Turk to be allowed to the (European) door on which he knocks. This has nothing to do with imperialism, but with striving for peace, prosperity and above all stability. According to Pamuk, it is about a fundamental dilemma between peace and nationalism, or as he adequately puts ‘a choice between the imagination of a novelist and the nationalism of book burners’.

Bolkestein points out that every expansion of the European Union leads to an import of instability and export of stability. Considering history, the question is what is most important. A definitive Turkish rejection would oppose the spirit of the European Union founding fathers. ‘We do not unite states, we unite citizens’, Jean Monnet said. Of course, one can choose for the past where Turks and Christians fought bloody wars in the name of a holy conviction. For Pamuk, it seems a lot wiser to turn that page. To choose for respect and dignity for the Other, not being based on holy scriptures but on reason. ‘A Europe, only based on Christianity, will be an unrealistic place, not focused on the future but on the past, turned into itself, like Turkey when it tries to derive strength only from religion’. The European Union is the most successful answer to tribalism, nationalism and religious fanatism, which brought misery over this continent. The admission of Turkey tot the EU would be an important symbolic step to world peace. It would unite a country with Islamic roots with a mostly Christian and humanistic Europe, where peaceful cohabitation would not be based on religion, but on a universal secular moral.

Pamuk realises the importance of diversity and imagination as means to modesty, tolerance en compassion for the Other. He believes in the novel as a weapon against indifference. ‘In my opinion, literature is, together with symphonic music and post renaissance painting, one of the fundamental building stones that make Europe to what it is’. In that statement lays a lot of truth. World literature offers a view to everything we don’t know and leads to a form of empathy and interest towards others. It makes sure we can look outside our borders and sympathize with others. World literature leads to compassion and understanding for our fellow men, an attitude which contrasts with dogmatism and autoritarism which set the tone in the Evening land for a very long time and would threaten in Turkey when the perspective for being a part of the great European family diminishes. The Turkish entrance to the EU is not only wanted, it is necessary.

Dirk Verhofstadt



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