Monday, September 24, 2007

Laçiner: "Turkey's EU accession is first of all an ethical issue"

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I was in Istanbul on holiday, so I wasn't prepared for an interview. But when Aykan, a friend from Ankara, proposed me to meet Ömer Laçiner, it would have been a crime to refuse.

Laçiner is a writer, an editor, but first of all a socialist. One of those who had to live several years abroad as a political refugee in the past. He did so in France, that's why he speaks to me in French. Today, he's so respected in Turkey that even Zaman, a newspaper with Islamist sympathies, happens to interview him.

I meet him at Iletişim's, Orhan Pamuk's publishing house, where he's the editor in chief of the monthly Birikim. I forget to take a picture of him so I have to confess that the photo you can see here is stolen from some website. And, since I had no recorder with me, all I'm going to write now comes just out of my memory.

I haven't prepared an interview, so I tell him we are just going to have a friendly chat, and the beginning is quite embarassing. I have no idea where to start, but he expects me to do it. So, since I have met him because of my book, and my book is about Turkey's EU accession, I ask him his opinion on the matter. I don't know much of him, but Aykan has briefed me a little, so I already know he's in favour of Turkey joining the EU. I expect the usual list of advantages for Turkey and the EU and, maybe, the whole world, if the accession process will be successful. But he surprises me: "I think a real socialist is first of all an internationalist, so that's why I'm in favour of the EU accession". I'm not sure I have understood, so I ask him what kind of advantages would come out of it, but he says: "The issue are not advantages. There will be advantages and disadvantages. For me it's an ethical question".

I begin to like the man: for once I find someone who is simply coherent with his political positions, who doesn't just put pros and cons on a balance and then calculates what's best for their own interests. I could agree or not with him, but I surely could not help respecting him.

The conversation then gets easier, and I ask him questions about anything that comes to my mind: the present government, Kurds, the military... My first impression is confirmed.

About AKP and the present government, he doesn't believe in a secret Islamist agenda, but he also thinks sometimes they are not doing enough for the accession process. I tell him that once I met people from IHD, a human rights organization, in Diyarbakir, who said that reforms had been made too fast and judges can't keep the pace. I also evoke the past incoherences, when the government actually fuelled anti-EU nationalism, and he says: "This government is not going to go fast on reforms, because they are afraid to lose consensus. When nationalism rises, they slow down".

And about the judges: "There is a fight going on between the juduciary and the government. The problem is that many judges are very conservative". I evoke the Wordpress issue, and tell him I had to explain to someone that Wordpress was blocked in Turkey not by the government but by a court. Too many people think they are the same thing, but it isn't so.

And, of course, there is the "secularist-Islamist" issue. The night before, Aykan had tried to explain to me that... well, I stopped him by saying: "Yes, I know: it's just a fight for power". I'm not the naïve Westerner who believes it's a fight for ideas. Of course it has to do with the military progressively losing power. I ask Laçiner what are the economical issues, and he answers: "The military is the third or fourth financial force in Turkey". This explains a lot of things.

But it doesn't explain why the rallies have stopped. It seems to me that everything got quiet, last Spring, after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met Armed forces chief General Yaşar Büyükanıt. I ask him what they could possibly have said to each other, and he answers: "Who knows?", with that ironical smile you can often see on Turkish faces when they don't want to say too much. But he adds: "I think it's the election that has made all the difference: with such results, AKP and the government have got stronger. But maybe the military is just up to something, and preparing to counterattack. Nobody can tell".

So, I ask him if the Parliament "new entry", the Kurds, could make some difference and push for reforms, since they are strongly in favour of the EU accession. He looks disenchanted: "Unfortunately the Kurds don't have good politicians. The Kurdish issue is the most important issue in Turkey, but it is not the only one. And they only think of that, they don't have a wider agenda". After years covering the Kurdish issue, I can't but agree - although painfully - with him.

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