The sick man of no man’s land

A century and a half after the Ottoman state earned the name the "Sick Man of Europe," its successor state shows symptoms of sickness again, but this time it does not even belong to Europe.

I read Yasar Büyükanıt’s remarks at a Ğ physical Ğ distance. Listening to speakers at the Middle East conference in Doha, Qatar, my mind was busy thinking what the former chief of the military general staff told an academic gathering back in Ankara: "If state agencies don’t trust each other, that state is problematic. If, I, as a soldier, don’t trust the police intelligence É because the police intelligence is collecting intelligence against me [the military]; É the Justice Ministry doesn’t trust the Interior Ministry; the National Intelligence Organization [or MİT] to police intelligence; and police intelligence to the MİT É then this state is ailing."

Ironically, Büyükanıt’s remarks fell into the public domain at the same moment the panelists and participants at this conference were debating the idea of enhancing democracy in the Middle East, dancing around themes like "the spread of democracy and freedoms is the global trend," "information and democracy are globalizing," and "democracy is a slow and gradual process."

In fact, Büyükanıt did not say anything new or unknown to any Turk. He did not reveal the contents of his historic handshake with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan two years earlier, either. He merely told an ordinary audience the ordinary open secret every ordinary Turk knows is an open secret. That, however, does not mean his diagnosis is too ordinary to take seriously. More than a century after it earned the malady as a tag, the Turkish state is sick again.

But do we not assume we have a flourishing democracy? Two parliamentary and two local elections in less than seven years? The will of the nation? An Islamist government that has managed to cohabit with the ’guardians of secularism’ for more than six years? Flaws, there are many. But is Turkey not an official candidate for full membership in the EU? Have we not reformed our laws? All the answers are positive. Yet we have a sick man around pretending to be an athlete. But what’s wrong in all that favorable set-up, faking as democracy?

Back in Doha, I revisited some of the answers. According to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, director of the Ditchley Foundation in the United Kingdom, "Democracy isn’t just elections, but rather it has to be based on an accumulation of institutional behavior." Too bad that in the last three decades only Turkey has either been ruled by democratically elected autocrats or by autocrats. According to Pascal Boniface, director for the France-based Institute for International and Strategic Relations, "Democracy may be the best system, but unfortunately it does not guarantee peace."

Speaking at the same conference, Jack Rosen, president of the New York-based World Jewish Council, pointed to what Erdoğan, et al., often love to ignore: America’s founding fathers didn’t quite believe in the miraculous virtues of the popular vote. Therefore the American example is about a quest for a balance between democracy and checks on democracy. Democracy does not mean pure popular rule only. Amusingly, when a participant claimed Rosen mentioned Egypt and Jordan as democracies, he instantly corrected: "I didn’t say Egypt and Jordan are democracies. I said there are parliamentary elections in Egypt and Jordan."

The truth is Ğ how many years did we think Turkey was away from the EU when Erdoğan’s pragma-Islamists (part-time pragmatist, part-time Islamists) came to power in 2002? 10-15 years? Yes. How many years is Turkey probably away from the EU after six-and-a-half years of pragma-Islamist rule? 10-15 years, at best. How many years will Turkey possibly be away from the EU after another two terms of pragma-Islamist rule? Most likely, 10-15 years. With a little bit of luck, the next century may even see the Sick Man of the Orient.
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