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20051203|Economist| An image problem: turkey and the EU
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The Economist
U.S. Edition
December 3, 2005

Worrying about Turkey's good name
The government is not doing enough for Turkey's international reputation

MARC GROSSMAN, a former American ambassador to Turkey, would
frequently complain that Turkey lacked "the PR gene". Prickly, proud
and fiercely nationalistic, the Turks are decidedly bad at the art
of public relations. A popular adage has it that "the Turk has no
other friend than the Turk." Yet this will have to change if Turkey
is ever to join the European Union. Despite a blizzard of reforms that
helped Turkey win its prized start of EU membership talks in October,
opposition is on the rise. France and Austria have pledged to hold
referendums on Turkey's accession. Polls suggest that, right now,
both would be lost by wide margins.

One factor is undoubtedly a general enlargement fatigue within the
EU. But another is Turkey's image. Yet Turkish leaders seem neither
to understand nor to care. That was certainly the impression that
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, gave on a recent trip
to Copenhagen. He attacked a Danish newspaper that ran cartoons of
Muhammad, saying that "freedom of expression is important, but what is
holy to me is more important." He then boycotted a press conference
with his Danish counterpart, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, because Mr
Rasmussen had declined to kick out a journalist from Roj TV, a Kurdish
satellite channel that is a pulpit for separatist PKK rebels. Turkish
nationalists were delighted, but relations with Denmark have cooled.

Political gaffes may be forgotten, eventually. More lasting harm comes
from the handful of repressive laws that have earned modern Turkey
its bad reputation. Consider the case of Orhan Pamuk, a bestselling
novelist. He will appear in court on December 16th on charges of
insulting the Turkish identity, by making remarks (in Switzerland
and Germany) not just about thousands of Kurds who have been killed,
but also about the mass slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in
1915. A slew of similar thought-crime cases launched against academics
and writers has prompted warnings from the EU that Turkey's membership
talks might be interrupted.

Ali Babacan, the finance minister who is now leading the EU talks,
rules out more changes to the penal code to stop such cases. He says
that their results should be awaited first, implying that there are
unlikely to be any convictions. But this, comments one EU ambassador,
is to miss the point, which is " that [the cases] should not be
launched in the first place."

Government bumbling has prompted Turkey's main industrialist lobby,
Tusiad, to mount its own campaign to burnish Turkey's image, stressing
the country's recent economic progress. Many Europeans think of Turkey
"as an agrarian backwater, even though farming accounts for 11% and
services for 55% of GDP", says Oya Unlu, a top executive at Turkey's
biggest conglomerate, KOC, which controls some 7% of the white-goods
market in Europe. Tusiad's strategy also involves persuading Europeans
that secular Turkey's moderate brand of Islam "can be part of the
solution rather than an added cause for anti-Muslim sentiment in
Europe", says Umit Boyner, who is in charge of the project.

European diplomats point out that, if Turkey is to disprove the
popular talk of a "clash of civilisations", it should start to treat
its own non-Muslim minorities better. It could begin with one of the
most eminent figures in the Christian world, the Orthodox patriarch,
Bartholomew I, who by a quirk of history resides in Istanbul. A
loyal Turkish subject, he has lobbied hard for Turkey's inclusion
in the European Union. But far from cherishing Bartholomew I, the
Turkish state keeps him on a tight rein, and continues to resist
his demands to reopen the Orthodox Christian seminary at Halki, near
Istanbul. Reopening Halki, Mr Grossman also used frequently to note,
was "a no-brainer" that could earn Turkey invaluable brownie points
not just in Europe, but in America as well.

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