With all the Turkish feuds that have been fought recently in Rotterdam, there was reason to assume that the ‘Understanding Today’s Turkey’ lecture in the Erasmus Paviljoen would focus mainly on tensions between supporters of President Erdogan and his arch-rival Gülen. Nothing appeared further from the truth: Lily Sprangers, Director of the Turkey Institute, spoke mainly about the tense relationship between Turkey and Europe on Wednesday evening, 21 September.
Few will claim that Turkey is being treated too harshly by Europe right now, but Lily Sprangers dared to say this during her introduction. “You shouldn’t view Turkey from a European perspective, as we often do these days. That is much too harsh, because they don’t meet our standards by a long way.” A clear point, but isn’t it Turkey itself, with its fervent desire to become an EU member, demanding to be viewed from a European perspective? Before this could be brought up, Sprangers was crystal clear in addressing the counter-argument: “Turkey doesn’t belong in the European Union at all.”
That’s a bold statement that needs explanation. To stay true to her background as a historian, in her story Sprangers drew continuously on the history of the country that forms the bridge between Europe and Asia.
Following a description of the Ottoman Empire, Atatürk, NATO, the political system and the many coups, Sprangers delivered a clear message: although Turkey has been close to Europe for centuries, it remains a country that is at odds with our continent.
Completely different ideas
“Just look at the refugee crisis, the criticism of the policy in Ankara and the lack of European support during the recent military coup; both parties have completely different expectations of each other.”
‘Turkish people see that totally differently: they are happy with the big distance from government in Ankara and don’t really see the need for change. As long as they are taken care of’
According to Sprangers, apart from the relationship between church and state and the adherence to human rights, the EU and Turkey think in totally different ways about politics. “In Europe, citizens are actively involved in the political decisions that are taken. Everyone gets involved in discussions and dissatisfaction is clearly expressed. Turkish people see that totally differently: they are happy with the big distance from government in Ankara and don’t really see the need for change. As long as they are taken care of.”
The researcher concluded her argument stating that in her opinion, these huge differences are evidence for the assertion that Turkey does not fit in Europe, because it did not experience the Enlightenment. During the fifteen-minute discussion a Turkish audience member reproached her for exaggerated pessimism, but Sprangers countered this attack easily. In contrast to what many expected in advance, this didn’t lead to a fiery debate.