Sunday, October 16, 2005

Huntington and October 3rd

Selected Articles From Turkish Policy Quarterly - Turkey - ESI

There is no doubt that October 3rd ranks among the important dates in more modern European history.

It was on October 3rd 1990 that the old German Democratic Republic - a communist dictatorship - dissolved itself and joined the Federal Republic of Germany, thus bringing the division of the country to its end.

And it was on October 3rd 2005 that the European Union finally started its membership negotiations with Turkey, thus starting to bridge another of the great divides of the history of our part of the world.

One of the most discussed books of recent decades is undoubtedly that of Samuel Huntington on the possible coming "clash of civilisations." Although I certainly don't belong to those that automatically dismisses what he has to say - very far from it - I belong to those that see it as a duty to prevent that clash by insteas building bridges and institutions of integration between different civilisations.

During a guest appearance last May at an Istanbul conference Sam Huntington was very clear in his prediction concerning the relationship between Turkey and the European Union:

"Since the European nations continue to believe that Turkish people are not culturally European, they won't let Turkey enter the EU. Turkey's possibility for admission into the EU is nil."

But on October 3rd - although after some drama - the European Union gave a very different signal. After more than 40 years of waiting, Turkey's decade-old dream of becoming a bona fide EU member state finally started to become a reality.

The importance of this step can hardly be exaggerated. As Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül remarked: "A real step to bring together people with different cultures, religions and historical backgrounds has been made, bringing relief to the whole world."

So what happened to Huntington's claims?

Well, we haven't seen the end of the story yet. There are significant forces primarily in Germany and France that want to bloc Turkey's membership bid. And France has declared that the final decision will be taken by a referendum, and have been joined in this by Austria.

So we have every reason to continue the discussion on the alternatives ahead.

We could move towards a more close European Union that evolves more into some sort of Christian club, thus also increasing the dangers that we will be facing a "clash of civilisations".

Or we could listen to Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogans talk about an "alliance of civilisations" by the bridging of the divides.

Turkey's secular democracy is an exemplary model to fellow Islamic countries in the Middle East and around the world. Without Turkey's inclusion into the European Union, there is always the risk that Turkey will look inward and eastward, resulting in greater nationalist sentiment and conflicts between and within different societies.

These were among the issues discussed here in Istanbul during the last few days. This year's so called Bosphorous Conference has tried to look into the challenges that the coming years of negotiations, and the eventual decision on ratification of the resulting treaty of accession, will bring.

I believe it will be among the most difficult, and possible the most divisive, issues the European Union has ever faced. Well, with the possible exception of the turmoils as the original six states had to decide whether to let Britain join or not. That process took more than ten years.

It was a conference in the tradition of the very best, bringing together key thinkers and politicians from the Bosphorous to Brussels under the auspicies of the British Council.

I hope to have the time to write up my concuding remarks at the conference before continuing to New York and other issues there tomorrow.

In the meantime, the different reports of the European Stability Initiative, as well as the pieces published in the Turkish Policy Quarterly, makes for excellent reading.

We are only in the beginning on the great debate on the implications of Huntintgton's thesis and the consequences of October 3rd.