In an uncharacteristic action on June 13, 2013, the European Union belatedly earned its credentials for the Nobel Peace Prize it had been surprisingly awarded on December 10, 2012. The European Parliament (EP) passed a non-binding Resolution on the situation in Turkey [2013/26664(RSP)] stating that the Turkish police had used excessive violence in an effort to disperse a group of demonstrators that had been protesting against the planned felling of trees for a new construction project in Istanbul’s Gezi Park in the Taksim Square area.
It was of course well known by this time that the police intervention in Istanbul had led to clashes with the protestors, and that the protests had spread to more than 70 cities in Turkey. Using tear gas, water cannons, plastic bullets, and pepper spray, among other things, the police action had resulted in a number of deaths, thousands wounded, mass arrests, and severe damage to private and public property. Doctors and lawyers who helped the protestors had been detained. Police brutality had been reproved by media in Europe and the U.S., but the Turkish media had remained virtually silent about the excessive violence.
The protests, which gained widespread support among different social and occupational strata of Turkish society, and among men and women equally, had gone beyond the issue of Gezi Park. The protests became linked with governmental and legislative decisions which imposed restrictions on the sale of alcohol, instituted educational changes that stressed religious precepts, limited abortion, and made the recommendation that women have at least three children. Protestors also were critical of the lack of representation of minority voices in governmental decision making, inadequate fair trial and due process procedures in the judicial system, restriction of the rights of minority groups, and the controversial behavior of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
For the European Union, all these events have been particularly troubling. When Turkey applied to join the EU in 1987, its membership was denied, but in 1999 the country was given the ambiguous status of a EU candidate, a status that is still under discussion. A member of the EU has an obligation to respect and promote democracy. The EU is aware that Turkey has violated the fundamental principles of freedom of assembly, freedom of expression both in person and on line, and freedom of the press. It is not likely to accept a country in which police invade private homes to arrest people or monitor social networks.
What was most surprising in the EP Resolution is the language in which it voiced its criticism. It spoke of its “deep concern at the disproportionate and excessive use of force in response to the peaceful and legitimate protests.” This language hitherto has only been applied to almost every action of Israel in its self-defense against terrorist attacks. It was therefore noteworthy that, for the first time, the term “disproportionate behavior” was applied to another country, this time Turkey.
The contrast in response to criticism is striking. When criticized …read more