ANKARA: Symbolism in Rome and the Vatican’s Anger

Zaman, Turkey
Oct 30, 2004

Symbolism in Rome and the Vatican’s Anger

We met a Catalan family on the downtown train from Leonardo da Vinci
airport who were on the way to visit their children who study
architecture in Italy. They have scholarships from the Erasmus student
exchange program, which was launched to help build a European identity
and has benefited over three million students. The Catalan father was
aware that the visit coincided with the signature ceremony of the
European Constitution on a historic day for the European Union (EU).
However, he has not yet decided about his vote in the referendum on the
agreement, signed by 25 member and four candidate countries.

The Constitution guarantees the territorial integrity of the members in
answer to one of the most important concerns of those who have
reservations over the EU in Turkey. In essence, the signed document
reflects the balance between those who wish to see the EU as a super
power like the US and those who want to preserve their national
sovereignties. Foreign politics remain unaltered by leaving defense and
taxation to the member states, but it provides many symbolic openings
such as Council President, Foreign Minister and legal entities by
reducing the power of veto.

The pleasant weather in Rome seemed to join in with the crowning of the
success of EU, ending the 50-year separation of Europe by accepting 10
new members in May 2004 and having transformed the seemingly eternal
Franco-German rivalry into friendship after World War II. However,
religious messages disturbing those who wanted to interpret this as a
divine celebration were coming from St. Peter’s, a few hundred meters
from the historic Campidoglio where the summit was being held. To
underline this, the crisis caused by Italian Commissioner Rocco
Buttiglione, who is very close to the Pope, between the Commission and
European Parliament in Brussels is still fresh.

The Vatican Foreign Minister Giovanni Lajolo criticized the historic
step’s endorsement of a secular Europe calling it a “Europe born with
no spirit”. Meanwhile, at the Sala and Orazi Curiazi Hall where the six
founder countries (Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, The Netherlands,
and Luxembourg) had signed the Rome Convention forming the core of
today’s EU, the leaders were very pleased. There are still the outcomes
of referenda in at least nine of 25 countries to affirm the
Constitution. It is feared that referenda will turn into debates on
Turkey and affect the start-date of the negotiations, especially in
France. As a matter of fact, no referral to Christianity in the
Constitution leaves the door ajar for Muslim Turkey. For this reason,
in the statements issued by the Vatican, instead of rejecting Turkey a
call is made for taking Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Croatia and even
Armenia as the descendants of a great antique heritage. The Pope
emphasizes that Turkey has never treated Christians properly in the
past, but that we should look to Turkey’s actions in the future.

Ordinary people had their own daily concerns. A taxi driver in Rome
reflected this by saying, “I’m not interested in the Constitution but
in money and food.” It is worth noting that even the serious newspapers
in Rome, on the day before the historic summit, didn’t put even a
sentence about it on their front pages.

As Italians usually have warm thoughts of Turkey, it was surprising to
meet those to whom the difference of religion was an issue. It was
shocking that an Italian we met while we were looking for a hotel said
that if we wanted to get into the EU, we’d have to convert. For this
reason, the purpose of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, who attended this historic excitement by
only signing the final bill, affected public opinion in Rome about
Turkey. Erdogan took a stand against discrimination in interviews with
Italian media inviting the EU to keep its promises. The three leaders
of Italy, Spain and Great Britain were the most supportive of Turkey’s
bid. Erdogan gave the message, “let the first inter-governmental
conference start in March or April 2005” to avoid the confusion about
the start date at the three-party summit in Berlin.