ANKARA: A Swedish witness to the `silent revolution’: Turkey decoded

Zaman Online, Turkey
July 14 2008

A Swedish witness to the `silent revolution’: Turkey decoded

Å?AHÄ°N ALPAY [email protected] Columnists

Sweden throughout the 1990s was one of the most vocal critics of human
rights violations in Turkey. At the Helsinki summit of the EU in 1999
Sweden was one of the last member states to give its consent to
Turkey’s candidacy. Today, in contrast, Sweden is the strongest
supporter of Turkey’s membership in the EU. Cecilia Malmström,
Sweden’s minister for EU affairs, recently made the following
"We recommend membership — when Turkey fulfils the criteria —
because we believe that a democratic and open Turkey has much to
contribute to the EU and that the country will be able to serve as an
important bridge between Europe and the Muslim world. There is
naturally a long way to go before membership can be considered, but it
is important that we send positive signals to Turkey and to all those
people who want the prime minister and the government to move closer
to Europe and bring the country into the EU. We need to show our
support particularly now that he and his party are experiencing major
problems with nationalist forces who have reported the ruling [Justice
and Development Party] AK Party to the Constitutional Court. The whole
matter may appear farcical but is an example of the powerful forces
struggling in this country. It is no less than an attempt at a
constitutional coup d’état…" (Europaforum, April 14, 2008)

Sweden is the only country where both left and right-wing governments
and all parties in parliament support Turkey’s membership in the
EU. There is not a single member in the Swedish Parliament who is
against Turkish accession. The Swedish Parliament has so far rejected
all draft resolutions put forward for the recognition of the "Armenian
genocide," most recently on June 14, 2008 when out of 254 members of
parliament who voted only 32 cast their votes in favor.

Sweden is the only EU member country which has opened a
Swedish-Turkish Cooperation Center in Ä°stanbul to promote
Turkey’s integration into the EU. In a recent conference on Turkey-EU
relations I attended in Holland, a high-ranking Dutch diplomat stated,
with astonishment, that Sweden is the only country which is putting up
a fight in favor of Turkey against France in Brussels. According to
Eurobarometer surveys, Swedes are the people most supportive of
Turkish membership in the EU, with 46 percent being in favor. Sweden
is surely Turkey’s best friend in the EU. Why?

Swedish governments, both left and right, are fully aware of the
benefits of enlargement and oppose the EU turning into a federal
superstate. They have observed how the EU’s soft power, its ability to
attract and persuade countries to adopt its norms and goals, has led
to a silent revolution in Turkey between 2001 and 2005 towards greater
freedom and prosperity, and also how negative signals coming from the
EU since then have led to a nationalist backlash, dangerous for both
Turkey and the union.

One of Sweden’s former social democratic foreign ministers, the late
Anna Lindh, and current conservative Foreign Minister Carl Bildt have
both shown a keen interest in Turkey. This has helped Stockholm to
understand, perhaps better than any other EU capital, the dynamics of
Ankara. Swedish Ambassador to Turkey Christer Asp, former Swedish
Ambassador to Turkey Henrik Liljegren, former Swedish Ambassador to
Turkey Ann Dismorr and Swedish Consul-General in Ä°stanbul
Ingmar Karlsson have all made outstanding contributions to bring
Turkey closer to Sweden and the EU. Karlsson believes that history is
an important factor in explaining Swedish sympathy for Turkey: Austria
is Turkey’s staunchest opponent in the EU, perhaps because the Turks
twice attempted to take Vienna. Sweden and Turkey, on the other hand,
have never been at war against each other.

Dismorr served in Ankara precisely in the period between 2001 and 2005
when the prospect of EU membership helped Turkish governments achieve
substantial democratic reforms which led to the start of accession
negotiations with Brussels in October 2005. She recently published a
book, titled "Turkey Decoded" (Saqi Publishers, 2008), which is
undoubtedly the best account so far of the role of the EU’s soft power
on what has been called a "silent revolution" in Turkey. The
concluding sentences of the book seem to summarize its main argument:
"President [Abdullah] Gül and the AK Party government face a
historic challenge to demonstrate that Islam and democracy are
compatible. Turkey has come a long way in proving that. ¦ The EU is
facing a historic choice of how to deal with Turkey — the most
liberal and well-developed democracy in the Muslim world of 1.2
billion people. The world is watching."