Is Turkey ready for prime time? Hardly.

Turkey, a developing country with a small parcel of land on the European peninsula, and with hundreds of years of engagement (read: war and occupation) with what we generally accept as Europe, has been trying to join the European Union for years.

And yet a very fundamental characteristic of what it means to be European is completely lost on the country: free speech.

Whatever you might think about Europeans, they both value and practice free speech, at least as much as we Americans do. They freely criticize, question, and verbally attack – mostly the US and their neighbors, but occasionally themselves too. (I’m joking; they criticize themselves almost as often as they criticize the US)

The point being that no one goes to jail for putting their governments on the defensive and forcing it to answer hard questions.

Even “New Europe” (which is often, ironically, older than “Old Europe”), despite enduring decades of represssion of free speech, is pretty open nowadays. I lived in Eastern Europe and people freely criticized their governments and had a lively, ongoing debate on policy.

Turkey, on the other hand, despite wanting to be considered European, and all the other adjectives associated with it (wealthy, sophisticated, developed, cultured, etc.), really fails on the basic premise of free speech.

Article 301 of the Turkish penal code makes it a crime to “insult Turkishness” – a really broadly-defined offense that is actually prosecuted very often against those who publicly mention the Armenian Genocide, an event that the rest of the world acknowledges (some in a more forthcoming fashion than others) but that Turkey fiercely denies.

Because of realpolitik the US will probably back down from recognizing the Armenian Genocide, but the real pity is that Turkey keeps article 301 in their books and thus stifles its own intellectual and cultural development.

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  1. They’ll never make it in. They’re the bastard stepchild, unfortunately. Not “white” and not “arab”.

    Comment by isabella snow — October 21, 2007 @ 1:33 pm

  2. I think Turkey will eventually get in the EU. I think the free speech thing will be an important milestone for them. Last I heard, they were close to abolishing article 301.

    Comment by JM — November 3, 2007 @ 4:35 pm

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