Deeply uncomfortable

Today the Dutch authorities denied entry to the Turkish Foreign Minister who was to address a rally in the Netherlands in support of proposed changes to the Turkish Government. This comes on the back of a denial for a similar rally in Germany.

This makes uncomfortable reading. Today’s action was apparently taken directly by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, himself who said that, as Holland is approaching a General election on Wednesday in which “the immigration issue” plays a significant role, a the visit of The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, was “a threat to public order”.

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While authorities may disagree with the proposals presented by Mr Erdoğan’s government, what appears to be a prolonged demonstration of pique by Europe’s ruling elite is almost unprecedented. Other countries, admittedly, like Russia (which banned 89  EU politicians from entering Russia in 2015, among them Nick Clegg and Uwe Corsepius) have also denied senior politicians from visiting their counties, but this sets a foolish precedent and one that the EU itself protested about in 2015. It causes offence, inconvenience and, more importantly, it closes opportunities to engage these people in meaningful conversation. If the Foreign Minister is coming to speak to a rally in Holland, it stands to reason that he should make time to talk to the Foreign Minister in the Netherlands. It makes no sense that his plane should be re-routed.

Our future rests on an ability to talk to one another. It is talking that has kept world peace for 70 years and if we abandon that, we are taking a very uncertain step in a new direction.

The Presidential system

If we think the changes proposed by President Erdoğan threaten democracy in Turkey, then we should engage with the Turkish leaders. Personally, I think the proposals will enshrine in law a constitution that finally pushes the army into its proper place. There is much to commend in that fact alone. Moreover, there seems little point in having direct elections for a President who is then denied the appropriate executive power of a democratically-elected leader. The change to the Presidential system simply recognises what is already happening.

The Language of Europe

Of course, there have been some high profile incidents in Turkey where journalists have either been detained or denied entry. While the arrest of Daniz Yüzel who is currently held in Silivri prison is by no means straightforward, despite the rather glib reports in the media, he is certainly not alone and that is worrying. Again, this runs in the face of free speech and the chance to engage and inform. But there is, I am afraid, a big difference between turning away, for example, Rod Nordland, a New York Times Journalist, and turning away a senior leader of a Democratic country and Nato ally. And for EU leaders to hide behind bureaucratic nonsense about security or to treat fellow leaders so casually and repeatedly is concerning. The EU is here being less than honest because the repeated problem suggests an overall policy to stop Turkish leaders from addressing their own people. So this is not so much about a threat to democracy from Turkey- it is a demonstration that democracy is itself threatened in Europe. You cannot have it both ways!

At a time, then, when Europe needs the voice of reason, we are packing our bags and planning to leave. Maybe we are going too soon- because we cannot leave Europe in this mess, where mendacity has evidently replaced diplomacy.

To make matters worse, this comes across in the Turkish media as something of an EU agenda. An event in Zurich scheduled for yesterday was cancelled as also rallies in three other Austrian towns. In the south German town of Gaggenau, the Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ was to address a rally organised by EETD (the Union of European Turkish Democrats).  At the last minute the event was cancelled by the local mayor who cited security concerns about on-site parking. Later, the authorities in Cologne said that a meeting scheduled for 5th March when the Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci was to have addressed a rally  was cancelled because the appropriate permission had not been granted “There was no agreement for March 5, and there will not be”.

This might have been dismissed as some sort of bureaucratic mess-up but that Germany’s opposition party is already on record in advance of the Gaggenau rally demanding that their government deny the Minister entry. There are 2.3 million Turks living in 57 countries outside Turkey and legally entitled to cast a vote in the forthcoming referendum. The largest community of expats is in Germany and came to Germany at Germany’s request. Cologne’s decision about the visit of the Turkish Economy minister looks political whatever excuse is provided. More than that, it is the same city which prevented President Erdoğan from addressing supporters by video link after the FETÖ coup last year, and that had meanwhile allowed a senior PKK commander Murat Karayılan to address a rally at a culture festival. PKK is a group that both the EU and the US label as a terrorist organisation and yet it still able to raise nearly £12 million in Germany alone. The EU approach is inconsistent and insulting. It is not calculated to win hearts and minds.

Mr Erdoğan has already reacted with fairly fierce rhetoric but his real response may well be to “open the gates” allowing migrants back into mainland Europe. Already, the EU has indicated that Turkey does not meet the requirements agreed last year for visa-free travel in Europe. Turkey has already shouldered the migrant-burden and should get something more than snubs for its goodwill.

Ex-pat votes

Is it wrong for one country to appeal to expat voters by holding rallies in another country? The present Papacy, for example, has built its entire ministry on the principle that it can hold rallies anywhere in the world. But certainly, when Turkish Prime Minster Binali Yildirim spoke to 10,000 countrymen in Oberhausen in February, a debate was sparked across Continental Europe.

Yet rallies to support foreign groups take place all over the place- indeed, there is a german anti-Islamic group called Pegida, led by Lutz Bachmann, which has now launched its own political party (FDDV with links to AfD) and which has held rallies here in the UK – rather pleasingly, while it commands rallies of up to 25,000 in places like Dresden, only 375 people marched to support the group in Newcastle, and an estimated 2000 Brits staged a counter-demonstration. That’s surely the way democracy should work!

Dr Fatma BETUL Sayan Kaya by TIM

Coda:

This evening the family minister, Dr Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, already in Germany for other talks, was denied access to the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam. The Consular staff are not allowed to meet her and she is also so far not allowed into her own Consulate. Instead, the Dutch authorities have invited her to be escorted out of the country. Presumably, she was not stopped on the German border: none of this makes alot of sense but it most certainly raises tension; already Geert Wilders has gone public with a cry to “Clean our country” referring to the Turkish protestors as “500 allahu akbar screaming Turks in Rotterdam”. This was action calculated to play into the hands of Right wing bigots and it has. I am deeply shocked. This is not the sort of Europe I think we should be seeing. It is certainly not the sort of Europe I could ever or would ever support.

 

Turkish coup

I was due to give a talk at a conference in Ankara yesterday. I made a video for the conference, finishing it just a few hours before the attempted coup.

I have now posted this online and added a brief introduction. I am pleased it has attracted some attention, and one particularly brilliant person added the following:

The military coup was not handled with a precise hand. It was a sloppy grab at power and hopefully Turkey won’t forget the collateral damage. And instead of letting it justify more death and destruction, will use it as a motivator for peace and civility.

I kind of want to get some things about debate off my chest. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but modern debates often suffer from a type of information overload. I should probably point out that I am from the USA, so I have a very limited perspective on European events. I think if you asked any common person in any system, they are well aware that politicians shift focus and are masters of rhetoric designed to conceal any information they desire to conceal. But this isn’t really what I mean by information overload.

It seems to me that any “viral” idea or claim can become popular without any evidence or relevance in a post internet era. I see this constantly on social media and have been both a victim and a perpetrator of spreading some of these fallacious and incorrect views.

It was interesting to see that happen with the EU referendum. Claims that could not be substantiated and debate that was more nationalistic than informative spread much quicker because people got more caught up in the message rather than the truth.

So debates often end up being events where experts try to clarify why certain ideas or views lack evidence. But in these modern debates the side with the confident leader that recapitulates their views with impunity often ends up being more popular. I guess what I am trying to say is that people are more concerned with how people perform, in a sort of theatrical way, instead of challenging ideas and views.

This ended up being more of a rant than I wanted it to be, but I would love to see you do a video on effective debate as mentioned above. And thanks for the great content.

He is right in so many ways. How Erdogan deals with the army will determine the rest of his Presidency and the future of Turkey, but it will also send out a message to other states controlled by a powerful military. Personally, I see no real distinction between what happened on Friday night and what happened in Nice- both events seem to me to be a form of terrorism and innocent men, women and children mindlessly killed.

A gift at the end of Ramadan!

Turkey has been variously criticised by the EU and pilloried in the recent Referendum debates, but as Ramadan ends, it has announced that over 3 million Syrian refugees are to get automatic Turkish citizenship: this goes much further than Merkel’s demands for harbouring returned migrants and it is a statement of solidarity with the dispossessed that should make the whingers in our own referendum debate hold their heads in shame.

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The care for victims of warfare is a feature of all three of the great religions that come from the middle east and it has been shocking how slowly we have dragged our feet while still whittering on about Christian values.

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As Ramadan finishes tomorrow, therefore, we can celebrate with some satisfaction that at last there is a proper response.

More worryingly, there is news coming from Athens that former German Transport Minister, Peter Ramsauer, part of a delegation headed by the German Vice Chancellor, and already linked to allegations of anti-semitism, apparently told a photographer, I understand, both in German and in english, “don’t touch me, you filthy Greek”. I suppose his bilingual effort was to ensure no one thought this was an accidental bit of racism.

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Peter Ramsauer is known to want to refuse Greek any further bailout money, and he is also famous for making a fuss, rather like the French have occasionally done, about borrowed english words used in modern german, so it is odd he should have translated his bilious comments, if indeed he ever uttered them. He went on to facebook yesterday to claim that he had said nothing. It is all the fault of the photographer “who later appeared to be obviously Greek” and who had pushed him. I wonder how this photographer can have appeared so obviously greek at a later stage? had he not appeared so Greek earlier? The good Dr Ramsauer would be well advised to avoid using the word “obviously” in all instances- as a rule of thumb, if something is “obvious”, it does not need to be mentioned and if it is not “obvious”, then the word is inappropriate.

I had dinner a few nights ago with a German minister who is married to a Greek. Both deeply charming! I wonder how Herr Ramsauer deals with that couple in the vaulted corridors of the Reichstag? The story of this exchange makes some of our own British bigots look positively cuddly.

Civic pride and what we can learn from Istanbul!

In 2006, the Turkish government, run by the AK PARTİ (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) under the leadership of Erdogan began a process to import tulips back into Istanbul.

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Today, there is such an abundance of tulips, that splashes of colour scythe through the city like a parade of multicoloured  dervishes, spreading the scent of Spring. I have been to Istanbul most years since 2004 and I have seen for myself how this transformation has taken place.

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The tulip is just one example of a horticultural revolution that says Istanbul is proud of herself. That pride is evident of course in the colours of the flowers but it is also evident on the faces of the people in the street, the ordinary people who go about their lives feeling better because they can see- and smell- that the Council really cares!

It is actually a fairly simple plan, but I will come to that shortly.

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The tulip was introduced to Turkey from Iran where it grew wild. It is a traditional image on the tiles that decorate some of the greatest mosques around the city and today it has been adopted as a symbol on the Istanbul logo.

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The cultivation of the Tulip became a mania in the Ottoman period, so much so that one particular epoch is called “the Tulip period” and at that time, rare bulbs sold for remarkable sums of money. Trade was international and soon, that mania had passed to Holland, the setting, for example, of “the black tulip” , a novel by Alexandre Dumas. My mother always said she had a black tulip bulb in the safe: I have no idea but it sounded very exotic.

I grew up in a small Market town in Lincolnshire where my mother was involved in the local tulip bulb industry. Spalding was so industrious and the ground so similar to that of Holland that, when I was a small child, the town held its own Tulip Parade to rival that of the Dutch mega-parades in Zundert and Keukenhof. Sadly, the flower parade in Spalding ground to a halt last year. But I loved the imagination that went into making these amazing floats; I loved the fact that they were decorated overnight, and, really, only lasted a couple of days (it’s actually very Buddhist!); and I also loved the complete sensory effect of the flower parade- the noise, the colour, the smell, the excitement, the overpowering beauty and the pride it gave to our small town.

triger float to make andreas deja happy

The mother of all tigers from the Keudert Flower parade!

Check out this archive flim:

I well-remember this parade!

steam again soon mickey Flower-parade dougal

THE DAVENTRY PARK PROJECT:

tim4draytonward.com

Here in Daventry, I have been campaigning for a restored Professional Park scheme. I am, of course, inspired by the wonderful images from my childhood in Spalding. But I am also inspired, perhaps more so by the practical approach taken in Istanbul by the city Council. I have been talking to members of the Council over the last year with a view to designing some children’s books to celebrate particularly the history of the Fatih district, but I have also been impressed by the overall scheme the council has followed to refresh the city. I intend to talk to Councillors about their scheme and also about how they sourced materials, especially the outside gym equipment which is so striking a part of the overall vision, and I think it would work here in Daventry too!

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I think there are three specific things that the AK party have done:

  1.  the training and courses set up in horticulture by the City in association with local universities and colleges, providing garden design and employees for the future.
  2.  the celebration of festivals and history that also involves research into plants of the past. It is because of this that the tulip has been so revived, but there are also “Monument trees”, that are replanted and tended, restoring the vistas of the past and improving the way the city looks today. It is partly this vision which ironically both inspired the protests in Gazi square to “save the trees” and also inspired the developments that threatened to redevelop the area. The compromise seems to involve some transplanting/replanting and rethinking. For all the negative image this protest created, it shows very clearly that our environment is something people care deeply about.
  3.  The city has established open-field gyms, taking exercise out into the parks and democratising sport in a very real way, giving access to children, the disabled and the elderly. I will be going to Istanbul soon to try to find out how the technology was developed for outdoor sports equipment taht would withstand a climate that is no less changeable and erratic than our own.

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If my vision of what we could do in DAVENTRY is shaped by my childhood in Spalding, my practical proposals follow what has already happened in Istanbul. What we can see there is that this sort of revitalisation works. It is a positive force in society and we can do something similar here in Daventry.