Bonino: on Erdogan’s purge is difficult for the EU to raise its voice
Umberto De Giovannangeli 28 July 2016

President Tayyip Erdogan’s countercoup is underway in Turkey. What is your opinion on this subject?

I have come to two conclusions. The first is that only time will clarify a number of evident anomalies concerning the failed military coup. The second concerns the extent of this massive purge, implemented as if proscription lists had been prepared in advance. What is striking is not only the extent of this purge (for the moment involving 50,000 people) but how transversal it has been. No sector has been exempt; journalists and officials by the thousands, 2,750 judges including various members of the Supreme Court have been suspended; over 8,000 policemen have been removed from the force; 30 governors dismissed as well as 103 army generals and high ranking armed forces officers. As far as the army is concerned, one should bear in mind that the Turkish army is the second largest army in NATO, after that of the United States. This army has now effectively been reduced to an empty shell, incapable of military intervention against ISIS, or against the Kurds as also happened before the failed coup. Furthermore, Erdogan has asked his followers to remain on the street for another week, which appears to indicate that the Great Purge is not over, and this is an additional concern. There is also the hypothesis that the death penalty may be reintroduced, alongside the torture and terrible humiliations inflicted on prisoners.

Faced with this dramatic scenario, made worse by Ankara’s suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights, how should one assess the positions assumed so far by the West, and Europe in particular?

In order to avoid excessive criticism, let us say that for the moment Europe has been cautious. After all, in the recent EU-Turkey agreement on migrants, we have effectively subcontracted to Turkey the defence of our external borders and the management of migrants and refugees, just as we are about to do the same with African countries. We have effectively said that what matters most to us is that they should keep them there, in any way they wish and in any conditions. Statements aside, no one cares very much about what happens in Turkey; just do it and we will be more understanding. Erdogan’s most powerful weapon aimed against Europe consists of the 2.7 million refugees kept in Turkey.

You have described Europe’s attitude to the Great Purge carried out by Erdogan immediately after the failed coup d’état as cautious. Do you hope that such caution may become something a little more incisive?

We have consigned ourselves to Turkey to resolve problems we could and should have resolved ourselves, and this dependence is destined to continue to increase, so it will be difficult for us to credibly raise our voice. We ourselves have become accustomed to many drownings in the Mediterranean. Just yesterday, July 26th, twenty migrants died from suffocation, and there was no tangible reaction.

As leader of the Radical Party, as former European Commissioner and Foreign Minister, you have always tried to practice a diplomacy of rights, even when many, with a large dose of realpolitik, said that human rights and business diplomacy do not go hand in hand. Does such a perspective also apply to the Turkish case?

In this case more than real business, although that too plays a role, we have sacrificed the defence of human and civil rights in Turkey on the altar of the migrant crisis, leaving aside the basic principles of the rule of law and democracy.

Erdogan’s Islamist counter-coup has reopened the debate concerning the compatibility of Islam and democracy. Once again there are some stating that they are incompatible.

There is certainly a very tense relationship, especially in the Arab world. This tension is so strong it ends up overshadowing important experiences such as what has happened in Tunisia and Morocco, which instead deserve greater attention and, above all, greater support from Europe. To return to Turkey, one cannot forget that during Erdogan’s first period in power, Turkey had made promising and significant steps forward as far as democracy is concerned. However, it was the Europeans, in particular Merkel’s Germany and France under the Sarkozy presidency, who went back on the unanimously approved decision to start the process of Turkey’s EU membership. After that Turkey looked to other partners. At the moment, the other increasingly authoritarian side has won and if one observes matters carefully, the same could be said about Egypt.

As the saying goes, history is not made with ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. But let us for once try. What if Europe had insisted on continuing Turkey’s membership process?

Although perfectly aware that the process would have been lengthy and full of repercussions, I was convinced it was the right thing to do. On the other hand, admitting a new country into the Union is never achieved quickly; it took ten years for both Spain and Portugal, for example. It was a risk I was prepared to run and address with greater tenacity and consistency. Instead, since 2006-2007, two large European countries changed their minds and ended up imposing this on all the other member states.

Article published by L’Unità on 22/7/2016

Translated by Francesca Simmons