Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Europe’s Minority Policy
It’s no secret that the EU is pushing Ankara hard to reform its policy towards minority groups. In Turkey, the Kurds and the Alevis, for example, are not officially recognized as minorities and have struggled, as a result, to maintain their respective identities. The Islamist AKP government, under European pressure, has made some limited changes. Kurds are now allowed to speak their language on certain radio and tv outlets, and the use of Kurdish has also been decriminalized in private educational establishments. Meanwhile, there have been government efforts to reach out to the Alevi minority. The Europeans, however, are holding out the fruits of accession until these issues are resolved, with a Dutch politician this week criticizing Ankara’s minority policy as ‘shocking.’
But is it fair to hold the Turks to such a high standard with regards to minority rights? Michael Johns wrote a must-read article (note that it was published awhile ago) that argues that the EU is making its newest applicants attain a very high bar. A double standard has been put in place, Johns suggests, in which Western European states have ducked the reforms on minority rights that Eastern European states are now being forced to make. Take Germany, for example:
The Turks began arriving in what was West Germany in the early 1950s as a solution to Germany’s labor shortage. It was expected that when the shortage ended, they would return to Turkey. In reality, many stayed and have continued to arrive. Many have now been in Germany for generations and have little connection with Turkey. They speak German, and feel German, but face restrictive barriers to citizenship and continue to be classified as foreigners. The Turks in German face restrictions on voting, access to jobs in the civil service or military, and face expulsion for illegal activities. While the restrictions on citizenship have been loosened, less than 10% of the total Turkish population was able to vote in the 1998 election, and only one member of the Bundestag was Turkish.
The Roma in Italy, for example, also face severe discrimination. The ERRC has documented cases of abuse by the police, including torture and sexual assaults on women by police during searches. The Italian Roma have faced restrictions on education, employment both in and out of the public sector, and mobility, with many Roma confined to “camps.” The Roma also face the threats of violence by nonstate actors.
There’s no question that the EU is right to encourage its members to resolve these issues. Avoiding a Balkans-like fiasco, and establishing a common standard on human rights, is crucial. But to selectively force applicants — like Turkey — to adopt such standards, while turning a blind eye to violations amongst the older members, is hypocritical and unjust.