“Europe” has was always been dream, an ideal. Throughout history, this peculiar Asian peninsula was never able to set its own boundaries. At times it designated even the Caucasus as Europe, at other times it could not even call the Balkans “Europe.” This ideal, drawing its roots from the Mediterranean and the Middle Eastern civilizations, developed a certain dislike towards its past. With the Explorations, the Reformation, the Renaissance, the French and Industrial revolutions, charging himself the role of the “leader” and “pioneer” of the world, the European failed to address the questions “What is Europe?” and “Who is a European?” The answers to these questions were a search rather than a certainty. For some, what constitutes Europe is its Christian legacy. However, Christianity emanated from the Middle East and could not impact a long stretch of territory from Africa to Latin America the way it did Europe. Neither would those claiming that “Europe is a product of Greco-Roman civilizations” find what they are looking for. For, both civilizations are Mediterranean and did not forge a “Europe” on the shoals of the Mediterranean. The truth is laden much deeper than that. Those dealing with explanations of this sort in defining Europe exclusively insist on a singular dimension of the truth.
A HISTORY OF SELF-QUESTIONING
Through out the history, Europe was Christian or Greco-Roman. It had epochs that other characteristics prevailed. However, during none of the periods was a definitive denotation of Europe arrived at. Almost like the image of an oasis, the sight of Europe, moving further with each step towards it, symbolized an ideal. It owes to this attribute that it is more vigorous than other continents. The struggle between Anatolian and Greek civilizations continued with the struggle between Greek and Roman civilizations, followed by the spread of Christianity through great toil. The clashes between states, princes, kings, and classes witnessed the defeat of the old actor. The benefits that Christianity bestowed upon Europe cannot be denied. However, the degeneration of Christian institutions, serving the needs of the few also brought much pain and misery. The overbearing dominance of the Church, unjust excommunications and chastisements, burning at the stake because of “witchcraft” are undeniable scenes that need to be closely scrutinized when considering the Christian legacy. Europe liberated itself from these burdens by much painful self-confrontation. Just as in earlier ages, it rid itself from the cumber of religion and tradition through hard-hearted self-questioning and leaped forward, in a sense.
Industrialization following an agrarian society and transformation to capitalism as a more advanced economic model, was also onerous. The drudgery of women and children beyond tolerance, the chasm between the rich and poor, the acquisition of raw materials from the colonies through slave power, all form the background to this astonishing economic success. Europe also questioned itself while passing through these painful and inhumane times. Socialist and communist movements, security forces clashing with civilians, social uprisings are all traces of this self-questioning. The adventure of communism cost the West dearly. But it was through the conflict between communism and capitalism that today’s more humane economic standards are reached.
With the arrival of the 19th century, due to technical innovations and globalization of the economy, European, thinking that he/she had arrived at “the deepest secrets of life” and “the final frontier of history,” believed like a creed that he could dominate the world, prolong human life, and that man-kind had a limitless ability for accomplishment. Science, which radically eased human life with the help of technology, also delivered racism into the social realm, exploitation at home, and colonialism abroad. As a result, not only Europe, but the whole world suffered dearly. However, the two world wars tormented Europe so much that just as before, it became evident that there was a new hurdle to be surpassed. The idea of superior race and sole reliance on reason manifested the limits to which they can lead man-kind (i.e. in the form of Nazi has chambers and fascists’ torture rooms). In the war more than 50 million people died, Europe lay obliterated. All these led Europe to yet another self-questioning. Europe challenged its values, refuted old Europe once again and embarked on a search for a new Europe. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), later the European Economic Community (EEC), and now the European Union (EU) is the natural outcome of this search. The EEC was established for solving disputes peacefully, the utmost reverence of human rights, and the equitable allocation of Europe’s resources. Whatever official documents state, the EU’s success on such a short span is the result of similar expectations among the masses. In other words, the EEC/EU is not formed to revive old Europe, but to raise a much better one from its ashes.
HAS EUROPE REACHED THE ‘END OF THE CIVILIZATION”?
With the end of the Cold War, the World has acquired a new appearance. Unfortunately, just like the 19th century, humanity speaks of the “end of history” once again. It is argued that the ultimate system and principles are attained. Accordingly, the West constitutes the sum of values that the rest of the world should follow. In a sense, civilization has reached its peak.
It must not go unnoticed that in this tendency to refute continuity in history lies the bigotry of Medieval Europe, the frenetic psychology of the masses that burnt women for “witchcraft”, and Hitler’s claim to “perfection”. Present-day promulgators who praise “democracy” and “human rights” should not deceive us. No matter how “sublime”, how “holy” the words we utter, as soon as we deny change and progress, a dangerous process is underway. Whenever we see the other as “backward” and ourselves at the zenith of our potential, it indicates the start of the fall and incoming cataclysm.
The debate about Turkey’s EU membership clearly demonstrates that Europe is once again at one of the above-mentioned deciding moments. The EU, believing that it is close to perfection in humane and political principles, is at the point of yet another self-confrontation with respect to the question of Turkey. In this context, a group began advocating “old Europe.” For these people, there is a fixed and unchangeable Europe at hand and Turkey is not a part of this civilization. For Turkey is not Christian. For Turkey is an “enemy” of “old Europe”.
At this point the EU should decide: Is it going to stay as “an institution of old Europe” or is it going to progress to a better, more advanced stage? Is it going to oppose Turkey with the principles of “old Europe” in mind or build new Europe with Turkey? It must be borne in mind that even if reality is ignored, it reminds its omnipresence through blood, tears, and death. The history of Europe is full of such examples. If Europe refuses Turkey solely on the grounds of religion, culture, etc., it shall move into the next stage by paying a heavy price. The September 11 attacks and Madrid bombings are a hint to this point. It is impossible in such a small world to live by erecting walls. Those who raise high walls only increase the number of bricks that will rain down their heads.
While some oppose Turkey’s full membership on cultural-religious grounds, others view Turkey as a “poor and populous country, waiting on the doorsteps of Europe, trying to push in”. It is a fact. One of the most important reasons for Turkey’s desire for membership is economic. Turkey wants to enter the EU in order to become more wealthy, more developed and more stable. Turkey is not alone in that sense. All members came into this Union with the same motives. Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Czech Republic, Malta... Regardless of how big and powerful, prosperity and stability are the most important reasons. There is nothing strange in Turkey’s aspiration for membership. However, Turkey offers a remarkable difference than other members. Turkey has certain qualities that no other member has. It does have material expectations from the EU, on the other hand, it has so much to offer to European civilization that other members cannot offer. Turkey is not only a “demanding” party vis-a-vis the EU. It also wants to contribute. It has the features that can ease Europe, on the verge of yet another edge, to leap to the next stage. In this respect, Turkey has a request from the EU not just for itself but also for the future of Europe and the whole world. In a sense, Turkey says “if you want an easier shift, we have to stick together”. This statement might sound too naive and idealistic. But when looking at Turkish history, at their weakest and strongest times, Turkeys have always turned towards Europe, wanting to be a part of it. Even after the Crusades, Turks’ motion towards Europe was not bent on destruction, but aimed at unification and contribution. In a process that lasted for centuries, Turkey has a peculiar experience between East and West. In a sense, it can be said that Turkey is a laboratory. This peculiar experience, combining the peoples of the East and West, their religions and civilizations on the lands of Anatolia harbor a very special secret, a very special prescription.
EUROPE CANNOT MOVE AHEAD WITHOUT DENYING THE ‘OLD EUROPE’
It is a fact that in a sense, Turkey’s accession to the EU is going to be Europe’s self-denial. However, this denial is the denial of the ‘old Europe’ and it will not be the first time that Europe passes through this process.
Will Europe, that has made the Medieval Ages, Hitler and many other painful experiences mere recollections, demonstrate the same courage today? This is a moment of destiny, and concerns the world as a whole. However, probably only a ‘Europe with Turkey’ may embrace the world. Unfortunately there is no other alternative to this. With America’s ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, it obvious now more than ever how much the world needs such a union. From this perspective, both Turkey and the EU have great responsibilities.
6 June 2005