OPINION

The risk-taking Mr Erdogan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan undoubtedly has the gift of inspiring trust. He convinced US President George W. Bush and the leaders of the European Union that beginning accession talks between Turkey and the EU would be the clearest message that the Christian West could coexist with Islam, politically and socially. Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has also put his trust in Mr Erdogan, whose visit to Athens did not focus on the management of problems accumulated over decades, but on the more promising future, supposing that Turkey’s EU membership eventuates and that Mr Erdogan’s political future is assured. Turkey’s prime minister belongs to that country’s group of politicians who have distanced themselves from Ankara’s traditional establishment and are therefore attractive, as they have introduced new parameters into political events for a certain period. Adnan Menderes, who visited Greece in 1952, was also in this category. He signed the London and Zurich accords of 1959-60 on the independence of Cyprus. Shortly afterward he was executed. Then Turgul Ozal, who visited Athens in 1988, was exploited by Ankara’s establishment for several years until he became somewhat troublesome in his last years. Erdogan’s advantage is that in the current global situation, he is a valuable reference point for the West in its search for behavioral models in Muslim states compatible with its own political style. He behaves like a leader who wants to wean his country’s political system off the tutelage of the military. He has clashed with Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, whom he has marginalized politically. He has set up a group of economic advisers and continues to fight against Turkey’s establishment on issues such as education. Naturally every conservative feels concerned at the consequences of Erdogan’s political behavior at home, but the desire for «change» prevails over conservative politics. Turkey’s establishment has not reacted violently because so far Erdogan has served the main principles of Turkish policy. The marginalization of Denktash resulted in a Cyprus plan that satisfied over 90 percent of the community’s demands. The West’s trust in the Turkish prime minister will result in the beginning of EU accession talks, most probably within the first half of 2005. Karamanlis is right to support Turkey’s ambitions in Europe and trusts – in the absence of evidence to the contrary – Mr Erdogan, who appears determined to abandon past practices and to build relations with Greece on a firmer foundation. So we are probably faced with a new situation: What is certain is that the visit to Athens by the risk-taking Mr Erdogan has created unusual, and for some, substantial expectations.