“Climate strike” has been selected by the Collins Dictionary as the Word of 2019, and “climate emergency” has become Oxford Word of the Year. This is not just a “normative” choice inspired by Greta Thunberg and kids striking for the climate due to her example around the world. As Oxford Dictionaries put it:
“Analysis of language data collected in the Oxford Corpus shows the rapid rise of climate emergency from relative obscurity to becoming one of the most prominent – and prominently debated – terms of 2019. Usage of the phrase climate emergency increased steeply over the course of 2019, and by September it was more than 100 times as common as it had been the previous year.”
Climate strikes, which were started by the “Fridays for Future” movement that was created by teenage activists with Greta Thunberg at the vanguard, has drawn unprecedented attention to the most vital emergency that our planet is facing: the existential environmental disaster.
As 2019 draws to end, on November 28 the European Parliament declared a “climate emergency” across the European Union. The Parliament’s burst of activities on climate came ahead of COP 25, the UN Climate Change Conference that will take place December 2 to 13 in Madrid. Two climate crisis-oriented resolutions adopted last Thursday were passed with a comfortable majority and with the support of members of parliament from across the political spectrum. And they were also adopted to steer the new EU Commission team, which will soon be at the helm of the EU, towards “greener” politics.
One of the resolutions that the European Parliament adopted declared a climate and environmental emergency in Europe and globally. With a consecutive resolution, the members of parliament demanded that the European Commission ensures that all relevant legislative and budgetary proposals are fully aligned with the objective of limiting global warming to under 1.5°C.
Moreover, they also affirm that the EU should cut emissions by 55% by 2030 in order to become climate neutral by 2050, just as they called for a reduction of global emissions from shipping and aviation.
At first glance, Turkey may seem to be missing the “climate activism” heyday ongoing in Europe. After all, it is not best of the times for any sort of grassroots activism in Turkey. But probe deeper, and you will come across a diligent and robust climate activist movement budding all over the country.
On March 15, I was among the witnesses of the first climate strike to take place in Turkey. The central meeting point for the strike was Bebek Park in Istanbul, which is located in one of the most glamorous seaside districts of the city. But there were also strikes all around the country, even as far away as Iğdır, the easternmost town in Turkey and a place not known for its activism. The climate strikers were mostly teenage activists with various backgrounds, but they were also accompanied by family members. I recall vividly a grandfather meticulously painting a poster while apologizing to kids around him, saying, “We could not do enough to save the planet: please forgive us.”
Another snapshot emblazoned on my mind was veteran climate activist Ömer Madra’s eyes shining so bright: He was as zestful as the climate striking teens. Madra has been the most prominent climate activist in Turkey and has been trying to draw attention to climate crisis for decades now.
Nine months ago, at Bebek, I was feeling both proud, exhilarated and at the same time, worried, as I eyed the climate activist kids gathered for their strike. Not only I, but fellow climate activists were also a bit uneasy because as mentioned previously, this period is not the best of times when it comes to activism in Turkey.
But the climate striking youth of Turkey, like Atlas Sarrafoğlu, did not only succeed in disseminating their ideas and developing the strike movement, they also took to their cause to the Turkish parliament, debating parliamentarians and ministers in Ankara. The young climate activists in Turkey are well-connected to climate strikers across the globe, as well. Sarrafoğlu and Selin Gören were among the activists who traveled to Lausanne this past August for the Smile for Future event, part of Fridays for Future, where they met Thunberg and other activists. There are many, many others like 11-year-old Deniz Çevikus, who continues to strike every Friday since March 15. I just feel sad that I cannot cite all of them here.
One of the veteran climate activists who has accompanied the teen activists of Turkey’s Fridays for Future, Can Tonbil, draws attention to the fact that the parliamentarians mull taking action. So far, no institution in Turkey has declared a “climate emergency,” or come anywhere close to that.
Contemporary politics might win the day, but the future of politics is well beyond Ankara — catching today’s global vibe and blooming through the climate strike’s grassroots.
Amid the coronavirus outbreak several European leaders have called launching an all-encompassing Marshall Plan-style public investment program to mitigate the economic impact. Turkey was a part of the Marshall Plan as it was automatically considered to be a part of Europe and the Western bloc back in 1951. How about now?
Hungary’s new “COVID-19 State of Emergency Law” allows Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree indefinitely. he COVID-19 crisis may pass, but the dagger in the back is there to stay. And Hungary’s new legislative turn may prove to be the real “epidemic”: draconian systemic changes going viral.
Schengen is one casualty of COVID-19, but not the only one. The European Stability Pact, which requires member states to uphold a less than three percent budget deficit is another casualty. The EU had to lift the budget cap on March 20, guarded by the European Stability Pact.
Is the first casualty of the coronavirus the European Union itself? There are now more confirmed cases of coronavirus globally than there are in China, and Europe has been defined as the “epicenter of epidemic crisis” by the World Health Organization. And when it comes to facing the crisis, it’s almost as though the European Union does not exist as an institution.
Money is an important part of the issue for Ankara; but so is its safe zone plan. The polls indicated that the public supported the military incursion into Northern Syria first and foremost because they believed that a safe zone for Syrian refugees to return may be created. As Turkey’s public opinion sours vehemently on the refugee issue, the “promise of sending back the Syrian refugees” is political gold in terms of returns in political capital.
This is our darkest hour with Europe and the European Union. And I do not think that either the public in Turkey or Turkish politicians in general are aware of the grimness of the situation. Turkey’s public psyche has gone berserk with all sorts of negative emotions, and are unable to recognize that relations with Europe are completely wrecked beyond repair.
While Ankara may not receive the solid backing from NATO that Turkey is seeking against Russia now, dialogue channels with NATO are stronger compared to other international institutions — for example, the European Union. Despite all the conflicts of interest and tensions that Turkey and European states, as well as Ankara and Washington, have endured, their links with NATO are still intact.
In Turkey’s case, beyond Ankara and Erdoğan’s foreign policy line, perceptions are changing, and the West is clearly not winning when it comes to public perception. A recent survey by MetroPOLL showed that Russia is the “most trusted country” in Turkey, followed by Japan, China, and Hungary, respectively. While love of Japan and Hungary extend back to Ottoman times and might be due to imagined cultural affinities, trust in Russia and China are novel developments in Turkey.
Várhelyi’s statement on a “revised methodology” for EU enlargement and the official document for this new approach do not even refer to Turkey. Or, in other words, as far as enlargement is concerned, Turkey is not remotely on the mind of the EU.
Since March 2018, obtaining a visa through the Ankara Agreement got increasingly harder. The UK Home Office made an unexpected announcement at midnight on March 16, 2018; declaring that new applications will not be accepted until further notice.Real impact of Brexit over Turkey may be on trade front though: Britain has signed 18 free trade agreements with 55 countries so far.
2020 seems already to be ridden with unexpected crises erupting all around the world: Turkey had to face one of its worst fears, an earthquake. The warmest responses came from the EU countries with which Turkey has the coldest relations: France, and at a far warmer level, Greece.
One of the most tangible outcomes of the Berlin Conference turned out to be worsening Greek and Turkey relations. Already the Eastern Mediterranean question was the elephant in the room in relations between two countries; now the state of crisis has become permanent and “East Med” issue is right in middle of everything. Troubles with Greece will lead to worsening of already dreadful relations between Turkey and the European Union institutions, too.
U.S.-Greece relations are on track despite Trump’s reluctance to condemn Ankara. Perhaps military sales compensate for that by producing tangible results that reduce Greece’s anxieties concerning Turkey.
Clear goal of the EU and the major European states is saving the nuclear deal. As Trump was threathening to bomb 52 sites in Iran in allusion to the same number of diplomats taken the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran, the EU’s new foreign policy chief Josep Borrell invited Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Brusells. However, at the moment, there seems to be no clear European vision ahead or roadmap.
If I had one way to describe this year, it would be “bittersweet. While I am more optimistic about Europe in general, I am less optimistic about Turkey and Greece as we slowly step into 2020.
Can local governments and municipal leaders counter centralized, majoritarian populist national governments by creating an alternative “spaces to breathe” for politics? Looking at Budapest, Warsaw, Bratislava, Prague and Istanbul’s determined struggle for “freedom”; it looks like we will comeback to this question more and more in 2020-and beyond.
Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made a formal comeback on Dec. 13 with the new party he founded, the “Future Party.” Former Finance Minister Ali Babacan’s new party is counting down the days to its launch and is due to take off either by the end of December or in the early days of January. There is also a surprise movement making its debut in Turkey: the pan-European movement DiEM25-Democracy in Europe Movement 2025.
While Turkey’s public clearly stands by the protection of human rights, they do not actively engage in any tangible act to actually support human rights organizations. They are neither willing to donate nor take part in advocacy campaigns.
According to Sept. 2019 data, almost 90% of the public believes that violence against women has increased in recent times. And the public holds the judiciary and the political sphere culpable for increasing violence against women. Around 65% believe that the judiciary is not working effectively when it comes to cases violence against women, and 66% think that politicians are not doing enough to prevent such cases.
As Budapest’s new mayor (and also a political scientist by profession) Karácsony pointed out, maybe the cities are winning at the expense of the populist center specifically because “the correct answer is to strengthen representative democracy, complement this with the institutions which are part of the participative democracy and involve people more in decision-making.”
At the end of the day, the gist of the Erdoğan-Orbán camaraderie is displaying an image of strength to the EU. Their policies regarding Europe, popular domestically, aim to push their own agenda at the expense of Brussels.
The speed at which Germany’s “international safe zone plan” was thrown off the table was only matched by the speed at which it was proposed in the first place. While the proposal became passé almost as soon as it hit the headlines, it was useful for one thing: reflecting on the current state of political affairs in Germany and the relationship between Germany and Turkey.
All eyes were on Ankara’s relations with Washington after Turkey launched its “Operation Peace Spring,” and speculation abounded that the once-allies had parted ways for good. But in fact it is Turkey’s relations with the EU and Europe that took the real and probably most lasting blow.