Belarus vs. Turkey: Europe’s ethical challenge

While the EU has postponed its council to this Thursday and Friday 1-2 Oct. to discuss, among other things, the adequate response to the fait accompli in Belarus and the endless muscle flexing of Ankara in its neighborhood, repression in both countries continue unabated.  

Presently Europeans are uneasy with these two neighbors. Although they have been deeply uneasy for quite some time now with at least two of their members, Hungary and Poland. But this is an intra-family dispute which can’t be solved without an agreed divorce. 

The unease derives from the wish to sanction both countries for their political misdoings. 

In the eyes of the EU the two countries are dissimilar regarding their misdoings. Whereas Belarus’ regime is considered to have hijacked the recent presidential elections which were declared unfree and unfair, Turkey’s regime is considered essentially to have bothered two member states, Cyprus and Greece through hostile action. The EU, when talking about Turkey, beats around the bush regarding the end of the rule of law and massive human rights’ violations, but never ever considers sanctioning Turkey for these deeds. 

Ultimately, for the EU, Belarus’ misdoings target Belarusians, Turkey’s ones concern Cyprus and Greece, not Turkish citizens. Accordingly sanctions are legitimate against Belarus, but unwelcome for Turkey. The EU empathizes with Belarusians but openly ignores Turkish citizens further than lip service and an assortment of “concerns”. Despite the fact that both societies suffer under dictatorship and both societies try to resist them. As for Cyprus and Greece, the bloc’s retaliations are no harsher than token actions.    

On Belarus the EU’s Josep Borrell declared on 21 September: “We are extremely impressed by the determination and perseverance of the Belarusian people. Despite the brutal and increasingly lawless repression – something that we have not seen for years. Belarusians stand firm in their peaceful demands – in spite of the thousands of people detained and tortured - for the respect of their basic human and political rights. We stand firm in our support for a free and democratic choice by Belarusian people of their leader and their country’s future.”

And on 24 September the EU reiterated that the 9 August Belarus Presidential elections were neither free nor fair. It refused to recognise their falsified results. On this basis, the so-called ‘inauguration’ of 23 September 2020 and the new mandate claimed by Aleksandr Lukashenko lack any democratic legitimacy. The EU is, thus, preparing sanctions against around 40 Belarusians deemed responsible for the repression and also looking at punishing Lukashenko himself. 

On Turkey, however, the same Borrell utters: “The tensions in the eastern Mediterranean between Greece, Turkey and Cyprus have been increasing exponentially, and there is a strong risk of a confrontation that goes further than just words. Immediate de-escalation is essential to allow the resumption of dialogue and the negotiations, which is the only path towards stability and lasting solutions. The foreign ministers of the EU were very clear on the possible consequences in the absence of progress in engaging with Turkey. The latest move by Turkey to discontinue seismic exploration in the continental shelf of Greece is a step in the right direction and gives us some hope that it will lead to further steps towards dialogue. It is clear that solutions will not come from an increasingly confrontational relationship. We do not want it, we do not look for it. Turkey is an important neighbour for the European Union –we are not going to change geography, it will remain so– and it is a key partner in many areas, migration for example”. 

The second dissimilarity is about their relationship to the West. Turkey is supposed to be a NATO ally while Belarus, included in the useless Partnership for Peace of NATO, is still supposed to be a NATO adversary. Within this framework, the EU’s reaction to Belarus’ elections contains a Cold War reflex, as seen in the harsh reaction of someone like Carl Bildt. Nevertheless, Bildt has always sided with Turkey and against any sanctions, despite the end of the rule of law and massive human rights’ violations there, and has classified Turkey as a “European family member”. 

Belarus is not a NATO friendly country. Alas Turkey cannot anymore be considered a NATO friendly country either, to judge by its continuous anti-Alliance decisions as with the purchase of incompatible Russian S-400 air-defense systems and with its disagreement with the Alliance's defense plans concerning Poland and the Baltics. Moreover it cannot be considered as a regular NATO member in view of lacking minimal democratic criteria as stipulated in the Alliance’s founding principles.  

The very double standard here could be explained in the naïve attitude of Westerners towards keeping Turkey within the Alliance against all odds, and away from Moscow’s influence which otherwise has become a hard fact.  

European cynicism and double standards are unmistakably shown through the international rankings of both countries in terms of the rule of law and violation of human rights, which are quite similar. In the Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project, Belarus is the 68th, Turkey 107th of 128 countries. For Freedom House, Belarus and Turkey are both in the “Not Free” category. In the Press Freedom Index of RSF, Belarus is the 153th, Turkey the 154th of 180 countries. The World Prison Brief’s prison population gives Belarus 343 prisoners and Turkey 361 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. Lastly, in the Global Peace Index of Vision of Humanity, Belarus ranks 94th and Turkey 150th out of 163 countries. 

All in all for the EU, contrary to appearances and paradoxically, Belarus is a potential European family member which took a wrong path. While Ankara, despite a cynical pro-Turkey narrative, is an odd man out, which needs to be contained and manipulated for the sake of vested Western interests, certainly not for the sake of its citizens’ aspirations for European values. Consequently the EU is ready to isolate Minsk’s dictator but stops short of isolating Ankara’s dictator whom it continues to prolong the tenure of through trade, cheap credits and endless tolerance. 

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.