Civil Society and Promoting Democratic Change
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 29th January, 2009
This morning I addressed the 5th International Conference on the ‘EU, Turkey and the Kurds’, organised by the EU Turkey Civic Commission at the European Parliament, stresing the importance of a healthy civil society within any putative democracy. That’s why the Westminster Foundation for Democracy — for which I sometimes go on foreign missions — sees NGOs as giving added value to the work of political parties in constructing an open and vibrant political space. In a free society, the media and an independent judiciary also have a crucial role to play; That is indeed often the case in Turkey — but not when issues of cultural diversity or the linguistic rights of Kurds and other minority peoples are concerned. Certain elements of the Turkish constitution and penal code leave the door wide open for prosecutions which to an outside observer often appear malicious and vindictive. As a strong friend of Turkey, I hope that that situation will change before too long. If it doesn’t, the country has little chance of realising its goal of joining the European Union, as the EU’s so-called Copenhagen criteria demand due respect for minority peoples.
I shared the conference platform with former Plaid Cymru MEP, Eurig Wyn, who drew some interesting parallels with the importance of the Welsh language in Wales, though as far as I know, no-one has been sent to prison for speaking Welsh in the Westminster parliament, which was essentially the case of former Kurdish Turkish MP Leyla Zana, who was the star speaker at the two-day Brussels conference. She is once again facing criminal chargzs, but a simultaneous gathering of the leaders of all the political groups in the European Parliament here in Brussels today issued a call to the Turkish government to bring a halt to all legal moves against her.
(photo of Leyla Zana: Chris Kutschera)