Turkish scholar Meltem Ahiska wrote, “Europe has been an object of desire as well as a source of frustration for Turkish national identity in a long and strained history.” In their research at Anglo-American University, lecturer Pelin Ayan, Ph.D. and Juraj Mahfoud have taken it upon themselves to ask, is the feeling mutual? Working under the project name, Public Portrayal of Turkey in Visegrád Countries, the two researchers are on a one-year mission to better understand the most debated among all current and previous EU candidacies, according to the project’s website.
When it comes to Turkey and the European Union, the word “question” is usually in close proximity. Though Turkey composed its application to join the EU in 1987, the nineties saw enlargement lead from the Mediterranean up to include Austria, Finland, and Sweden, with Turkey receiving candidate status only in 1999. Moreover, the next two enlargements connected Central and East European countries, nearly completing an east-west confederation of member states. The 2004 enlargement brought in, among others, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland, four countries that would comprise a regional partnership within the EU called the Visegrád Group (V4). Meanwhile, Turkey’s deliberation to accede to the union has become a subject of division and controversy, with real negotiations starting in 2005.
Last year, Dr. Ayan and Mr. Mahfoud were awarded a grant from the International Visegrad Fund. They have since kept diligent watch on public opinion using a point system to determine whether a mention of Turkey, and the Turkey/EU debate, is negative or positive. They are conducting interviews with academics, opinion leaders, think tanks, politicians and the Turkish diaspora in cooperation with partner universities in the V4 countries. With the help of research assistant and AAU student Katarina Minaricova, they are also analyzing media archives to assess Turkey’s portrayal in the media in the past 5 years. Focusing their attention on the V4 countries, the researchers and their assistant hope to better understand the support for, and opposition against, Turkey’s accession to the EU by illuminating how Turkey is publicly portrayed.
The goal is to get as close to reality as possible in order to better understand what is happening.”
Dr. Ayan is herself an Istanbulite, and Mr. Mahfoud having studied in Istanbul on the Erasmus program, the two have a shared interest in Turkish politics. While teaching and working at AAU, they were advised by provost and Professor Milada Polišenská to collaborate on the grant application that would eventually fund their research.
“The topic of EU enlargement since 2005 has been almost synonymous with Turkey,” affirms Ayan. While both researchers grant that religion is an issue, with Turkey being predominantly Muslim, Mahfoud is quick to point out that the larger concern is the country’s population overall. With an estimated population of 75 million, “Turkey would dominate the EU parliament,” says Mahfoud, “the EU must also restructure itself if it were to include Turkey.”
On the other hand, Mahfoud asserts that Turkey would add a level of security and “economic stability to an EU trying to wean from its independence on Russian oil.” Despite the economic and strategic advantages, however, the ceaseless deliberation in the European Union has taken its toll in the minds and hearts of Turkey. “Recently, the degree of support for EU membership within Turkish public opinion has declined,” Ayan reports.
It is clear to Ayan and Mahfoud that finding out the reasons for the support for or opposition against Turkey’s accession to the European Union would be very useful data. Whether or not they find what they are looking for, their ultimate goal is to characterize the debate as it occurs in the Visegrád Group. “As a researcher I try to employ a positivist approach to political science,” says Ayan, “I am personally interested in the validity of the research. The goal is to get as close to reality as possible in order to better understand what is happening.”
Research for the Public Portrayal of Turkey in Visegrád Countries will culminate this November at a symposium in Prague where the project’s findings will be publicized. The symposium will include debate and participation from invitees which will involve members of civil society organizations, representatives of the Visegrád Fund, EU and candidate embassies, universities, and think tanks.
by R. Adriel Vasquez
Photo by Natasha Kirshina