Camel greeting

Saturday, 28 April 2012

More Bad Press for Turkey

I am indebted to friends abroad who often send me articles from newspapers in the US, the UK and elsewhere. Despite the wonders of the Internet, it’s easy to lose touch with the Western Hemisphere, and especially how its media perceive their problematic Turkish neighbour.

Exhibition at the British Museum
A recent article I received deals with a squabble that apparently arose between the Turkish Government and officials at the British Museum who recently hosted an exhibition entitled ‘Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam.’ It seems the dispute arose over a First Century CE stele with a sculpted depiction of King Antiochus I Epiphanes in the British Museum collection. The Turkish Ministry of Culture claims that the stele was illegally exported, and wants it returned. To make the point, they refused to authorize the loan of a royal camel saddle for the Hajj exhibition. In fact, more than that, they are actually targeting other museums in Europe and the United States who, they claim, have priceless artifacts that should be returned to Turkey.

Followers of this blog will know that I have written on this issue on two previous occasions, and I don’t intend to go down the same road again. I have written at some length on the subject of which European cities one should visit to see treasures from Pergamum, Ephesus, Constantinople, Troy and other cities of the ancient world located within the boundaries of the modern Republic of Turkey. More recently, I wrote about one noteworthy instance where a museum in Berlin had seen fit to return a disputed Hittite sphinx.

What interested me about this particular article, more than its subject matter, was its tone, which was highly critical of Turkey, its government and its people – in fact vituperative and spiteful might be better words to use than ‘critical’. In the first place, the writer says that the Turkish government’s action re the veto is a mistake. Well, ok, he is entitled to his opinion. However, he goes on to criticize the budget allocation to tourism marketing of Turkey, comparing it to ‘a sultan’s ransom’ – as if there is any connection between the two issues, and sultans have any relevance to the modern Republic of Turkey.

The writer then goes on to suggest that the Turkish government should give up trying to repatriate ‘long-lost’ treasures, and instead focus on more careful management of what remains within their borders. No doubt museums in the West holding disputed classical treasures would be very happy if the issue could be so easily swept under the rug – but that is unlikely to happen. In a final snide swipe, the writer accuses Turks of ‘wallowing in cultural nationalism’ in their attempts to have stolen artifacts returned.

I can’t say whether Turks in general, are more prone to cultural nationalism than people of other nations, not having done the exhaustive research that, one assumes, lies behind this generalization.  I can say that they may have more reason than most to be proud of the richness and diversity of their culture. However, this diatribe in the New York Times did prompt me to check out the writer, a certain Andrew Finkel. The International Herald Tribune gives the following brief resumé: Andrew Finkel has been a foreign correspondent in Istanbul for over 20 years, as well as a columnist for Turkish-language newspapers. He is the author of the book “Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know.”’

Perhaps one thing his readers need to know about Mr Finkel is that, shortly before this article appeared, the Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman, which had been publishing his column for more than four years, terminated his employment. Again, I can’t say conclusively that Mr Finkel’s perception of Turkey has been adversely affected by this experience, but it is possible. Publicity for his recent book about Turkey quotes Joost Lagendijk, former joint chairman of the Turkey-EU Parliamentarians’ delegation and Senior Advisor at the Istanbul Policy Center of Sabanci University as saying: "There are only a few people in Turkey who can combine the critical eye of the outsider with the compassion of the insider. Finkel is one of them."  I have to say, ‘compassion’ is not a word I would use to describe that gentleman’s recent writings about a country which seems, on the whole, to have treated him well. Still, the question remains, does he have a valid point?

First, let it be said that Mr Finkel does concede Turkey’s right ‘to protect its own archaeological heritage from thieves’, and its ‘obligation to recover objects smuggled abroad.’ However, he rather undermines this concession by going on to emphasise what he calls ‘the deplorable state of cultural management at home’ and ‘the destruction by treasure seekers around Turkey’s major archaeological sites.’ Leaving aside the question of whether words such as ‘wallowing’, ‘deplorable’ and ‘destruction’ can be considered ‘compassionate’, or even neutral, I would like to consider the matter of Turkey’s ‘cultural management.’

Recently I had cause to visit the head office of the Social Welfare Department (SGK) in the area of Istanbul known as Unkapanı. It lies on the main thoroughfare, Atatürk Boulevard, which runs from Yenikapı, or Newgate, on the Marmara Sea walls built by the Roman Emperor Theodosius, passing under the 4th century aqueduct of the Emperor Valens, before crossing the Golden Horn to the old (but newer) European quarter of Galata/Pera. On the hill above the SGK office, major restoration work is being carried out on the Pantokrator Monastery, known to Turks as Molla Zeyrek Mosque. Ah, those Turks! I hear you say. Is nothing sacred? The monastery became a mosque, however, when Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople, which means its history as a mosque began about fifty years before St Peters Basilica in Rome was even built! Still, to be fair, it was a Christian monastery before that, constructed by order of the Byzantine Emperor Ioannis Komnenos in the early 12th century. But again, if my calculations are correct, its life as a Muslim place of worship is at least two hundred years longer than its Christian period.

Anyway, it is being restored, and for sure, not before time. I can’t see the local community being able to fill its vast spaces on the holiest of Islamic Fridays, so my hope is that at least part of the complex will be set aside as a museum. How much the bill will be for restoration is another question. Three-year renovations of the Süleymaniye Mosque complex nearby are said to have cost $US15 million  - and that building was half the age and in reasonable order to begin with.

A short distance down the boulevard from the SGK office stands what looks like a retaining wall of some antiquity. In fact, it is what remains of a Roman cistern, originally built to supply water to the baths and fountains of Constantinople. In any other city in the world, such an edifice would probably be housed inside a glass dome, and be one of the tourist highlights. In Istanbul, it is one of dozens of such cisterns, some of which have been restored, many of which remain to be discovered.

These few examples serve to draw attention to the unique and problematic nature of the archeological wealth of Istanbul. In the first place, the ancient city of Constantinople was surrounded by walls with a circumference of some twenty-two kilometres, most of which have survived to the present day. Within these walls lies an area containing riches beyond the wildest dreams of a thousand archeologists. One reason these riches survive is that Istanbul did not see the kind of industrial and metropolitan development that took place in European cities from early modern times. Another reason is that, rather than destroying the holy places of the people they had conquered, as was done elsewhere, the Ottomans allowed those people to continue using them, or at worst, converted them to their own use.

We have been speaking here of Istanbul, the largest and best-known city of Turkey – a country with a land area larger than any in Europe except Russia. In the south east of this ancient land, near the city of Şanlıurfa, a remarkable discovery has recently been made. Archeologists working on the mound of Göbeklitepe have uncovered a complex of temples dating back twelve thousand years. The remarkable thing is that these temples predate by a considerable margin the oldest known towns, meaning that we have to totally revise our concept of the development of human civilisation. In the subsequent twelve millennia, more diverse civilisations have come and gone in this cradle of human development than in any other comparable area on the planet.

To get to the nub of what I want to say, within the boundaries of modern Turkey, there lies a potential museum of nearly eight hundred thousand square kilometres. We could move all the people out tomorrow, and let in all the archeologists from all the universities and museums of all the civilized nations of the Western world, and there would probably be enough excavation, restoration, preservation and museum-building work to last several lifetimes, and place severe strains on the budgets of their governments. Turkey is not a rich country, and I don’t think it deserves Andrew Finkel’s use of the word ‘deplorable’.

I’m not sure exactly what that gentleman means when he speaks of treasure-hunters causing ‘destruction’ around Turkey’s major archeological sites. I have visited a good number of these sites, and I have not seen anything on a scale to warrant the use of such an emotive word. What I would say, however, is that there are people in Turkey who are unfortunately only too happy to profit from the hunger of rich collectors and private museums in the West for relics of ancient civilizations. I once read an article in a local newspaper posing an interesting moral question on the problem of corruption: who is more guilty, the one who takes the bribe, or the one who offers it? One might rephrase the question a little, and ask, who is more guilty, the poor treasure-hunter, or the rich collector who pays a huge sum in a foreign auction house for a valuable artifact without caring whence it came and how?

So I have to say, I feel Andrew Finkel’s article was a tad unfair. However, in view of his recent sacking, perhaps we can understand an impulsive eruption of bile. We might, however, expect a rational person to consider that a newspaper with whose editorial policy he does not agree, is not necessarily representative of the nation as a whole. We might therefore expect him to regain some compassion for the country which has provided him with a livelihood for twenty years.

Somewhat surprisingly, then, it seems that Mr Finkel’s compassion for Turkey has been replaced by a new attitude of negativity and invective, beyond what might be accounted for by one unhappy experience with an employer. In a more recent article in the New York Times, entitled ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’ the compassionate gentleman lambasts the Turkish government for what he perceives as a failed foreign policy. Some people consider Andrew Finkel a competent journalist. His former employer at Today’s Zaman praised his work, even after the parting of their ways. I can’t say that I have read much of Finkel’s canon, but if these two articles are a fair sample, I would criticize him on the following grounds.  His writing is slanted, relies on emotive rhetoric rather than sequential logic, is heavy on assertions without substantiating evidence, and employs selective reporting techniques, logical non sequiturs and analogies of dubious validity to present his subject in a bad light.

Let’s take a look at his critique of Turkey’s foreign policy. He begins with an outline of Turkey’s on-going strategic significance, formerly as a bulwark for NATO and Western Europe against Soviet expansion, and more recently playing a role in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans. There is just the hint of an implication that Turkey may not have received full credit for loyalty to its Western allies. The majority of the article, however, is taken up with a mocking attack on the ‘zero problems with neighbours’ policy pursued by Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu: Turkey would try to build bridges with neighbouring authoritarian states while encouraging them to reform. It sounds rather like the admissions policy for new members of the European Union, but it’s ok for the EU, apparently. Anyway, what about Finkel’s other criticisms?
  • The AK Party government sought to redefine Turkey’s international role. Well, why not? Maybe the West would like Turkey to be a puppet for them, but that nation has a proud history of independence. If the EU wants Turkey as a member, they have had fifty years to issue an invitation.
  • Davutoğlu’s ‘zero problems with neighbours’ policy failed. ‘Failed’ is a strong word. But Turkey has to live in this region, and they can’t afford to enter neighbouring countries with guns blazing. Building bridges sometimes works, and it’s almost always worth a try.
  • Turkey refused to allow the US to invade Iraq through its borders. Maybe some Americans and certainly a lot of Brits would be happier if their governments had been a little less gung-ho about invading Iraq.
  • Pandering to Turkish voters. Is this even worth answering? Who can come to power in a democratic country without doing a certain amount of this? Certainly not Presidential hopefuls in the USA. However, maybe US and other Western leaders actually prefer dealing with autocratic rulers who don’t have to answer to their people.
  • Washington saw Turkey’s policy as appeasement. In fact Turkey was among the first to support regime change in Egypt. The USA, for its part, had been funding Hosni Mubarak’s military for years.
  • Seemed to be supporting regimes that oppressed their people. I have dealt with the hypocrisy of Western powers on this issue in an earlier post. But to give another quick example, France and Italy were Muammar Ghaddafi’s main oil-buying customers before they decided to bomb him.
  • Relations with Israel deteriorated, Cyprus never improved, failed to make friends with Armenia. Again, I have dealt with these issues elsewhere, but, to summarise: Israel’s behaviour in Palestine and the West Bank is contrary to United Nations recommendations, and Israel’s intransigence is meeting with increasing international criticism, not just from Turkey. Similarly, the UN has made at least two proposals to settle the Cyprus issue which have been accepted by the Turkish side and rejected by the Greeks. As for Armenia, the state itself seems inclined to compromise with Turkey over the ‘genocide’ question. Most of the ongoing unpleasantness is generated by radical elements in the Armenian diaspora, encouraged by vote-seeking politicians such as France’s Sarkozy.
  • Turkey tried to negotiate a compromise over Iran’s nuclear programme. Some of us are seriously worried that ‘hawks’ in the US want to invade Iran next. Come on, guys! Haven’t you killed enough people in this part of the world? And why shouldn’t other countries have a nuclear programme? Why should Israel be the only local regime with nuclear capability?
  • Tried to work with Libya and Syria – but gave up. What can you do? Sometimes your best efforts at peace-making don’t work. Does that mean you shouldn’t try? Is there something wrong with being receptive to events and amending a policy that wasn’t bearing fruit?
  • ‘Zero problems’ is on its last legs and relations with the US have improved. I, for one, hope that the Turkish government continues to pursue an independent foreign policy, attempting to influence despotic neighbours with its successful blend of democracy and Islam. And I sincerely hope they don’t allow their territory to be used to facilitate an American invasion of Iran.
To be quite honest, I’m somewhat amazed that Andrew Finkel managed to work as a journalist in Turkey as long as he did, at least while drawing pay from the Turkish media. To paraphrase the thesis statement in his article about ancient treasures, Andrew Finkel and other Western journalists and politicians should focus on the hypocrisy of their governments and people at home, before criticising too harshly a nation doing its best to keep the torch of freedom and democracy burning in a part of the world where few others have achieved success.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

On Democracy, and casting the first stone

Did you spot that news item about Nicholas Sarkozy? The one drawing attention to the largish sum paid into his bank account to help with expenses incurred in getting himself elected President of the French Democratic Republic? Who was the generous donor? The late lamented Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. What was the sum involved? Fifty million euros!

Take their money - then bomb them!
It was one of those things you could easily miss - I came across it buried deep inside my local Turkish daily. I checked it online, of course, and found references in the Guardian and the Telegraph. Apparently one of the sources was Gaddafi’s son who, not a little miffed at French participation in Barack Obama’s ‘Operation Bring Democracy to Libya by Bombing the Crap out of them’, was suggesting Sarkozy might consider giving the money back.  If it’s true, Gaddafi Jnr has a point. But apart from that question, the news item raised a few other issues in my mind.  The first was the matter of media censorship. I've just finished reading a book entitled ‘Censored 2012’. Apparently the authors have been issuing such a yearbook since 1976 so I'm a little ashamed it took me so long to get on to it. Well, better late than never, and if you haven't discovered it yourself, you really should.

Essentially, it deals with how the corporate media manipulate us rank and file suckers in a modern democracy by: a - declining to cover certain stories you might think we would want to know about; b - filling their pages and screens with sensationalist trivia in the guise of news; and c - if they do find themselves obliged by circumstances to cover some story that they would prefer hushed up, focusing on some insignificant or human interest aspect, thereby trivialising the story, or at least drawing attention away from the main issue.

So, back to Czar Nicholas and his Libyan backers. Maybe I'm wrong here. Perhaps French voters knew about Gaddafi's financial sponsorship when they elected a new president back in 2007, but somehow I doubt it. Would it have made a difference? It's hard to say. But at least they should have had the chance to consider it as one of the factors to weigh alongside the sex appeal of his trophy wife. And then there is the question of what ‘Chairman’ Muammar thought he was buying with his 50 million euros. You’d have to suspect that there was something more than simple admiration for Sarkozy, or starry-eyed Francophilia involved.

Well, I’m a firm believer in democracy, even if largely because the alternatives, on the whole, seem less attractive. Still, when you look at the shady characters in charge of countries generally held up as models of liberty, equality and brotherhood, it’s hard not to get a little cynical.

Some of my readers may be too young to remember British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and may be swayed towards a positive impression by Meryl Streep’s recent Oscar-winning performance on the silver screen. The so-called ‘Iron Lady’ assumed the top spot in the UK government in 1979, and proceeded to implement a programme of financial deregulation, ‘flexible labour markets’ (read ‘planned unemployment’), privatization of state-owned companies and breaking the trade unions. Given the widespread pain and suffering she caused, it is unlikely Maggie would have made a second term in the job, if the military junta in Argentina hadn’t created a magic moment for her by ‘invading’ the Falkland Islands in April 1982. Check your atlas, by the way. The islands lie approximately 450 km off the coast of Argentina, and some 1500 km from the capital, Buenos Aires. When PM Maggie dispatched the might of the British armed forces (at enormous expense to the British taxpayer) to reclaim the sub-arctic rocks, Vulcan bombers were required to undertake the longest bombing raid in history (up to that time at least) to make the 15,000 km round trip from their RAF base on Ascension Island. Luckily the Brits had managed to retain that mid-Atlantic outpost, since a round trip from Mother England herself would have been nearer 30,000 km.

Well, I don’t want to get into a debate on the rights and wrongs of the Brits retaining control of the Falklands. For my purposes here, the point is that the Ferrous Female used the opportunity to establish a ‘War Cabinet’, play the patriotic card for all it was worth, and remind Brits of the great days of Winston Churchill, Rule Britannia and God Save the King. Never mind that her policies laid the foundation for the disparities of wealth, the financial bubble, the social unrest and the economic crisis from which Britain has still not recovered. She went on to become the UK’s longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century.

Still, at least Margaret the Magnificent was a Tory, and if you vote for them, you pretty much know what to expect. Their cards are mostly on the table. But enough is enough, I guess, and after 21 years of Conservative government, the British voter decided to give the Labour Party a chance to introduce a little humanity. Enter Tony Blah, public school-educated face of the ‘New Left’. Let’s look at some of his achievements, during and after his term as UK PM:

- Introduced the minimum wage, Human Rights Act, Freedom of Information Act and established local Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Sounds good, but largely sops for neo-leftist middle class liberals. In no way did these measures address the underlying social problems that motivated the August 2011 riots or the ‘Occupy St Pauls-in-the-City’ movement.

- Gained a reputation as the undisputed master of political spin with the assistance of his press secretary, later Director of Communications, Alastair Campbell. Mr Campbell resigned in 2003 in the furore that erupted over the so-called Hutton Report. It was widely believed that Blair’s government manipulated the official inquiry to produce a whitewash of events related to the suspicious death of whistle-blower, David Kelly. The essence of the accusations was that Blair’s government had ‘knowingly sexed-up’ the report into Iraq and its ‘weapons of mass destruction’ on which UK participation in the invasion was based. So how deep does the commitment to human rights and freedom of information run?

- Just happens to be the little brother of Sir William James Lynton Blair, eminent QC specializing in domestic and international banking and finance law. In 2008, Sir William was appointed Judge of the High Court in the Queen’s Bench Division, interestingly, the forum that decides whether government decisions can be challenged on legal grounds. Earlier, in 2003, the older Blair had been admitted as a Barrister of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in the British Virgin Islands, a relatively little-known outpost of empire whose main economic activity is licensing offshore companies. According to Wikipedia, there were more than 800,000 companies registered there in 2008, of which around half were ‘active’. I guess Sir William could tell us what the other half are doing. I couldn’t find who actually arranged for this gentleman to get a knighthood – but no doubt it was awarded for ‘services to finance and banking.’

- Earned the nickname of Bush’s ‘poodle’ while in office, for his sycophantic determination to follow the US President wherever he led. This behaviour gave rise to the neologism ‘Poodle-ism’ – and George Dubya’s term of endearment, ‘Yo Blair’ gained a certain currency.

- Converted to Roman Catholicism shortly after leaving office. Undoubtedly this would have been an unpopular move had he done it while serving as Prime Minister to the Sovereign Head of the Church of England. Nevertheless, if it was a matter of faith and conscience, you’d wonder if you didn’t detect a touch of hypocrisy there.

- Has maintained a close relationship with Rupert Murdoch since his days in Opposition. That same Murdoch whose News Corporation owns the London Times, the Wall St Journal, the New York Post and Fox News and other major ‘news’ outlets too numerous to mention. That same News Corporation whose UK tabloid News of the World was forced to close down in July 2011 amidst a scandal involving phone hacking, accusations of police corruption, resignations and prison sentences for high-ranking employees. The relationship is so close that in 2011, Blair became godfather to Murdoch’s youngest daughter Chloe, in a ceremony held on the banks of the Jordan River. Tony was apparently robed in white for the occasion. Appropriate I guess, given that he signed the visitor’s book in the British Embassy in Washington DC in January 2009, stating his home as ‘Jerusalem’. Perhaps we’ll see him running for Pope before too long.

- Appears to have amassed a tidy fortune in the short time since he left office, assuming that he hadn’t made a good start beforehand. His main activities are said to be speaking engagements, advising ‘foreign governments’ and running an ‘interfaith charitable foundation’ called the Tony Blah Faith Foundation, whose aims seem somewhat hazy, but which nevertheless seems to manage a sizeable budget and pay largish salaries to its officers. The Blairs are said to own nine properties, including a £4 million stately home, two houses in London, and a million pound maisonette for their 22 year-old student daughter to live in.

Is it any wonder that voter turnout in UK General Elections has plummeted from an average of 75% between 1945 and 1997? In the three elections since 2001, between 35 and 40% of the British voting public have not bothered exercising their right to vote. And when you consider that 20% of those who do bother, cast vain votes for the Liberal Democrats, it looks like a pretty major case of disillusionment with the democratic process. What can you say? If that’s what goes on in the home of parliamentary democracy, constitutional monarchy and human rights, what hope is there for the rest of the world? But let’s take a look anyway.

George W Bush was inaugurated as President of the USA in January 2001 after the narrowest of victories, and much unpleasantness over the decisive vote counting in the state of Florida. Anyone in politics has to be prepared to receive criticism, but in Bush’s case the criticism tended more towards ridicule. There is a website on which you can find examples of his inimitable mangling of the English language, for instance:

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." - Washington, D.C., August 5, 2004

All that seemed to change, however, after 11 September. George W became the avenging angel, visiting retribution upon the Islamic world, with scant regard for proof of guilt. It’s hard to imagine the 43rd President would have got a second term in office if not for the patriotic fervour unleashed by the 9/11 disaster. Good for George, but less of a blessing for the hundreds of thousands of citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq, who paid with their lives for Bush’s second four years.

I have a theory that the US Republican Party really didn’t want to win the 2008 Presidential election. They knew the chickens of Bush’s hatching would be coming home to roost in the next four years – the cataclysmic financial collapse of Wall St and the subsequent astronomical taxpayer-funded bailout; and the shame of another withdrawal from another military debacle, whatever brave spin is put upon it. They were quite happy to let the Democrats have a term in office, obliged to carry out the dirty work necessitated by Bush’s war-mongering, financial deregulation and tax-cuts for the rich. President Obama has obligingly complied because, like ‘Third Way’ Blair in the UK, he and his party have become implementers of policies determined by the financial/industrial/media matrix that has subverted democracy in the UK and the USA.

Mr Obama’s actions since assuming the Presidency have made him complicit in the Wall St banking industry’s cynical destruction of the global economy. What has become of Greg Smith, the Goldman Sachs executive-director who blew the whistle on his former employers? Replying to Smith’s claims that the company’s working environment was ‘toxic and destructive’, and that his colleagues often referred to clients as ‘muppets’, the worst thing GS management seemed able to say was that Smith represented a ‘minority opinion’ within the company. Well, no doubt he would, given that the majority of his colleagues were primarily concerned with taking money off the rest of us ‘muppets’.

In an issue that directly affects Turkey, Barack Obama, the Presidential candidate, made it clear that he supported the aims of the Armenian diaspora to have the modern Turkish Republic held responsible for the event sometimes referred to as the ‘Armenian Genocide’. Since taking office he seems to have eased his foot off the gas pedal of this issue – one assumes because upsetting Turkey to the extent that would necessitate, is not in the US’s strategic interests in the Middle East. You can’t help wondering how much Obama in opposition was influenced by the violent methods of Armenian activists, one of whom came narrowly close to assassinating George W Bush on a visit to Georgia in May 2005. Perhaps French President Sarkozy is running scared of the Armenians too, considering his apparent enthusiasm for their dubious cause. Or maybe the Turkish Government just didn’t offer a high enough price for his support.

So how did Turkey find its way into this discussion of democracy? My point is that politicians and ‘news’ media in the developed world seem to delight in lambasting Turkey for its abuses of human rights and freedoms, and use these as justification for holding Turkey at arm’s length in its attempts to forge closer ties with Europe. On 18 February, Turkey celebrated its 60th year as a key member of the NATO Alliance, having served as a major bulwark against Soviet expansion and aggression during the Cold War. For almost as long, Turkey has been waiting patiently in the queue to join the European Union, while other countries with more dubious credentials leap ahead.

In November last year, Greece got a new Prime Minister tasked with digging the country out of its financial hole. In a meeting behind closed doors, elected politicians apparently ‘selected’ Lucas Papademos, a 64 year-old former banker and European Central Bank vice-president, governor of the Reserve Bank of Greece, and a gentleman who has evidently spent a good number of years living in the USA and immersing himself in that nation’s dodgy economic and financial systems. I haven’t been able to learn whether this kind of ‘selection’ is authorised by the constitution in a land which takes pride in being the home of democracy itself. For sure, it’s hard to imagine Mr Papademos being successful in a normal Greek election, especially since he wasn’t even in parliament. You can’t help feeling that he was most likely foisted upon them by the European big boys’ club. Well, mature democracies can’t have military coups, can they? In the post-modern world, the trans-national banking elite have more sophisticated methods at their disposal.

So it seems we have a new -ocracy that is beginning to replace democracy in Western European nations . . . The new system, as far as I can understand it, is to be called ‘technocracy’. Around the same time as Mr Papademos was ‘selected’ in Greece, a similar scenario saw another ‘academic economist’, 69 year-old Mario Monti emerge from the chaos of Silvio Berlusconi’s administration in Italy. At least Mr Monti comes to the job with a reputation for taking on monopolies, bankers and other vested interests – but still, it does strike me that sidestepping the democratic process by appointing a Prime Minister and cabinet from the worlds of business, bureaucracy and academia could be the beginning of a slippery slope. Whatever people inside and outside Turkey think of PM Tayyip Erdoğan, his party did win a majority in parliamentary elections, and is answerable to the voting public for its actions.

Well, it wouldn’t be fair for me to heap criticism on these bastions of Western democracy, and gloss over the shenanigans in my own native New Zealand. Prime Minister John Key’s National (Tory) government has been shaken by a number of high-level scandals in recent months. One of his own cabinet ministers had to resign after being implicated in cronyism related to a major claim made to the Accident Compensation Commission. So far, Key himself has managed to prevent the mud from sticking, but he is definitely ducking and weaving.

Less fortunate have been two former National Party Justice Ministers who, in their capacity as directors of the failed finance company, Lombard, have been convicted of making false statements to investors. I guess I should feel some pride in my own country, since at least the courts and the police have shown themselves capable of bringing high-flying ‘bankers’ to justice. Sir Douglas Graham’s political connections and knighthood from the Queen probably saved him and his buddies from prison. However, three directors of another collapsed investment company, Bridgecorp, seem certain to spend time behind bars. Two high profile New Zealanders, one a former captain of the national All Black rugby team, and the other a respected South Island businessman, might well have faced similar disgrace had not the Good Lord intervened on their behalf and subsumed them in His eternal embrace.

I see, from my vantage point in Turkey that Mr Key’s government in New Zealand are continuing their campaign to get rid of the proportional representation electoral system brought in nearly twenty years ago as a result of a series of electoral petitions and referenda. The corporate/political/media clique are desperate to return to the old two-party first-past-the-post system (as used in the USA and the UK) which is much easier to manipulate and control. Probably they will succeed in the end, but it will be a sad loss for the people of New Zealand. The chances of convicting and imprisoning former cabinet ministers who swindled ma and pa investors out of their life savings will be that much smaller.

It must be evident to anyone not looking at their world through rose-coloured lenses, or without a vested interest in maintaining the survival of a financial/political elite, that democracy is under serious threat in countries where we assumed it was safe. The ‘Occupy Wall St’ protestors may not have a unified solution to the problem of economic inequalities, but they know what they don’t want. Turkey may take a few journalists into custody from time to time (though the definition of ‘journalist’ seems to be debatable, but is that any worse than countries where control of the media is so monopolised that dissenting voices can rarely even be heard?  It would be difficult to find a nation in the modern world that does not have a dark secret or two in its past, of repression and violence against minorities or indigenous inhabitants. Turning back the clock of history is impossible, and making reparations for past wrongs, a process that needs careful handling. Responding positively to pressure groups employing terrorist tactics is never likely to produce long-term peace and stability.

As they emerged victorious in 1922 from their War of Liberation, leaders of the fledgling Turkish Republic refrained from seizing former territories beyond their essential Anatolian heartland. Subsequent governments have shown themselves equally unwilling to engage in military action beyond their borders. Setting one’s own house in order before criticising or attacking others is an age-old adage. It seems that major powers in the Western world have much to do in their own backyards. Perhaps they should get on with the job.