Dimitris Christopoulos is a Greek academic, writer and activist. Christopoulos is a professor of state and legal theory at the Department of Political Science and History of the Panteion University of Athens where he has been teaching since 2003. His courses include an Introduction of the European Legal and State Theory, Minorities in Europe, Citizenship and Migration, and Art, Freedom and Censorship.
He was elected President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) on August 27th, 2016 by the 184 member organizations during the FIDH 39th Congress in Johannesburg.
We have interviewed him on a wide range of matters related to Turkey and got very interesting answers.
- Q: So, Mr Christopoulos, On behalf of PPJ we would like to thank you very much for accepting our invitation for an interview. To begin with, I would like to ask you about the organization itself so, what is International Federation for Human Rights (and as a sub-question) what priorities do you have as the President of this organization?
A: The International Federation for Human Rights, the Acronym of which is FIDH, coming from “La Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’Homme” which is the first original name, is the oldest Human Rights’ Association in the world dating from 1922.
So, in a few years from now, we are going to celebrate the first century. The FIDH is a network, based here in Paris, of 184 organizations, everywhere in the world, in all continents with a general Human Rights Mandate.
The general Human Rights Mandate as enshrined in the status of FIDH, emanating from the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, does not prevent us from setting priorities.
So, our priorities currently have to do with Migration, Women’s Rights, with protection of Human Rights’ defenders, with empowering international and criminal jurisdictions, with business and Human Rights and with Social Rights. If I might say, the FIDH is a Federation in the sense that the Member Organizations keep their autonomy but are members of the network. That could be the general description I would give.
- Q: On the 17th of March 2018 the EU? Commission published the “Turkey 2018 Report”, a communication on EU enlargement Policy. Within the framework of accession negotiations, 16 chapters have been opened so far with one provisionally closed. In the case that the EU decides to discontinue EU accession negotiations with Turkey, in which direction Turkey will be heading?
A: I think there is a pending question for all of us here. So how to deal with the phenomenon Turkey in terms of human rights. Facing it from the outside, the difficult balance is to find here the functioning between stigmatization of Turkey which would not lead to complete isolation and on the other hand conditional cooperation which will not degenerate to an absolute, cynical neglection for the human rights’ agenda. This is, I could say, from the beginning the dilemma and this is honestly an impossible mission. You cannot do it easily with Turkey. And that is why Turkey is a persisting issue, an existential European dilemma if you want. It cannot stop from being it and by saying that I would also wish to demystify the Turkish particularity. Turkey is of course particular yet not incomparable. That is my view.
- Q: What is your take on Turkey’s leverage over Balkan states? Can the EU counterbalance the impact of Turkey on those countries?
A: I think that EU has an agenda of approaching the Western Balkans but obviously this agenda should be seen in the light of the general state of Affairs within EU. So, I think that setting up negotiations and putting plausible deadlines for the Western Balkans is a political operation which of course is an ongoing one and I do not give too much hope for those countries. This does not necessarily mean that Turkey is there to replace the EU.
Despite the fact Turkey has an obvious cultural and geopolitical influence in the Western Balkans, I do not believe that this influence could be compared to the leverage of EU in the region. So, a possible failure of negotiations with Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, I don’t know Bosnia maybe in the long term might offer some privileges, margin of action for Turkey in these countries but I do not believe that the things will radically change.
To put it in one word I think that Turkey, historically had always a cultural and geopolitical leverage in Western Balkans, particularly in the Muslim countries and Muslim populations but I do not think we should exaggerate regarding this impact today.
- Since on the one hand the EU seems to be being weakened with Brexit, and on the other hand the influence that Turkey gains in the Balkans gives it greater leverage with the European Union – Do you think that it is more possible for Western Balkans to make a step closer to Turkey and take distance from the EU?
A: I think that the answer is negative. I do not believe that given the circumstances today Turkey would have a considerably bigger role to play in Western Balkans.
By saying that, I fully acknowledge again that Turkey has a cultural and geopolitical leverage in the region but we also need to consider that for these countries Turkey is a major partner but is never regarded as the exclusive partner. In that sense, I seriously doubt that the current developments between EU and the Western Balkans, as bad as they can turn, might lead to a situation where Turkey will present herself as the exclusive partner in the region.
- Q: The Turkish Constitutional Court has been ineffective in addressing the gross violations of individual rights and freedoms which have taken place in Turkey. Amnesty International concluded that the State of Emergency Commission, rather than being an effective mode of appeal, “is in effect a rubber stamp for the government’s arbitrary dismissals”. The European Court of Human Rights, however, still considers this Commission as an effective domestic avenue that must be pursued before they will hear an application. How can the International community intervene since the domestic remedies have been proved insufficient?
A: There is only one institutionally appropriate way of the International Community to intervene in such situation and this is the jurisdictional control by the European Court for Human Rights. I do not see anything else.
Obviously, I am talking about an institutional pursuing, a jurisdictional one, about the political bargaining with Turkey and in that sense I would like to make a form distinction.
I have the impression that the EU countries, on the one hand express condemnation about the current developments with the human rights and rule of law situation in Turkey, but on the other hand I think that the fact that Turkey stores 3.500.000 migrants and refugees who want to go to EU instead of staying there offers Turkey a buying for doing nothing.
In practice, what I understand is that Turkey buys the EU silence over its authoritarian shift. So, if I would have to blame someone, I would not blame Turkey first I would blame EU who cynically enough accepts this bazaar with Turkey on human lives.
For me that is the major point to make; that the cynical, geopolitical perceptions because it is not even geopolitical interests, it is perceptions and xenophobic or racist ideologies which are dominating the EU and render Turkey a privileged partner on the basis of the fact that Turkey appears to be far more generous than EU with migrants. So, we should blame Turkey only for that. Let’s put the blame on both sides.
Now, the second part of the answer that I have to give has to do obviously with the European Court of Human Rights which is a completely different issue and I understand that, there is still much work to do in order to exhaust all means of national remedies and address the Court in a plausible way.
Yet, the Court until today has been not proved to be as efficient as it should have been, given the fact that there is a general fear that shows some complaints are addressed and considered admissible by a Court, then the Court will sink from the volume of complaints that will come from Turkey and this is something easy for the Court to see it now. That is why I think the Court do not put the necessary pressure I think before the Turkish authorities.
- Q: Since you are also an expert on Migration, I would like also to ask you about that. We are here two years after the EU- Turkey deal, and the deal has been accused both by national governments and multiple NGOs as the source behind the poor living conditions in refugee camps in the eastern Aegean islands, as well as the detention of the refugees. What is your opinion? Why is a temporary solution of the ‘EU-Turkey Deal’ is still very much present?
A: They EU-Turkey Deal as I told you is a deal, a common declaration, which I think creates a very bad precedent for the EU. Today it is Turkey who stores people, on the behalf of the EU according to the price of the billion Euros on a yearly basis but who knows who comes after? It has been Libya, a failed state practically; where slavery was reinvented because Libya unlike Turkey is not a state and then comes Tunisia and then we go to Niger which is a Sub-Saharan country storing people under the dessert.
This is what the externalizing and protection management that EU has started with Turkey is generalizing gradually and I do not think we should put the blame on Turkey for that, if someone has to be blamed for that then is the European Commission and the EU as such. I believe that bribing, paying Turkey for the refuges is a very short-sighted, cynical policy, which at the end of the day will not deliver much to the EU.
I also think that what the EU governments are doing is that they are trying to gain time before the next elections because there is a prevailing position in the EU today that if we have more migrants then we risk from the so-called populist parties.
What the Europeans call populist parties mainly is the extreme right but they do not even dare to call it as they should call it. The new threat now is populism, in practice it is not the populism but the extreme right political discourse which does not want migrants.
If the European mainstream political parties accept the fact that in order not to have fascists we must not have migrants, then in practice then Europeans become the beast they were supposed to be fighting against, they become themselves fascists.
I believe that it is something for Europe to deal with , this is something a major issue of self critique and introspection for the European institutions and I believe that once we liberate ourselves from such perceptions, we will be far more sincere for the benefit of the Turkish society as such. Now we are silent because we want Turkey to do the dirty job for us. This a very shameful situation for the EU which will be sadly remembered.
7. Q:Grave human rights violations in Turkey have been reported by various international organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as well as by the UN Special Rapporteurs. In your capacity as the president of FIDH , what would you like to say about that?
A: I would like to say that in 2013, in May, the FIDH held its Congress in Turkey and it was already visible that things were going very, very bad. The success story of Turkey in terms of institutions, rule of law and human rights had already finished years before that, but we were not able to see how far this could go.
The developments after the failed coup, in the summer of 2016, have accelerated this process. A process of de-generating the Turkish Republic from a classic autocracy because Turkey has always been an autocratic state to a presidential totalitarianism. I think this is what we see now in Turkey, a process which was ratified also by April 2017’ referendum. We are talking about the shift from a classic authoritarian state which it was always, to something new, to a presidential totalitarianism which actually challenges the basic premises of rule of law.
Yet, we need to agree on something because I hear very often a lot of critiques about Turkey, calling easily Turkey a dictatorship. Turkey is not a dictatorship. In Turkey, you still have the majority rule which is a necessary yet not sufficient for democracy. It is necessary because without the majority rule you do not have democracy, it is not sufficient because without the rule of law the majority rule cannot deliver a true democracy. And this is where the Turkish problem lies.
Yet this problem, as I said in the beginning is not only a Turkish classic problem, it is not only a national particular problem of the oriental Turkey that some Europeans would like to see, no. This is something we see in the best families as we say in Greece. We see it in the US, in Brazil, in Hungary, in Poland, we see it in Italy and so on. This is a new model of governance, a model which actually gives the full power to the executive, to one person, the President. Actually, I forgot Russia in my previous words… and the President in the name of his omni-power, omni-authority, challenges all the checks and balances to his authority.
So what Turkey does, it is actually following this line which starts to be a dominant line in many parts of the world from Brazil to Philippines and from Russia to Hungary.
Of course, you have different aesthetics, different ideologies, different religions, you cannot compare Bolsonaro to Erdogan because one is an authoritarian Catholic who comes from the Army and the other is an authoritarian Islamist who does not come from the Army.
Yet the message is the same; power to one person, the executive, forget rule of law, forget check and balances, disregard human rights and start a process of rearticulating nationalist discourse, homophobia, racism and things like that. So, I think that what we are facing today is a general tendency, within Turkey is a symptom and not an accident.
- Q: As you mentioned in recent years, there has been growing authoritarianism in Turkey but also in many other parts of the world. The latest EU report has directed the harshest-ever criticisms against Turkey on the worsening human rights situation, deteriorating rule of law and democracy. However, the report was criticized by Ms. Kati Piri, the Turkey Rapporteur, for not giving clear message to Turkey’s leaders. Do you think Europe is successful to cope with that wave of authoritarianism in Turkey and also in other states?
A: The problem with the EU and Turkey is the fact that for a considerable stereotypical, orientalist perception of the Western Europeans is that Turkey is something like an alien, generally, historically and culturally, and Turkey knows that. And there is an existential mistrust in this story.
I have to repeat myself in what I said in the very beginning, that as long as Turkey buys off the European silence on massive human rights violations because Turkey has been proven to be more generous than the Europeans and keeps streaming the people who want to go to EU, then I do not intend to see something more clear, something more positive coming from the EU.
I think it is a cynical bazaar and again Turkey is the one side in this bazaar, there is also the other side, the side that buys silence by offering money.
- Q: Under the state of emergency declared after the July 15, 2016 failed coup, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, freedoms, properties, and even lives. More than 150 independent media outlets have been closed or seized, dissident voices have been silenced. Turkey has become the number one jailer of journalists in the world. Human rights activists have been detained or arrested. Amnesty International’s Turkey Director (Taner Kilic) has been arrested on terrorism charges; he was in jail for nearly a year before finally released. Turkish government has been using the fight against terrorism as a pretext to crack down on the dissidents. What do you think about the fate of Turkish democracy? In which way can the level of democracy can be enhanced, if it can be enhanced in Turkey?
A: I think I answered this question although the question seems rhetorical now. What we are witnessing now in Turkey it is a shift from a classic autocracy which was always the Turkish example to totalitarianism in the name of one man show which is the President. That is a tendency that we see in Turkey, but we also see it in other countries.
Obviously, the level, the tradition of democracy in Turkey and the institutional resistance are not that high as in US for example, so Erdogan in that sense has an easier task than Trump. But they are doing the same thing actually. So, as I said we should not be trapped into the idea that Turkey is a dictatorship as many would say, no, it’s a majority rule which challenges rule of law and a majority rule which challenges rule of law is not a true democracy. This is where we going today.
As I said, you know history is an open question, I do not know where we will be in four years with Turkey, I do not know how far this regime can go, what I know is that Turkey is being transformed into this new regime, so we are talking about a new country.
What I fear is that I do not know whether transforming again this country to democracy can be done peacefully because when I see on the one hand the level of public support the President has in this country and on the other hand, the unconditional attacks he delivers to human rights, rule of law and checks and balances, I seriously doubt and I fear that the President of Turkey will not leave easily his position and this will be the test for Turkey. This will be the test for security in Turkey, for the peace in the region and this will be the test not only for Turkey but also for the whole neighborhood. I say that with a major concern because I happen to be a part of the neighborhood by being Greek.