I am following the debates of Turkey´s EU membership from Madrid. It is quite exciting to follow this period as an Erasmus student from a member country of EU. Thanks to Erasmus program I found a great opportunity to know life of EU citizens and talk to them about our candidateship; and in this essay I want to tell u what I have being experienced about that issue.
Firstly, I would like to describe what the Erasmus Program is. It is a European student exchange program which was formed in 1987. It provides a studying opportunity in any European country for at least one semester. Which countries are the parts of this program? It contains 27 Member States of European Union, the three EEA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and EU Candidate Countries (such as Turkey). Shortly, even though Turkey could not have been a member of EU yet, a lot of Turkish students can study in these states of EU and can know what is happening in EU. In addition, plenty of students can come to our country to study and this becomes a good chance for them to know Turkey.
In my Erasmus period from the beginning I have desired to have a great experience and to live the soul of being in a member state of EU. Although I faced some problems like other Erasmus students, I weathered almost all of them and l have adapted to the Erasmus life in a short time. What did I do? I took courses in an international atmosphere, so I have had lots of foreign friends and met professors in my faculty; I took role in a lot of student activities via ESN (Erasmus Student Network) such as trips, parties, meetings, etc and I got big fun. Now I have almost completed my program and next month is the time of going back to Turkey, but what have I realized about Turkey and EU?
I believe that living in EU as an Erasmus student is a unique time to realize the differences between Turkey and EU and to learn the ideas of EU citizens about Turkey. Let me explain them orderly.
Firstly, as all Turkish Erasmus students faced, I had lived the pain of the currency difference and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. For example, I rented a room for 400 € per month (at least 800 Turkish Liras) and in the first days of my Erasmus adventure this showed me one of the big differences between Turkey and EU. After a while I left to convert the currency in my mind from Euro to Turkish Liras because if a student wants to have fun in this program, s/he should do it like me. Otherwise, even buying a bottle of water would be painful such as 80cent= 1.60TL.
Secondly, I have been living another difference on the streets of Madrid. If a pedestrian wants to cross the street and there is no any traffic light, driver of the car immediately stops and let him crossing the street. I met this situation in almost every street of my city and in the streets of campus of the university. This is taken up seriously by drivers. Even though I hurry up to cross the street during driver waits for us, other pedestrians do not care him so much and they walk normally. One day I asked my friend about this situation and he told me that "a driver should wait because drivers take a detailed education about the importance of that issue and if a driver kills a pedestrian with his car, penalty is too harsh. In addition, taking driver license is quite difficult." This explanation was enough to understand five differences between the pictures of our state and their states: view points, laws, application of penalties, facility of taking driver license, importance order in the traffic (such as 1.driver-2.car-3.pedestrian or ...). On the other hand, I should say that I am not surprised when I heard that traffic penalties of last 5 months would be forgiven because of the new package of law in Turkey.
Thirdly, do you know that here a student can buy an alcoholic beverage from cafeterias of university and drink it freely in the campus of university? What does it mean? It means that every adult person who is at least eighteen years old can freely take his own decision. It means that laws protect the personal liberty of citizens and set a high value on the freedom of decision making. This means freedom of citizens. It might be thought that if such is the case, every student is drunk in the courses? The answer´s negative. To be honest I have never seen a drunken student or teacher in the campus or in any course. On the other hand, nowadays Turkey is discussing the control of drink. According to Erdogan and his government, Turkish adults cannot control themselves and drinks until being drunk, so government should take decision instead of themselves. What a tragicomic situation for Turkish people!
What about the difference between Turkish and EU´s women? Here I want to write almost everything about the problematic role of Turkish woman in the education life, family life, business world, etc; but if I do this, this paper would not be a short article. Therefore, I prefer only to explain our highly dramatic situation. I want to focus my attention on the women´s employment and equal opportunity policies, and give you examples of being a female bus driver and refuse collector in EU but not in Turkey.
When I look at the driver seat of a bus, seeing a woman is highly possible in a member state of EU; seeing a woman as a refuse collector is possible as well. Why? The fact is that EU gives a big importance to women´s employment in the direction of the equal opportunity policy. Furthermore, in their system bus driver and refuse collector are two important areas of female employment like other job opportunities. As a result, I have seen a lot of women on the driver seats during my trips and seen plenty of women as a refuse collector on the streets of Madrid, Barcelona, Amsterdam, etc. However, I have never seen that a woman drives a bus or collects the garbage in Istanbul streets because still a lot of taboos could not have been broken in the policy making process or in the mind of Turkish politicians. In addition, even though those taboos could be broken in the public policy system, conservative people on the streets do not allow new developments. Let me give you one more tragic example which is about the situation of new female workers (refuse collector) of Municipality of Kızıltepe, Mardin. According to news that was two weeks ago, the eight of twenty female workers of municipality quitted business after the first business day due to the verbal abuse of men. Especially the most painful and conspicuous sentences of men to female workers were "Making cleaning on the streets are not responsibility of women", "Go back to your home", "Are you trying to give an end to the hegemony of man in Turkey?" What can be said about these sentences? This example explains the reason of being the one among the worst countries in the Gender Gap Report of World Economic Forum.
In my mind, another hard fact of Turkey is pressure on homosexuality. In Madrid, my apartment is close to Chueca which is called as the region of the homosexuals. This place located in the centre of Madrid and there are a lot of gay-friendly bars, clubs, and restaurants. To be honest, I had had question marks about security of this region before starting to live here. However, I have never seen any action against the homosexuals or I have never heard any defamatory words against them from anyone. In addition, all these circumstances are valid for other regions of Madrid. All gays and lesbian couples are freely walking hand in hand or they are kissing each other on the streets. There was no any neighborhood's pressure over them. They are openly living their own lifestyle on the Madrid streets like in Amsterdam, Paris.
What about the Turkey's homosexuals? It is obvious that homosexuality is still one of the big taboos in Turkey. Even this taboo cannot be discussed within the Turkish society. It is completely ignored and pressured. For example I have never seen a homosexual couples walking hand in hand on the street of Istanbul except the Istiklal Street which offers more liberty for all kind of people. Even in Istiklal Street there are occasionally painful events against homosexuals and transsexuals. Shortly, homosexuals do not have any right for kissing under the open sky in Turkey because if someone does such a thing, s/he would be possibly kicked out of her/his business, would be beaten with a billy by police forces, would be blamed or excluded by local people. Where is liberty? How do these people live their own lifestyle? When won´t homosexual couples go abroad to make a vacation hand in hand? Giving a positive answer to these questions is really difficult under such circumstances of Turkey.
While we are living such limitations and ridiculous problems within the society, what do foreign students think about Turkey and our candidateship to EU? In this part I want to touch on the ideas of my foreign friends.
Before coming Madrid I had already decided to learn ideas of foreign students about Turkey. Therefore, since September of 2010 I have discussed it with a lot of foreign student (I have seriously talked with at least 25 foreign students from different parts of EU who have never been in Turkey; I think this number is enough to take a general view) and I could not believe what l have heard. I write down those ideas about Turkey point by point:
1) Almost every foreign student supposes that we are using Arab alphabet and I can speak Arabic.
2) Turkish language does not exist in their mind.
3) They imagine that a Turkish man can get married to more than one woman (harem).
4) They told me: "You don´t look like a Turkish man".
5) "Every Turkish man grows a beard, but why don´t I have?"
6) They believe that all Turkish women wear head-scarf.
7) Istanbul is the capital of Turkey in their mind.
As you see, my foreign friends predominantly associated Turkey with Arabic and Ottoman cultures. According to them, we completely have an Arabic or Ottoman lifestyle and norms. Actually I don´t ignore our Ottoman bases and the impact of Arabic culture on our lifestyle, but it is the fact that the new system and the structure of new Turkish society isn´t updated in the mind of European Union's citizens or we have always presented our country to them only via mosques, harems, etc. In another word, someone in EU has still misunderstood Turkish culture or they have just known small and old part of our culture. The ideas of these people should be corrected and the facts of Turkey should be presented better to EU, even though Turkish people still have been living above-mentioned limitations or problems (homosexuality, women role, laws, etc.). Otherwise, we will continue to search an answer to question of "why cannot we take place in EU as a member state?"