I sent the letter below to the Financial Times after an interesting column on 7 June by Ben Judah picked the comparison I have been making for a week now between the Turkish PM Erdogan and General de Gaulle in 1968.
Ben Judah’s comparison between General de Gaulle and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a good one but surely he has the chronology wrong? (FT Comment 7 June) If Erdogan is de Gaulle, his time is nearly over? The Istanbul events are very similar to those in Paris in 1968 and happened at the end of a long decade of personalized rule by a domineering national leader who achieved much for their country. De Gaulle like Erdogan sought to control the media, made peace with enemies, encouraged economic modernization, and forged foreign policy independently of the US. Both gave their nations élan and confidence.
But a decade at the top in a democracy is enough. Erdogan will survive the protests as de Gaulle survived May 1968. Erdogan’s greatest gift to his country will be to organize his own succession and the opposition’s greatest duty is to represent all of Turkey, secular and faithful alike, as well as build on economic modernisation and continue Turkey’s European orientation.
Europe could help but won’t given the current state of EU politics and leadership. Turkey either becomes more and more a European state (and one wonder what de Gaulle would have made of pompous comments from Brussels criticizing police tactics in the May 68 riots!) or it drifts back to a place as an Asia Minor power, sullen, unhappy and prey to the corrupt and clientalist politics of 20th century Turkey.