The Malta Independent 21 October 2019, Monday

Cold turkey

Charles Flores Sunday, 3 April 2016, 10:35 Last update: about 5 years ago

The immigration and refugee crisis in Europe, and recent panic talks, have re-ignited the debate over whether Turkey should become a member of the European Union or not. A tangential discussion deals with the topic of whether Turkey actually is European country or not.

Former French President and chief figure within France’s main opposition party, Nicolas Sarkozy, thinks it is not. I have rarely had a good word for the right-wing son of Magyar immigrants to France, except, of course, when he chose Malta for his short break after a bitter electoral campaign that had won him the presidency, but Europe presently needs this kind of cold turkey treatment of the whole issue.

Sarkozy, US-goaded architect of the current mess in Libya, insists Ankara has no place in the EU, saying that both historically and economically, Turkey is less European a country than Russia. He tries to sweeten this stand by saying how great Turkey is, and what a great civilisation it once was, but quickly adds that it is, after all, “only a bridge between Asia and Europe.”

Turkey is known to have very close contact with the Islamic State terrorists, either because it has no choice on the matter or because its present leaders are back into thinking in Ottoman terms. What the Turks have been doing to the Kurds is an insult to anyone who believes that Turkey has a place in Europe. Most of its incredible human rights violations – against Opposition journalists and, especially, the Kurds – go unnoticed and overlooked in the majority of the Western media simply because its NATO member status gives it such privilege.

Some years back I had a mere peep at what being a Kurd in Turkey really means. My old friend Maestro Paul Abela – the creator of some of our best popular music during the past three decades – and I had written a song together which made it to the finals of a Mediterranean festival in Antalya thanks, of course, only to his great sense of melody rather than my lyrics in Maltese.

The director of the resident orchestra there was a highly-gifted Kurd whom we befriended during our short sojourn in that beautiful part of Turkey. We did not win or even come in the top three, but our lasting memory was of how terrified the Kurdish director was of his own musicians and the soldiers around us. Like the Palestinians, the Kurds have seen their land usurped and have been treated as second and third-class citizens for too many years in their blood-stained history.

So Sarkozy’s claim that his stance against Turkish membership of the EU is based on common sense, does ring a distant personal bell, more so when he said that “if we begin to explain it – that Turkey is in Europe – European school students will have to be told that the European border lies in Syria!” The one-term French President says that Europe is a union of European countries, and Turkey has only one shore of the Bosphorus in Europe so can hardly be regarded as a European country culturally, historically or economically speaking. “If we say that,” Sarkozy added, “then we want the European Union’s death.”

Human rights groups have been rightly voicing concerns over Turkey as a “safe third country” to host refugees fleeing war and violence. Under EU rules, refugees might be returned to a third country on condition it is safe and does not pose any threat to life and liberty. Any EU politician who considers Turkey as such needs to have a quick fix of cold turkey.

                                   

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No satisfaction

I have often made it quite obvious how much I admire the present head of the Catholic Church, Papa Francesco. He has given the Church a new lease of life with his generous view of things, often taking people by surprise as he did with his reaction on the topic of homosexuality: “Who am I to judge?”

The charismatic appeal of this liberal-thinking Pope has won him friends from all spheres of life, much to the hidden chagrin of traditionalists around him who may have had to stick to muffled expletives in Latin.

Though non-practising, I still thought I’d never stumble on a single bone of contention with the kindly Pope until his recent bid “to silence” another old favourite, Mick Jagger and his Rolling Stones, when asking them not to hold their historic Havana concert on Good Friday.

He got no satisfaction, which is understandable. Rock concerts belong to other worldly domains.

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Għanafest...hands off!

One hopes the changes announced to this year’s Għanafest, the one and only annual festival dedicated to traditional Maltese music and singing, will not result in the usurpation of the whole occasion.

As one long-time Għana aficionado said to me: “I only hope that Għana singing and Prejjem do not have to take a back seat to all the new stuff. You hardly ever get a Blues festival mixed with pop or international music.”

You can’t blame anyone expressing caution after it was revealed that the festival’s new look will include the participation of some local musical groups and visiting artists from France, Estonia and Northern Africa. What will the role of the 40 Għana singers and 20 folk guitarists be, their having always been, since its very inception, the mainstay of the festival?

I am sure the Għana community will point this out to Culture Minister Owen Bonnici, who hails from the very capital of Maltese Għana, Żejtun, and will no doubt appreciate their preoccupation. Like my friend, he will hopefully be the first to insist that the festival is mainly about Għana and anything after that should compliment Maltese traditional music as the source. The original meaning of Għanafest should not be lost, but enhanced.

 

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Final pilgrimage

By the time this piece appears, I will have made my final pilgrimage to Upton Park, home of West Ham United for the past 110 years, as the East London club prepares to move to the Olympic Stadium a mere three kilometres away.

It will be a London derby against Crystal Palace, but the emotion will all be about the fact that the ground I first visited as a young sports journalist and Hammers fan during our honeymoon in the mid-70s (yeah, that afternoon my new wife had to deal with some curious questions from the likes of Bobby Moore and Ron Greenwood who, incredibly, found time to greet us) will be no more.

Football is not all about silverware and European championships. There is a social side to it that makes the game all the more special. It is what local football has lost, alas, and what one hopes such a family club as West Ham won’t lose in its search for a place among the elite of English football.

 

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