As mayor of Istanbul in 1996, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, "Democracy is like a streetcar. We ride it as long as we can, and then get off.” Apparently, twenty years later, Turkey’s President stays true to his word. Having skillfully used democratic mechanisms to come close to his final destination, which is absolute power, he now appears ready to get off the streetcar, as evidenced by Turkey’s autocratic trajectory, especially in the last few years.
There are times in the life of a political writer when reality seizes the toolbox of words and concepts one has been using to tackle it and junks the whole lot.
An instance that springs to mind is a dinner with Italy's then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2003. Speaking before a few dozen journalists in Rome, Italy's richest and most powerful man launched into a long riff on his own qualities, proclivities and alleged political persecution that was so outlandishly laced with bombast, paranoia and sexual innuendo that senior Italian officials were left cringing with embarrassment and we journalists at a loss as to how to report it. Words failed us. What we published was a pale reflection of what we had actually witnessed.
Minds, great or small, can often operate in the same direction. The other day, my eyes were on a passage in a major new book on future global connections that cited Berlin as Europe's most future-ready city. At the same time, my ears had tuned into an NPR report on the 10,000 British living in Berlin, worrying about the personal and political consequences of a British departure from the European Union.
What’s going on in Britain this cool spring? Even busy people around the world are vaguely aware of a few things going on in the north east Atlantic’s rainy archipelago. Some seem confusing.
Perennial underdogs, Leicester City, won English football’s coveted premiership league, an astonishing sporting feat against odds of 5000 to 1 and relative poverty. Queen Elizabeth, usually a byword for discretion, was caught on camera saying that Chinese officials servicing President Xi’s state visit last year had been “very rude.”
A visibly irritated Mario Draghi has politely, but resolutely rebuffed German critics of the European Central Bank’s ultra-loose monetary policies. The president of the ECB used the press conference following this month’s meeting of the central bank’s governing council to launch a broad defense of the central bank’s independence and the appropriateness of its policies. Among other things Draghi said that he doesn’t take orders from politicians but is only bound by the law and the ECB’s mandate of achieving and maintaining price stability, defined as a rate of inflation below but close to two percent.
© COPYRIGHT THE EUROPEAN INSTITUTE 2009
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