HOW THE INTERNATIONAL PRESS REPORTED ON THE POPE’S VISIT TO TURKEY

While in Turkey november 2006 did the Pope speak out on accession to the European Union ?
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WWW.CHIESA January 5th 2007
Exercises in Disinformation : The Pope According to the Leading Newspapers.
Here is how the major international media have deformed Benedict XVI’s position on the entry of Turkey into the European Union. The author of the analysis: Anton Smitsendonk a former Dutch ambassador to China.

by Sandro Magister
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ROMA, January 5, 2007 – For a pope who is a theologian and a “doctor of the Church” like Benedict XVI, communication is essential. But the machinery of the Vatican is far from providing him with an efficient service, as http://www.chiesa has documented several times.
But there is also an external obstacle that blocks Benedict XVI’s words from reaching their destination correctly. This obstacle is found in the leading newspapers.

A striking case of disinformation on a grand scale was seen on the first day of the pope’s trip to Turkey .
It was November 28, 2006. Benedict XVI, newly arrived at the Ankara airport, held a conversation with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The discussion was not followed by any official statement. But the world’s major newspapers concluded, on the basis of what Erdogan told journalists after the meeting, that Benedict XVI had changed his mind about Turkey ’s entrance into the European Union.

According to these papers, Joseph Ratzinger had changed the unfavorable view he held before becoming pope into a favorable one.

Here below, Anton Smitsendonk provides a well-reasoned summary of what was written on that occasion by the world’s principal newspapers, which overlooked the statements of a different nature issued by authoritative exponents of the Holy See.
Smitsendonk, now commissioner for Thailand and Indonesia in the International Chamber of Commerce, is a former Netherlands ambassador in China and earlier minister counselor in Turkey. He wrote this commentary expressly for http://www.chiesa.
But first, it is helpful to review in their entirety both the assertions Ratzinger made in 2004 about Turkey ’s entry into the European Union, and the positions expressed by representatives of the Holy See on the occasion of Benedict XVI’s meeting with the Turkish prime minister.

1. – Joseph Ratzinger in “Le Figaro Magazine,” August 13, 2004, interviewed by Sophie de Ravinel:

“Europe is a cultural continent, not a geographical one. It is its culture that gives it a common identity. The roots that have formed it, that have permitted the formation of this continent, are those of Christianity. […] In this sense, throughout history Turkey has always represented another continent, in permanent contrast with Europe . There were the wars against the Byzantine empire, the fall of Constantinople, the Balkan wars, and the threat against Vienna and Austria. That is why I think it would be an error to equate the two continents. It would mean a loss of richness, the disappearance of culture for the sake of economic benefits. Turkey, which is considered a secular country but is founded upon Islam, could instead attempt to bring to life a cultural continent together with some neighboring Arab countries, and thus become the protagonist of a culture that would possess its own identity but would also share the great humanistic values that we should all acknowledge. This idea is not incompatible with close and friendly forms of association and collaboration with Europe , and would permit the development of unified strength in opposition to any form of fundamentalism.”

2. – Joseph Ratzinger in a September 18, 2004 speech to pastoral workers in the diocese of Velletri, a speech printed by the Catholic newspaper in Lugano, Switzerland, “Il Giornale del Popolo”:

“Historically and culturally, Turkey has little in common with Europe ; for this reason, it would be a great error to incorporate it into the European Union. It would be better for Turkey to become a bridge between Europe and the Arab world, or to form together with that world its own cultural continent. Europe is not a geographical concept, but a cultural one, formed in a sometimes conflictual historical process centered upon the Christian faith, and it is a matter of fact that the Ottoman empire was always in opposition to Europe. Even though Kemal Atatürk constructed a secular Turkey during the 1920’s, the country remains the nucleus of the old Ottoman empire; it has an Islamic foundation, and is thus very different from Europe, which is a collection of secular states with Christian foundations, although today these countries seem to deny this without justification. Thus the entry of Turkey into the EU would be anti-historical.”

3. – Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Holy See’s foreign minister, speaking to “Avvenire” on November 26, 2006, in an interview with Gianni Cardinale:

“It is not the case that the Holy See has expressed an ‘official’ position on the subject [of Turkey ’s entrance into the European Union]. Obviously, it follows the question with great interest, and this again highlights the fact that the longstanding debate over Turkey’s admission into the Union and the positions for or against this show the great relevance of what is at stake. Of course, the Holy See maintains that, in the case of admission, the country must comply with all of the political criteria established by the Copenhagen Summit in 2002, and more specifically in terms of religious freedom, with the recommendations contained in the July 23, 2006 Council Decision on the principles, priorities and conditions contained in the Accession Partnership with Turkey.”

4. – Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, after the November 28, 2006 meeting between Benedict XVI and Erdogan:

“The Holy See has neither the power nor the specific task of intervening on the precise point of Turkey’s entry in the European Union. It is not its responsibility. However, it regards positively and encourages the path of dialogue and rapprochement to Europe in virtue of common values and principles. In this connection, the pope expressed his appreciation for the initiative of the Alliance of Civilizations promoted by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

“As a group of lemmings from the cliff…”
by Anton Smitsendonk

If Turks are in any way concerned about their image as a hospitable nation it might be good if they knew how at Esemboga International Airport of Ankara prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried to trap the Holy Father as he entered upon his pilgrimage in Turkey, November 28, 2006.
But our strongest criticism does not go to Erdogan but to the many journalists of the free western press who traveled with the pope and showed so little professional perspicacity.

The renowned “New York Times” failed in this event. But also the well respected “Figaro” in France, and nearly all the big newspapers in my own country Holland .

All said more or less that the pope on the airport of Ankara gave up his resistance to Turkey in the European Union.
For instance, “The New York Times / International Herald Tribune” said in big letters on the front page : “Pope Backs Turkey’s Bid to Join the EU – Gesture seen as effort to temper anger of Muslims.”
And explained :
“On his trip this week, the pope is being more diplomatic. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced that Benedict had told him it was now the Vatican’s wish that Turkey join the European Union. A papal spokesman was less direct, saying the Vatican was encouraging Turkey’s ‘integration’ into Europe. We hope that the pope’s evolving stance – coupled with his calls for Christian-Muslim dialogue – will soothe popular anger in Turkey and across the Muslim world.” “The New York Times” again, in an article by Ian Fisher and Sabrina Tavernise :

“Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Turkey on Tuesday armed with a surprise gesture of good will aimed at blunting Muslim anger toward him: he backed Turkey ’s long-stalled desire to join the European Union, reversing a statement he made two years ago. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters after a brief meeting with Benedict at the airport here that he had asked the pope to support Turkey in its attempt to become a member of the European Union. ‘He said, You know we don’t have a political role, but we wish for Turkey ’s entry into the E.U.,’ Mr. Erdogan said the pope told him. ‘His wish is a positive recommendation for us.’ Although the Vatican does not play a formal role in the European Union, or delve publicly into domestic matters of other states, the pope’s gesture was nonetheless a piece of political stagecraft at a delicate time both in relations between Muslims and the West and in Benedict’s own damaged reputation among Muslims. But the 79-year-old pope’s concession on Tuesday, at the start of a four-day trip here, seemed to make good on his pledge to heal the wounds between East and West. It may also have the practical effect of tamping down anger here.”

“Le Figaro” :

“Accueilli par le premier ministre turc, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, le Souverain Pontife lui a déclaré qu’il pourrait voir d’un bon oeil l’adhésion de son pays à l’Union européenne. Une véritable révolution pour un pape qui, avant son élection, s’était ouvertement opposé à cet élargissement, vu comme ‘une grande erreur’. Le pape théologien s’est fait diplomate. ‘Nous ne faisons pas de politique’, a cependant précisé le père Federico Lombardi, directeur du bureau de presse du Saint-Siège, ‘mais nous voyons favorablement le chemin de la Turquie vers l’Union européenne’. Le Saint-Siège ‘n’a pas le pouvoir ni la compétence pour intervenir sur les points précis regardant l’entrée de la Turquie dans l’Union européenne’, a-t-il ajouté. ‘Cependant, il voit positivement et encourage le chemin de dialogue et d’insertion de la Turquie dans l’Europe sur la base des valeurs communes’”.

“The Economist”, halfway prudent :
“Mr. Erdogan claimed afterwards that one of Europe’s most prominent Turco-sceptics had been converted into a supporter of his country’s European Union membership – at a time when that flagging cause needs all the help it can get. Whether Benedict really has overcome his personal doubts about Turkey’s EU membership is open to question ; but the new Vatican line is that, if Turkey meets the necessary conditions (including respect for Christian rights) to join the club, that can only be good.”

“The Observer” :
“In an apparent reversal of his previous stance, Pope Benedict XVI has reportedly said he supports Turkey joining the EU. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Catholic Church leader told him during a 20-minute conversation at the outset of the pontiff’s four-day trip to the mainly Muslim secular country “we are not political but we wish for Turkey to join the EU.”

“Het Financieele Dagblad”, the main financial daily of the Netherlands :
“It is high time that partisans of Turkey ’s adhesion to the European Union speak up, headed by enterprises members of VNO-NCW. One unexpected partisan from Christian side, Pope Benedict XVI gave a very good example, last Tuesday in Turkey .”

The misunderstanding continued even at later dates.
For instance, on “Le Figaro” the well regarded columnist Ivan Rioufol became their victim as he wrote on November 1st :
“Le diplomate Benoît XVI a contredit, mardi, ses propos passés de théologien, quand il assurait : ‘Ce serait une grande erreur d’englober la Turquie dans l’Europe’.”

Andrew Purvis in “Time” magazine, December 11 :
“Early last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had reason to be optimistic. During a meeting in Ankara, Pope Benedict XVI said he was in favor of Turkey joining the European Union… This reversed an opinion he had delivered previously as a Cardinal, saying the move would be ‘a grave error against history’.” James Carrol in “The International Herald Tribune”, December 5th :

“The old structures must be dismantled. We see this very process unfolding in the person of Pope Benedict, who still insists on Europe ’s Christian identity. But in Turkey he began to change, which shows the power of Europe ’s new hope – the twain meeting at last.”

Why were experienced global reporters so utterly misguided ?
There have been timely and clear and yet polite disclaimers from both Father Federico Lombardi, the head of the Holy See press division, and archbishop Dominique Mamberti of the State Secretariat.

Do reporters not read between the lines? Do they not judge the circumstances, see through the show which had been put up, compare notes with each other and do some investigation? In this case they fell as a group of lemmings from the cliff which Erdogan had prepared for them. Erdogan may not have acted honorably in treating a guest in this cavalier way, turning to the journalists misreporting his conversation. That is no great surprise. It is the western correspondents who had the responsibility to see through such tricks and who dismally failed.
Maybe they saw their error a few days later. But did any of the correspondents retract their statement when they saw the clear disclaimers which were rapidly given – even during the Turkish visit – by archbishop Mamberti and father Lombardi? Never count on such practies in the press world of today.

The statements of Father Lombardi were carefully packaged with a compliment to prime minister Erdogan praising him for his “Alliance of Civilizations”, an initiative which he is undertaking with U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, and Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Vatican diplomacy did what it had to do in a most proper way. But the message was not understood by the reporters.

And did the chief editors of those newspapers later take any remedial action ? They probably speculated that in our hasty world the error would be forgotten in 48 hours.
It will not be forgotten. The Turkish people may be concerned about how this accident is being seen in the world. Erdogan’s action has even further diminished the chances of Turkey accessing the European Union.

As to the quoted newspapers, they should not be surprised if in establishing truth they are losing ground in comparison with websites and electronic newsletters. The profession of newspaper reporters needs some rehabilitation.

Meanwhile the peoples of Europe may safely assume that their choices on any future relationship with Turkey (either accession, or rather as more and more people now think a “privileged partnership”) is still wide open.

The Pope has not spoken on this topic.

Anton Smitsendonk

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About dutasia

Former Ambassador of the Netherlands, presently National Commissioner for Thailand and for Indonesia in the ICC, the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Business Organization. Chairman of China Carbon Forum in Beijing, China.
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