On April 16 millions of Turkish citizens in Turkey and abroad will decide in a referendum about the future of Turkish democracy. All observers and analysts see this event as a watershed for the future of the country. Regardless of the results, it will have grave consequences for millions of Turkish citizens, the power of various state institutions, the quality of democracy and the famous checks and balances a free society needs to control state and individual power.
It will also have consequences for Turkey’s international freedom rating. In our Freedom Barometer Turkey was rated 21 of 30 nations in Europe and Eurasia, behind Serbia and in front of Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, one has to consider that these data do not yet include the events after the military coup in July 2016. We expect a further deterioration and a continuation of the current downward trends.
During the last year, media freedom has suffered greatly as have many civil liberties. About 150,000 people were removed from their jobs and basically banned with a prohibition to exercise their profession. Thousands languish in prisons awaiting trials which so far are ill defined and where accusations are multiple but on dubious grounds. At the end of last year almost 300 journalists were in prison, many media outlets have been closed by the authorities and various court trials are underway to charge people who have a different opinion from the government with various crimes and accusations of terrorism.
In the following, we compare Turkey to the Netherlands, a country the Turkish president has referred to a couple of times in recent weeks, mostly in a pejorative sense. However, the freedom ranking of the Netherlands is significantly better than that of Turkey.
Table 1: Turkey and the Netherlands – rule of law, political and economic freedom
In all three categories – political freedom, rule of law and economic freedom – the score of the Netherlands is significantly higher than that of Turkey. The distance between the two countries is remarkable, especially in political freedom and rule of law. Only in economic freedom a certain rapprochement can be observed. In the variable set ‘freedom to trade internationally’ the distance is the lowest. And in the variable set ‘size of government expenditures, etc.’ Turkey is leading the Netherlands, but this is the only variable set among the ten where Turkey’s freedom score is higher than that of the Netherlands.
Shocking, but not unexpected, are the results in the categories ‘freedom of the press’, ‘independence of the judiciary’ and ‘corruption’. Also the ‘protection of human rights’-score of Turkey is low. This does not come as a surprise although the events of spring 2017 are not yet included in the calculations.
Table 2: Freedom ranking of Turkey and the Netherlands in the 10 variable sets
In the last table of our comparison, we look at the trends and the change from 2016 to 2015. Here we can safely say that whereas Turkey is on its way down in our freedom ranking, the Netherlands is on its way up. Although the Netherlands already shows a very high level of freedom generally, it is still realizing improvements. In fact in our sample the Netherlands is the freest country of all the 30 countries covered by the Freedom Barometer in Europe and Eurasia. Except for the category ‘economic freedom’, the level of freedom in Turkey is only about half of that in the Netherlands as regards ‘political freedom’ and ‘the rule of law’.
Table 3: Freedom score in political freedom, rule of law and economic freedom of Turkey and the Netherlands
In conclusion we can safely say that the coming events in Turkey will mark a watershed as regards the development of a free and open society. Wherever you look there is rising anxiety and heightened insecurity. Tourists are the first to sense this. The tourist sector is suffering from the rising nationalism. The xenophobic statements by leading Turkish politicians deter people from coming on holidays given the heightened insecurities. The high level of corruption and continuous deterioration of the rule of law in the country has already deterred foreign investors from entering into new ventures. Unemployment is rising, and incomes are stagnating. The pressure on the current government to honor the social contract, rising prosperity in peace and stability, will further increase. In times like this the alienation of trusted partners and friends is not what a country needs. Turkey will certainly be a more lonely country after this referendum.