"In the Orient, you don't have to work hard for everything. With a little patience everything will come to you." Writer Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar's (1901-1962) adage is for some an excellent summary of the essence of Turkish thought, and also a reflection on the attitude of the Turkish government which regularly has to explain to the country's 72 million citizens, why Turkey, which has been a candidate for EU membership since 1963, has yet to be included in Europe.
European journalists who recently travelled to Turkey for a seminar on tourism and the environment were surprised when their preconceptions about a "closed, occasionally dangerous and overly traditionalist" country evaporated on arrival. What they found was that Turkey does not need to enter Europe, because so much of the country is already European. There is no great difference in lifestyles, the streets look more or less the same, the people are multilingual, and there is more European history in the country's 2,000-year-old ruins — in Perga, Aspendos, Side — than the goats and salamanders living among them might lead you to expect. And that's not all: the journalists also noted the ease with which Turkish bus drivers accept euros and give change in Turkish lira — a currency that is almost as strong as the euro — and people's genuine concern about the environment.
So why has Turkey remained the bride-to-be for a wedding that has constantly been postponed? Perhaps the EU has been too eager to find fault with its fiancée? Or is Turkey being less than uxorious? The blame has to be shared, because Europe's cold feet are matched by Turkey's desire to avoid settling down with an overly pretentious significant other: "If Europe told us to come in now, I'm not sure we would" says a young journalist. That explains the absence of European flags, which are everywhere in Moldova — another country that is knocking on the door of the EU, but which has yet to be accepted as an official candidate.
According to a recent poll, only 40% of Turks still want to join the EU, as opposed to 60% three years ago. And many of the country's young graduates with whom we spoke believe that the EU has little to offer apart from the scourges of the capitalist West: lax morals, alcohol, and a certain lightness of being. In other words, if lovers keep finding fault with each other, there will come a time when one of them decides there are other fish in the sea — that is, unless someone takes the initiative to explain some home truths.