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Sensemaker: The Turkey ten

Sensemaker: The Turkey ten

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said more than 1,300 new homes would be built for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.
  • Police were deployed on Germany’s eastern border with Poland to stop right-wing vigilantes turning back migrants. 
  • A collection of Picassos went for $110 million at auction in Las Vegas, after hanging in a restaurant in the Bellagio for more than 20 years.

The Turkey ten

Turkey’s president has instructed his foreign minister to tell ten western ambassadors they’re no longer welcome in Ankara. Their crime is to have signed a letter asking President Erdoğan to release a well-known philanthropist who supports the democratic opposition. 

They matter because… democracy’s in retreat along a fault line from Turkey to Poland. Or at least that has been a fashionable narrative for many years, but it may no longer be quite true. 

The ambassadors from the US, Germany, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand and five other countries (not including Britain, which wants President Erdoğan to come to Cop) haven’t been expelled yet, but if they are it’ll be because of Osman Kavala.

Kavala’s story. The rich son of tobacco traders, Kavala has never been convicted of a crime but has been in jail in Turkey for four years. Before falling foul of Erdoğan he bankrolled numerous Turkish centre-left NGOs, founded the Turkish branch of George Soros’ Open Society Foundation and openly supported the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. 

Erdogan accused him of financing those protests and being involved in a 2016 coup attempt. He was acquitted by a Turkish court last year, but immediately rearrested on other charges that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has deemed political. The ECHR had previously called for his release, and the ambassadors’ letter was a plea for its ruling to be respected.

Is Turkey a member of the ECHR? Yes. So are 46 other countries including the UK. The ECHR was founded by the Council of Europe in 1950, and has nothing to do with the EU.

Is this Turkey’s new normal? No. It’s not new – Erdoğan has been systematically dismantling Turkey’s democratic institutions and undermining its rule of law for more than a decade. Having chafed at the accountability required of him as prime minister he has refashioned the constitution around a powerful executive presidency. He’s intimidated independent media, promoted political Islam in what was a proudly secular country and leaned on judges to lock up people like Kavala.

But he’s not untouchable. Six opposition parties have joined forces to try to force him out at elections that have to happen by 2023. Some of these parties are tiny but led by experienced politicians like Ahmet Davutoğlu, one of Erdoğan’s former prime ministers. Others have big or growing followings. They include the nationalist Good Party, founded in 2017 by Turkey’s most prominent woman politician, Meral Akşener, and the centre-left Republican People’s Party. In one recent poll, for the first time since Erdoğan’s rise to power, more people said he’d lose next time than win. 

Democracy’s comeback. Oppositions united against entrenched corruption are a newish trend. 

  • Bulgaria. In July a new anti-establishment party joined single-issue anti-corruption parties including one called Stand Up! Mafia Out! to deny Boyko Borisov a fourth term as prime minister. Borisov had been accused of muzzling journalists and consorting with criminals and lobbyists.
  • Czech Republic. Earlier this month a new centre-right alliance almost levered Andrej Babiš from a government he has tarnished with serial scandals involving alleged fraud and personal conflicts of interest. He may stay on, but stands to be demoted.
  • Hungary. Six opposition parties have joined forces against Viktor Orbán’s dominant Fidesz party before parliamentary elections due by next year. For the first time since 2010 Orbán will face a united front of liberals, socialists and the centre-right.

Random thought: Poland is beginning to look a bit like Texas. It’s causing the EU no end of trouble by asserting the supremacy of its laws over EU treaties. Ditto Texas and the US federal government with its invitation to bounty hunters to sue abortionists. 

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Drug lord cuffed
Colombia’s most-wanted drug kingpin has been arrested in an operation involving 500 soldiers, 22 helicopters and intelligence from the US and the UK. Dairo Antonio Úsuga, aka “Otoniel”, was traced with the help of a $5 million American bounty to a rural hideaway in the northwest of the country near its border with Panama. He didn’t use a phone, moved from house to house and is presumed to have been betrayed by an informer in what Colombia’s President Iván Duque called the biggest blow to the cartels since the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s. Úsuga is accused of murdering police, abusing children and treating large areas of Colombia as a personal fiefdom. What took the government so long? It’s five years since Bogotá’s ballyhooed “peace” treaty with the rebel group known as the FARC, a treaty that was supposed to pave the way for Colombia’s emergence as a normal country in control of its own territory. Who else is out there?  

New things technology, science, engineering

Blue light bull
Thank heaven for influencers. A lot of people are worried about the effect “blue light pollution” from their phone and computer screens might have on their skin, and last week a very popular YouTuber came out with a skin-care line created to protect against precisely this. Rachel “Valkyrae” Hofstetter is actually “the fastest-growing streamer in the world”, according to the website for her RFLCT line of unguents and cleansers. And she couldn’t stop crying when the line was launched, she said, because it had been such a long journey to get to this point and this was “just the beginning”. The only problem is there’s no hard evidence phones and laptops cause the kind of skin damage these products claim to address. Kathleen Suozzi, a Yale skin surgeon, tells the Washington Post current research suggests for the vast majority of people a short walk in the sun does more damage to the skin than eight hours in front of a screen. One of Hofstetter’s backers is Joanna Coles, the former Times (of London) feature writer who’s risen to dizzy New York heights, running Hearst Magazines and now looking for cool start-ups to support. She tells the Post she’s sure if a male gamer had started this product line “he would have been roundly applauded”. Maybe. Maybe not. 

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma
When is a non-story a story? The Observer makes the case that one answer is when a big research project aiming to find environmental causes of a niche cancer that affects discrete populations in China, Kenya, Turkey and Iran comes up dry. There were high hopes at the Wellcome Sanger Institute that a correlation might be found between, say, alcohol consumption or cooking oil fumes and oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma, which presents in the throat and is often caught too late to treat. But there was no correlation. The most concrete finding was that external factors can increase the likelihood of cancers but in this case don’t appear to directly cause genetic mutations. The process of elimination is refined. The search goes on.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Big precipitation
California is being hit by one of the biggest atmospheric rivers ever recorded. There’s another name for atmospheric rivers: storms. But atmospheric river does convey a little better the highly directional nature and sheer force of a storm generated way out in a warm patch of ocean and then directed toward land by circular wind patterns operating like rollers in a steel mill. It’s still October, so most of the moisture will fall as rain, and coastal roads and towns north of San Francisco are already awash. But inland, several feet of early season snow is expected in the Sierra Nevada, and landslides have already blocked mountain roads in Plumas County – north of Lake Tahoe. Is this welcome after California’s epic drought? You betcha. Is it related to climate change? That too. The warmer the ocean, the greater the evaporation, the more powerful the “river”.  

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Green money
If everything goes to plan the London Stock Exchange is to host its first flotation of a company with an all-female board. Atrato Onsite Energy announced today it was aiming to raise £150 million in an initial public offering by the end of November. Its stock ticker will be Roof, which is apt given its main business so far has been installing rooftop solar panels, but its goal is broader: to operate as an investment trust tapping into the escalating global demand for certifiably green investments. The non-executive board consists of Juliet Davenport, founder of Good Energy, Marlene Wood, an accountant and investment trust expert, and Faye Goss, a former property lawyer at Tesco. Full disclosure: Davenport is a Tortoise member. But we didn’t get the story from her. We got it from the always-on City AM. For context, in the green investment business, £150 million isn’t much. Bloomberg forecast in February that by 2025 assets in ESG (environmental, social and governance) investments would total $53 trillion. 

The week ahead

25/10 – court hearing for Jared O’Mara, former MP charged with fraud; NHS release on access to digital healthcare, 26/10 – sentencing for man guilty of stalking TV presenter Denise Welch, 27/10 – Rishi Sunak delivers autumn Budget; Girls Night In campaign group stages nightclub boycott across UK; Scottish parliament holds legislative session ahead of Cop26; High Court hearing over US challenge to Julian Assange’s extradition ruling, 28/10 – RSS Sir David Attenborough, Britain’s newest polar ship, arrives in London for three-day visit; teen who killed Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman appears in Old Bailey for sentencing, 29/10 – Office for National Statistics releases UK national accounts, 30/10 – Pride of Britain Awards, 31/10 – Cop26 climate change conference begins in Glasgow

25/10 – Facebook releases third-quarter results; verdict announced for Ma Chun-Man, second man charged under Hong Kong security law; International Astronautical Congress begins in Dubai, 26/10 – Alphabet releases third-quarter results; Bundestag convenes for first session since German election; US Food and Drug Administration convenes to discuss Pfizer vaccine for 5–11 year olds; Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube representatives testify at US Senate hearing on protecting kids online, 28/10 – Shell, BP and ExxonMobil testify at US House committee hearing on climate disinformation; Apple releases full-year results; Global Summit of Women begins in Lisbon, 29/10 – UN General Assembly discusses annual Human Rights Council report, 30/10 – Russia begins week-long national holiday to curb Covid spread; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, 31/10 – Japan holds general election

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Giles Whittell

Xavier Greenwood

Produced by Phoebe Davis and edited by Xavier Greenwood.

Photographs Getty Images, Zuma Press, Inc./Alamy