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May 16, 2010, Sunday

A matter of perspective

I only learned about Deniz Baykal’s video problems when I heard that he had resigned. I must confess I was happy, not of course for the opposition leader and his family, but for Turkish politics.Baykal always struck me as looking like the lovechild of Leonid Brezhnev, and he had all the charm of that Soviet leader. How long could the party of Atatürk survive under the dead weight of Baykal’s uninspiring rule?

Baykal also resigned his party chairmanship with ill grace, claiming to be the victim of a conspiracy. Turks thrive on conspiracy theory -- perhaps that’s why the Action Max channel has shown the film of the same name about 789 times in the last few years.

Imagine my surprise the next day to learn that some people think Baykal may have set himself up in a ruse to boost his image. The theory goes that Turks love an underdog, and that his forced resignation arising from the sex scandal would make people feel sorry for him. There’s also the virility factor, that people would admire the 71-year-old politician who still had the natural urges of a decades-younger man. You must really crave the office if you’re willing to humiliate your wife to get it.

It’s all a matter of perspective. People who owe their professional lives to Baykal cannot imagine a future without him. The rest of us are perfectly content to move on.

And people do have different perspectives. This week I took part in a journalism seminar at Kadir Has University, where four foreign reporters gave their impressions of Turkish media and freedom of the press. On the panel, I sat next to a woman broadcaster from Tehran -- for her the Turkish press is very lively and free, for back home in Iran you can say or print anything you like, only the authorities shut you down for it.

The Turkish media has its problems -- note the million-dollar fine earlier this month against Vakit daily for a story they published in 2003 that allegedly insulted Turkish generals. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the punishment appeared “unbalanced,” but he did not comment on the basic issue of press freedom. For him reporters are a tolerated necessity, a potentially toxic material that rightly ought to be a controlled substance. It’s all a matter of perspective.

You see it everywhere. In this very paper I read a roundup of the Turkcell Super League title race -- Bursaspor trails Fenerbahçe by one point heading into their final matches tonight. The article said that all of Anatolia -- save a few diehard Fener fans -- are hoping Bursa can pull out a win and, on top of Fenerbahçe losing, can take the league championship.

I take exception to that. A fan is a fan. Just because I am not a fanatic diehard Fener supporter doesn’t mean that I’d like Bursa to win the title this year, just because they’re nice and never tasted the glory. Earn it, schmucks.

Sympathies are a flighty creature. A month ago an American friend told me of the difficult and embarrassing time she had getting a Schengen visa for her Turkish husband, having to ask their friends in Brussels to send a letter of invitation, a bank statement and more. What a scandal, I thought, but I quickly let it go.

This week the subject of visas to Europe takes on new meaning, for I have been trying to get the same Schengen visa for my Turkish wife and Turkish kids to visit my father in Italy. Wow. We’ve filed enough paperwork to start a corporation. My wife has been running around all week -- I had to accompany her to a notary to confirm that she could travel with our children, even though we are traveling together.

That notary’s signature cost us TL 75, aside from the hours we spent not doing the phenomenally productive work we usually do. There’s a company that helps you through this process -- a professional fixer who saves you the trouble of waiting in line at whatever consulate. To such experts at bureaucracy these Schengen procedures are a gold mine. It’s all a matter of perspective.

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