During the 2017 Autumn General Assembly, you were voted in as an affiliate member organization of the European Liberal Forum. Could you tell us more about the activities of the foundation and the topics you are working on?
Freedom Research Association has been established in late 2014 by a group of liberal academics, journalists, legal experts and business people. It started its full operation by February 2015. The motto of the FRA is “policies that expand freedom & prosperity”. Since 2014, we focus primarily on the theme of rule of law and civil liberties.
Within our first year, we organized an international conference on rule of law and the latest developments in Turkey. This was in October 2015. That year we published 10+ reports on various issues. Our Freedom of Press Report in 2016 has been one of the two reports from within Turkey by the CoE’s Human Rights Commissioner and he moved a motion to the council based on the data in our report. Last year, we organize the first Economic Freedom Audit of Turkey where we hosted the previous governor of the Central Bank of Turkey. We cooperated with Fraser Institute, Atlas Network, Open Society Foundation and FNF in that particular event. We are about to publish a comprehensive study on the economic freedom scores of Turkey and how to improve them. We recently, launched a training program for graduate level law students and early mid-career lawyers. This program is called Rule of Law Academy. Our academy includes four colloquiums in major cities and a 6-month mentorship process between senior law scholars and the participants. We are hoping to have 80 graduates by this year and more than 500 in five years. To be able to that, we are now preparing an online version of our academy called RoLA MOOC!
Within the Liberal network, you are active with publications, research, supporting Liberal values and ideals. How could your work contribute to the ELF network? Are there any other member organizations that you are working with already?
Yes, we have been doing a lot of research and publications. However, our work is not limited to those activities. We also organize conferences, public seminars and a plethora of different events. These are generally targeted events and the target audience include – depending on the content – policy makers, journalists, students, academics, bureaucrats and general public.
We have a close and fruitful collaboration with Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s Turkey Office and our senior management has a decades long history with them. We also are in good contact with their regional office in Bulgaria. We are in good connection with the newly established KEFIM in Greece and excited for the future cooperation prospects. KEFIM’s current president Alexander Skouras is a great friend of FRA. We are currently organizing a prestigious international conference in cooperation with International Democratic Initiative on mass surveillance technologies and the future of liberal democracy. We are also looking forward to work with other members as well.
All major international indexes measuring freedom and rule of law suggests that Turkey is currently not on a very good track. FRA staff, now, has an extensive experience in promoting liberal values in a difficult setting. Difficulty doesn’t always come from the government’s side. Sometimes, the very environment that you work in might be quite hostile to liberal ideas. We believe what’s happening in Turkey is not exclusively about Turkey. It also has a strong connection to the larger developments in the world. So, the threat is not exclusively towards Turks, Poles or Hungarians, but towards all of us, as Europeans. We all need to learn to operate and be more resilient in more difficult environments. Future is highly likely to be more challenging to those who side with liberty. In that regard, I think FRA’s experience would be an adding value to the network of European Liberal Forum.
In your position letter, you state that Freedom Research Association FRA is strongly committed to human rights, liberty, rule of law, good governance, peace and free markets. How do you promote Liberal values within the Turkish society? And what outcomes have you obtained so far?
The liberal movement exists only to a very limited extent in Turkey. As we commonly say, one of the three major ideologies of modern political philosophy doesn’t exist in Turkey. Liberalism couldn’t find a favorable ground to flourish neither in the political realm nor among intelligentsia. That’s why, as a political ideology, it often remained in the shadow of other mainstream movements. In the intellectual scene, the word liberal is often used as a smear. Also, until recently, the liberal community looked more like a small congregation rather than a widespread intellectual movement.
FRA did two things (at once) to address this problem: First, from the first moment of its foundation, it self-identified as liberal. Second, from the beginning, it aimed for mainstream and proved that it has an extensive capacity to reach out and work with vastly different individuals and institutions. Since its foundation, FRA was able to host or cooperate with people, from the firmest bureaucrat to the feminist movement, to journalists, think-tanks and intellectual figures.
I think the biggest contribution to the Turkish liberal movement is that it is bringing “liberal” back as a credible, trustworthy, serious and worthy of respect “position” to the mainstream political and intellectual debate. There’s now a liberal institution in Turkey that is in the center, doing serious work, cooperating with vastly different groups on different issues, representing very legitimate positions and proudly declares itself liberal at the same time.
Another achievement is that in three years, a group of people emerged who we can call “FRA Circles”. This group includes former ministers, MPs, diplomats, bureaucrats, journalists, lawyers and others, and they’re quite responsive to our activities.
In three years, we organized 28 events, published 58 papers, 2 books and cited hundreds of times by the mainstream media. Beyond the numbers, the above mentioned can be counted as two most important outcomes of our work.