Giant meeting table in Kremlin and S-400 launcher vehicle | Illustration by Erhan Yalvaç.

‘What a table it was indeed’

Recent gatherings around two tables, one in Ankara and the other in Moscow, bring to mind a line from a famous Turkish poem: 'What a table it was indeed'

Two tables attracted a lot of attention last week. What was put on those tables – one long and the other round – reminded many people of the famous line by Turkish poet Edip Cansever: “What a table it was indeed.”

On Feb. 7, French President Emmanuel Macron, Europe’s self-proclaimed leader in the post-Angela Merkel era, took a seat at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s extraordinarily long table in an attempt to resolve the Ukraine crisis.

On Feb. 12, the leaders of six Turkish opposition parties, led by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), gathered around a round table to exchange views on “restoring the parliamentary system.”

Indeed, the shape of a table, like the identity of those seated around it, speaks volumes.

Putin’s long table conveys the message that Russia is a great power on par with the United States and China. It also exemplifies how extremely difficult it is for Macron to talk Putin into anything. My sense is that the long table reflects Moscow’s dissatisfaction with its inability to negotiate terms with Washington, as it wanted, and is an indication that the Ukraine crisis will not end soon.

If the crisis between Moscow and Kyiv leads to war, there will be many repercussions for European states, starting with Ukraine and Russia, including a humanitarian catastrophe, an energy crisis and an array of security threats. That is why Putin’s long table featured many symbols and files – just the kind of table the aforementioned poet once described.

Meanwhile, the Russian military is not only increasing its footprint but also the frequency of its exercises. In addition to its troops in Crimea and along the Donbass border, Moscow deployed 30,000 soldiers, 9K720 Iskander missiles and S-400 systems to Belarus, where it built field hospitals.

NATO, in turn, deployed additional troops to Bulgaria, Romania and Poland.

As intense diplomatic efforts continue in the hopes of ending the crisis, it appears many more tables will be set before a solution is found.

The opposition’s table

Another important table was set on Feb. 12, as CHP Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu hosted five opposition leaders to discuss restoring the parliamentary system. The program, however, was rather packed, extending to the opposition’s potential joint presidential candidate, the principles of the post-election transition, power-sharing and a common policy agenda.

There was, of course, more. Efforts to make the people forget about the National Vision (Milli Görüş) movement’s fight against Kemalism are ongoing. Meanwhile, some folks who sharply criticized the CHP for trying to build a “New Turkey” in the past are attempting to cozy up to the opposition alliance. A former prime minister and a former finance minister, too, have apparently given up on their original plans to come to power single-handedly, and have instead decided to ride the CHP’s coattails. Another section of the table was occupied by the fact that the CHP’s pledge to “make amends” covered up its secularist anger. Likewise, there were some people seated at that round table who hope to exercise prime minister-like power under the watch of what (the opposition hopes) will be a symbolic president. Moreover, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), albeit wasn’t in the meeting, was also right there with its marginal position and ethno-separatist agenda. Finally, there were rival ideologies and huge egos – albeit waiting patiently for now – at the table.

As the poet said: “What a table it was indeed.”

For the record, I do not believe that the round table will lead those six parties to a victory in the next election. One thing, however, is clear: The shape of that table can not hide that the CHP has come to dominate the opposition. Meral Akşener, the Good Party’s (IP) chairperson, too, appears to have accepted that fate. Meanwhile, the remaining parties use big words to save face.

If the round table achieves any success, the CHP and its chairperson will get all the credit. Hence the boost of self-confidence that enabled Kılıçdaroğlu to directly challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “Let Erdoğan face me (in the election) and let me send him away through the ballot box.”

In other words, that round table remains Kılıçdaroğlu’s table. That’s a fact that those right-leaning politicians who jumped on his bandwagon will find extremely difficult to explain to their voters.

[Daily Sabah, February 15, 2022]

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