May 31, 2009 / 1:12 PM / 11 years ago

Most Turks back EU entry despite suspicions - study

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A majority of Turks support their government’s bid to join the European Union, but most say the bloc views it with prejudice because Turkey is a Muslim nation, a new study showed.

Three out of four Turks believe the EU is trying to divide Turkey and 81 percent believe the bloc’s goal is to spread Christianity, said the study by Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, released at a weekend conference.

Despite this, 57 percent want full EU membership for Turkey, according to the study, which also gauged Turks’ tolerance towards religion, ethnic groups, gender equality and foreign countries.

“A majority of Turks still want EU membership, but a larger majority has very serious doubts about the EU’s intentions towards Turkey,” said Yilmaz Esmer, a professor of political science at Bahcesehir who led the study.

The study, called “Public Attitudes Towards Diversity, Tolerance and Extremism in Turkey”, was conducted between April 12 and May 3 and polled 1,715 people in 34 Turkish provinces.

Strongest opposition to EU entry came from the 15- to 18-year-old age group, Esmer said.

One out of four Turks thinks Turkey is either already a full member of the EU or is unsure of its status, he said. Turkey has in fact been an official candidate for EU membership for 10 years and has completed only one of the 35 ‘chapters’ in the accession process.

RELIGION TOP PRIORITY

Sixty-two percent of Turks said religion was their priority, followed by 17 percent who said secularism was. Democratisation was the top priority for 15 percent, followed by smaller numbers who cited ethnic identity and financial gain.

“The main issue for Turks is religion and secularism,” Esmer said.

“Turkey has the highest level of ‘unwelcome’ (attitudes) in Europe in terms of whom they would prefer as neighbours, a question used in studies to measure tolerance,” Esmer said.

Among the least welcome neighbours for Turks were those who consume alcohol followed by Christian and Jewish neighbours, the study showed.

About 18 percent of respondents said they felt discriminated against, the highest rate in Europe, Esmer said. Still, most respondents felt that religious and ethnic diversity enriched life, rather than threatened national unity, he said.

Religious extremism and nationalism have remained level in Turkey this decade, although anti-Israeli sentiment was on the rise, Esmer said.

Israel is the most unpopular foreign country, followed by Armenia and the United States, the study said. Israel is also seen as most responsible for the world’s problems, followed by U.S. and EU policies, according to the survey.

Religious extremism was seen as a danger to Turkey by 69 percent of respondents. The main threat was perceived to be the Kurdistan Workers Party, the armed rebel group that has fought a 25-year war for autonomy in southeast Turkey.

The military remains the most popular institution, while the Democratic Society Party, parliament’s pro-Kurdish grouping, is the least popular, the study showed.

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