ANKARA(AFP)–Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan chided French president Jacques Chirac Wednesday for having said that Turkey needed a "cultural revolution" before it could join the European Union.
"Mr. Chirac should keep his opinions on this issue to himself," Erdogan said. "Turkey undertakes its cultural revolutions by itself when it needs to? There is nothing for Mr. Chirac to worry about–he should calm down."
The French president–a cautious supporter of Turkey’s EU bid–expressed doubts Tuesday on whether this mainly Muslim country would ever be able to join the bloc–saying membership would require "a considerable effort? a major cultural revolution".
In an interview with NTV television–Erdogan–said tongue-in-cheek: "I should first speak to him (Chirac) and learn what cultural revolution (is required)–then we will make the necessary changes."
He then got serious: "We have very substantial cultural dynamics–a very rich culture. We will take forward our friendship with them (the EU)–preserving these cultural riches.
"Our friends should keep in mind that we will say OK if this cultural revolution means integration–but if it means assimilation–they should not expect that from us," Erdogan said.
Turkey began official membership talks with the EU on Tuesday after fierce wrangling on its accession terms–which underscored the increasing hostility in European public opinion to the admission of this relatively poor country of some 72 million.