Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beyond Ataturk

Two interesting recent article looking at the current political battles raging in Turkey and how they are connected to the country's struggle to define a kind of post-Kemalist identity for itself.

In the Financial Times, David Gardner examines the growing political divide in Turkey and sees it as a result of:
....a clash between two rival establishments jostling for supremacy: the traditional metropolitan elites who see themselves as the guardians of the secular, republican heritage of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey; and the new AKP establishment that combines the conservative and religiously observant traditions of Anatolia with a huge constituency in Turkey’s modern but Muslim middle class....

....What [Turkey] desperately needs is a regrouping of secular, liberal and social democratic forces into an electable party (something an EU re-engagement with Turkey would help).

Banging on about secularism is therapeutic but ultimately futile. A viable centre-left needs to abandon the fragmented, pre-modern to Jurassic, and episodically putschist secular parties. Instead of worshipping at Ataturk’s shrine they should follow his example. The founder of Turkey built the republic from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Even Mr Erdogan looked far beyond the wreckage of Turkish Islamism to create the AKP. Turkey’s centre-left should emulate him and start again.
You can read his full piece here (registration required).

Meanwhile, in a piece in Newsweek, Turkish liberal Islamic columnist Mustafa Akyol writes that the recent developments and changes in Turkey are an indication of a "new, post-Kemalist" era. From his piece:
The passing of Kemalism as an official doctrine is a good thing, for the age of ideological regimes is long past. Some critics fear that the new elite, the religious conservatives, will prove just as intolerant as the generals before them. But that is an exaggerated fear, for what is really eroding Kemalism—the expanding pluralism of Turkish society—will defy any new attempt at authoritarianism. The AKP is hardly a party of Jeffersonian democrats—like other Turkish parties, it is hierarchical, intolerant of criticism, and eager to manipulate the media—but it has proven pragmatic enough to learn from its mistakes. And its leaders remain more liberal than the old guard on many issues, including the rights of Kurds and Christians.

Still, to consolidate Turkey's democratic gains the country needs a new Constitution that guarantees all rights and liberties with checks and balances. This new charter should limit the power of the central state and increase that of local administrations, while creating a nonpartisan judiciary, autonomous universities, and enforcing accountability both for politicians and bureaucrats. Most fundamentally, unlike the previous constitutions forged by the Kemalists, whose motto read, "For the people, despite the people," this new one should be made for the people and by them.
You can read Akyol's full article here.

To a certain extent, I think Akyol's celebration of the arrival of a new, "post-Kemalist" age is a bit premature. For sure, Turkey is moving away from the rigidity imposed upon it by the strict Kemalism that was practiced in the country, particularly following the 1980 coup. But I don't believe the country has yet to fully figure out how to deal and work with the legacy of Ataturk. It's a work in progress, and one that -- depending on the circumstances -- could very well swing back in the direction of a regressive neo-Kemalism, rather than something more progressive.

I wrote about Turkey's search for a "post-Ottoman" and "post-Kemalist" identity -- and the difficulty of doing that in the midst of deep political turmoil -- for The Majalla magazine last November. From that article:
While Ankara has achieved notable success in the foreign policy field, Turkey today faces deep and potentially destabilizing domestic political divisions and a political system that sometimes flirts with dysfunctionality. With a political culture that emphasizes confrontation over cooperation and a political opposition that seems unable to develop a forward-looking vision for the country, Turkey may find its efforts at democratization and at burnishing its foreign policy credentials defeated by its political divisions at home.

At the heart of Turkey’s domestic trouble lies the country’s ongoing effort to define its post-Ottoman identity. The Kemalist vision laid out by Ataturk – that of a secular, western-oriented Turkey that emphasized a uniform sense of Turkish identity – was successful in helping the country rise out of the rubble after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. But the rise of the AKP, which represents an emerging Islamic elite that is less connected to the Kemalist approach, has put that vision to the test. In many ways, the AKP is trying to formulate a post-Kemalist identity for Turkey, one that provides greater room for religious identity and ethnic diversity....

....What’s the way forward for Turkey? To really step out from under the shadow of its domestic divisions, Turkey needs to have a frank and wide-ranging discussion about what Turkish identity means today and what kind of country it would like to become. Having that conversation when nobody will listen to each other will be difficult.
You can read the full piece here.

No comments: