Election watch

The shift to the 'right' has been widely debated in Turkey lately. In fact the 'surge of nationalism' is one of the most highlighted issues in Turkish media reporting and political analysis.

Election watch
By Dogu Ergil, Sunday's Zaman

The shift to the “right” has been widely debated in Turkey lately. In fact the “surge of nationalism” is one of the most highlighted issues in Turkish media reporting and political analysis. However nationalism is the founding principle of the republic (nation-state). These terms are interchangeable in the Turkish political vocabulary. Nationalism is also the backbone of the educational system. Every child that starts elementary school is reared as a nationalist (servant of the nation-state) first, a citizen second and, finally, as a human being. So, a rise or surge of nationalism is not a correct diagnosis. What we witness as rising is a dense feeling of loss of stability, fear emanating from the incapacity of the system to solve its age-old problems and loss of trust to a world outside the borders that is perceived as hostile to Turkey.

In sum, what we witness today is an assiduous feeling of defeatism. One source of this feeling is the entropy of the system to produce solutions to fundamental needs and structural problems. The other is the alarming atmosphere created by the old middle class, faced with losing power and privilege. The old middle class had attained its status and power through state service. It is through the state apparatus that it ruled over society, set its own standards, set the pace and direction of change and controlled the economy. However in the past decade and a half a new middle class has emerged through the market place and services. It came out of Anatolia; it transferred its ambition and capital to the cities, enlivening both the metropolitan areas and its place of origin. This network that connected Anatolia and the urban centers not only acted as a medium to carry capital and entrepreneurship from the countryside, but also to carry traditional habits (dress codes, etc.) and parochial values as well.

The old middle class began to lose ground to its traditional, but more vibrant and private counterpart. The latter is richer, more innovative and independent (of the state), but at the same time it is culturally conservative, religious and more parochial concerning living habits. They owed nothing to the state for their status, wealth and business while the old middle class relied on the state for status, position, power and livelihood. When the state began to be “infiltrated” by the new middle class by way of political prowess and electoral victories, i.e., by forming governments and a series of privatization initiatives that reduced the state’s economic power previously wielded by the old middle class, the latter began to sound alarm bells. It claimed that the regime was under an unprecedented degree of danger and that Turkey was about to be partitioned by “internal and external enemies.” If this is a “surge of nationalism,” we are on the wrong track. That is why electoral debates add up to nothing but a cacophony of accusations and negative labeling. Real issues are not discussed, except perhaps superficially.

Yet there is a shift to the “right.” This happened in particular when the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government lost its EU perspective and adopted an anti-Western stance recently. Reforms and public expectations toward future membership of the union provided both an incentive and a frame of reference. Once this was lost the farther right began to cultivate anti-EU, anti-American, anti-Kurdish and anti-Armenian feelings. If these negative feelings are internalized by wider masses and those masses believe that so much threat to national integrity can only be warded off by military might, then we will have fascism around the corner.

Who will be bearer of possible fascism in Turkey? Have no doubt, it will be the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the party of the old (republican) middle class that yearns to reclaim the state power it has lost to a new middle class. The second bearer will be the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), an ardent defender of corporatism and ethnic purity. This party might be called “lumpen nationalist” because it is supported by poorer and excluded groups of Central Anatolia and more modest districts of towns that are of ethnic Turkish stock. These groups have always looked to the state for support and protectionism. The MHP provided many services and favors to its clientele at periods when it shared state power through coalition governments. It became the conveyor belt of state spoils for lower middle classes that feel that the state is infiltrated by non-Turkish elements and the country is betrayed by ethnic groups that are not of Turkish origin, who share a sinister plan to divide and to devour the country.

We may call the CHP’s nationalism an “elite (or elite’s) nationalism,” while we may call that of the MHP “parochial (I prefer lumpen) nationalism.” By looking at pre-election public opinion polls, both parties will make the election threshold. No doubt they will try to form a “nationalist front” coalition if the number of seats they command allows it. One is tempted to ask what good such a xenophobic and contentious nationalism could contribute to a Turkey that has solved few basic problems and been bleeding internally due to exclusive ethnic nationalism? It is with this major concern that many people will still vote for the AK Party: not that this party caters to the needs of secular, urban and modern social groups fully, it is because this party has not been duped with nationalism on the one hand and it is more market friendly, which makes it more sensitive to international liaisons and realities.

If this statement is true, it is quite a pity to see how limited the choices of the Turkish electorate are. On the one hand there are parties that people will vote for without genuine enthusiasm. On the other, the names they will vote for are put before them by a few men who have drawn up the lists. Caught between an authoritarian system that may be even worse and party bosses who have little regard for public preferences, the electors will vote for the lesser evil rather than the best choice that is beyond their reach.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 15 Temmuz 2007, 11:31