SAHIN ALPAY: TURKEY WILL NOT VEER TOWARDS AUTHORITARIANISM
Last week the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) published a report entitled “What does Turkey think?” This report follows similar reports that dealt with China in 2008 and Russia in 2009.The larger part of the report consists of articles by writers from Turkey whose views are somewhat well known in the country.
The articles in the report that are more interesting for the Turkish public are, therefore, those which sum up the findings of the ECFR researchers in their recent visits to Turkey and the meetings they held there. Two of the articles have been written by distinguished scholars from neighboring Bulgaria, Dimitar Bechev and Ivan Krastev.
The following observations by Bechev in his introductory piece need to be well considered by the European as well as the Turkish elites: Turkey is now a major player in its region. In the process of attaining this status it has become more like Europe: globalised, economically liberal and democratic. It “doesn’t want to go East or West; it wants to go up.” Compared to 10 years ago Turkey today is a “wealthier, more open, freer, more democratic, fairer, and more peaceful” country. It is, moreover, viewed as a source of inspiration or even a model for Arab societies rejecting authoritarian regimes.
The EU may be more and more absent from Turkey’s public debates, but it has not lost its significance altogether. The EU and Turkey are trapped in a “Catholic marriage.” For all the reciprocal disappointments and disloyalty, they are destined to stay together. Until 2006-2007, the EU helped Turkey in its transition from a state under military-bureaucratic tutelage to a democracy worthy of the name, and access to EU markets continue to be essential for Turkey’s economic health.
“The EU is not [however] indispensable and it won’t be the end of the world for Turkey if the relationship stays the way it is. … To make interdependence work, the EU needs to engage the new Turkey.”
In his afterword titled “Tentative conclusions of a fascinated ignorant,” Krastev writes that Turkey today is self-confident and looks with optimism to the future, but it is vulnerable in three ways:
1) For the moment, only a massive flow of foreign investment can guarantee continued growth. An economic crash may be inevitable, however, unless necessary structural reforms are soon implemented. An economic downturn is likely to have a profound effect on Turks’ perceptions about the world and themselves, as surveys indicate a strong, positive correlation between support for EU accession and deterioration within the economic situation in Turkey.
2) Problems are mounting for Ankara’s foreign policy whose successes have substantially contributed to its new found self-confidence.
3) The “deep polarization” of society between “anxious moderns” and the majority that supports Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) risks leading the country either to political deadlock or authoritarianism. The threat to Turkey’s democracy today is not “Islamization” but “Putinization.”
“In the absence of social, political and institutional constraints, the AKP regime could easily mutate into an illiberal, majoritarian democracy.”
My contribution to the report, titled “Will Turkey veer towards authoritarianism without the EU anchor?”, deals straight with Krastev’s third point above. This is the gist of what I am arguing: Turkey, far different from Russia, has at least 60 years of experience of a multiparty democracy and a functioning open market economy for at least the last 30 years. Turkey has increasingly close ties with the outer world and especially Europe. It has an increasingly strong civil society that freely debates political issues, including those that were until recently taboo subjects.
With these traits it is much more likely for Turkey to consolidate liberal democracy rather than veer towards an authoritarian regime.
Claims that Turkey is “deeply polarized” between “anxious moderns” and the majority that supports Erdoğan is increasingly less convincing. I believe that a large part of those segments of society who lend support to the AKP government on pushing back military-bureaucratic tutelage, and even of AKP members, would cease to support Erdoğan if he were to veer towards authoritarianism. It is increasingly evident that while part of the “anxious moderns” favor the continuation of military-bureaucratic tutelage, a growing part seeks assurance in consolidation of liberal democracy.
This is why the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is veering towards commitment to liberal democracy and away from authoritarian Kemalism. That, according to most recent surveys, not less than 69 percent of Turkey’s citizens support accession to the EU, despite the economy experiencing good times, should be a reflection of their demand for reforms towards consolidation of democracy on EU norms. (Source: ZAMAN, Istanbul)