When we try to explain the election defeat within the framework of modern rationality, we don’t go far. Regardless of the established facts—that the government has destroyed the economy, corrupted the justice system, spread arbitrary management into every field and made many mindless decisions—we end up at the same question: How did they win despite all this?
First of all, we need to understand the current reality.’
Turkey is no longer governed by the same regime after 2016. But ‘the shell’ of it has not changed… We are still in the Republic founded by Atatürk, but the country’s ‘soul’ has changed. Kemalism left its place to a ‘Unionism’ [the author here refers to the Committee of Union and Progress / Ittihat ve Terakki Party, which had ruled late Ottoman Empire between 1913-1918] although it is not clear how long it will last.
What the opposition should understand is this:
- Unionism fits much more naturally and normally in this society than Kemalism, and therefore it is not possible to defeat its power by returning to Kemalism.
- As we are ideologically and psychologically at a great crossroads, the practical pragmatic concerns of everyday life (at least for a while) are of secondary importance.
- For this reason, a prospective win by the opposition needs a new ideological positioning, a new future and concept of identity; in short, a ‘new story’.
So, now it is necessary to understand how Unionism works and why it is natural and normal in Turkey.
As far as I can see, Unionism works reversely to Kemalism. First it addresses the psychological field, and from there it reaches to the levels of identity and politics. By and large, the fact that it is natural and normal compared to Kemalism has to do with the psychology it tries to address, which is very common in Turkish society.
I would like to explain this with a recent example:
Erdoğan said recently: “I am calling out to these countries that have been waiting for more than fifty years at the door of the European Union. First, pave the way for Turkey (EU membership), then let’s pave the way for Sweden [re: NATO membership] as in Finland.”
Everyone knows that the EU and NATO are entirely different and disconnected organizations. Their principles, reasons for existence, modus operandi, and conditions of membership are irrelevant to each other.
In addition, the reason that Turkey has failed to become a member of the EU is largely Turkey itself… We are a country that has been able to open only half of the thirty-odd negotiation chapters, and could close only one of them.
In terms of rule of law, human rights, and terrorism, we have an attitude almost the opposite of the EU — and we insist on it. Sweden, on the other hand, has already met NATO’s conditions, has been taking a stance as if it has already been part of NATO for years, and is seen as a de-facto member of the alliance, even if Turkey officially prevents it.
Therefore, Erdoğan’s words do not make sense for either EU or NATO officials. The same is probably true for our Foreign Ministry members and academic experts. But do Erdogan’s words sound strange or normal for Turkish society in general?
My take is that these words are seen as extremely normal and rational; they are even appreciated as a sign of political dexterity. Because for us [Turkish people] the West is to be taken as a whole. It is one single subject. Even if our consciousness may tell us otherwise, it is deeply settled in our unconscious as such. Therefore, the West is not a geopolitical or political entity for us, but primarily a psychological interlocutor. It is the most basic reference we use as an opposition while creating ourselves in our own images…
I don’t think Erdoğan said these words because the people would like them. Those who know him know that he already regards the issue as such, thinks and reasons like that, and his feelings are shaped entirely within this framework. For that reason, Erdoğan’s natural ‘Unionism’ reflects a familiarity and commonly shared mood within the majority of the society.
For us, ordinary beings, from our perspective, Erdoğan does not make ‘foreign policy’ and (if you want the truth) we do not like foreign policy either. Erdoğan is implementing a ‘global strategy’… in our inner world, Turkey is far beyond being a nation-state. It is a ‘compressed empire.’
It is almost a denigrating approach to address the West through its different organizations. That’s why we put all organizations together and produce a ‘single subject’ labelled as the West. For the same reason, we interpret conspiracy theories as hidden truths.
Let’s now come to what kind of ‘subject’ the West is… ‘Unionism’ [Ittihatçılık] has already given a definition as to what it is: An entity which is ontologically hostile to Turkey; a being which will never give up its final goal of mutilating and destroying us; a being which can act as calculating, cunning, selfish and as treacherous as possible to achieve its objective.
Erdoğan doesn’t seem to think differently. But we are now in a period when we need to open the valves of money channels, and these channels flow from the West. I wager that Erdoğan would have taken a much tougher stance against the West if the economy were in good shape.
The problem is that we are close and prone to Unionism psychology beyond what even the most opposed to today’s ruling power think.
The opposition first needs to grasp this reality and face this situation. This implies the reconsideration of history (including the first period of the Turkish Republic), the production of a new sense of identity from it, and finally a set of steps towards a new conception of citizenship.
There is, therefore, an ideological and intellectual issue ahead of the opposition, far beyond the solely political.
This article was originally published in Turkish by Serbestiyet. It has been translated by FTP.
The views and opinions expressed above are the author’s and do not represent those of the Free Turkish Press.