Goran BULDIOSKI “Every generation revolts against its fathers and makes friends with its grandfathers.”
Lewis Mumford, American Sociologist and philosopher (1895-1990)It was a beautiful sunny day at the Bosporus. Wednesday, July 2, 2008. Gazing at the peaceful water of the straits I was mesmerized at the powerful traffic waves engulfing the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. The freight ships were lazily and cautiously towing their cargo towards the Black Sea. This panorama probably would have kept my thoughts drifting for a while if suddenly a fast military vessel did not cut the calm waters.
The AKP affair:
Rewind one hour earlier, I recall being glued at the TV screen by the gripping tone of CNN, BBC News and later some worrying headlines in the international press. Turkey was again in the forefront of international media. The headlines reported the ongoing saga and ruling of the Turkish Constitutional Court to consider a very probable ban of some 70 members of Parliament, including the leader of Justice and Development Party, or AKP. The picture of the hasty military boat combined with all the coup conspiracies offered a perfect opportunity for waking up the aficionado of international politics in me.In general, being tired of all the daily political realities, the squabbles between political parties, interests of different groups, incentives of various political constituencies, bickering columnists I found more interest in looking for the broader picture. From the political chessboards to the election boxes to the battle for winning the trust of the Turkish heartland, despite all its specificities and colors, the situation is far from unique. Coming from Macedonia, a former Ottoman province for five centuries, and witnessing the change in Central and Eastern Europe for the past 15 years, I found that the “change of elites” to be the most captivating and original in the current Turkish events. This is different from anything we witness after the fall of the Berlin Wall, partly due to the Turkish military and its might, the ongoing clash between secularism and religion and finally because there seems no chance to find a conciliatory solution between the two options. Probably this struggle is similar to the uncompromising zeal of the young Turks when they revolutionized this country and built its secular pillars on the ruins of the old Ottoman Empire. To a partially informed foreigner and distant observer, it is the fate of the current elites and the mold of the new ones that makes this power battle a grandiose event. There is newly risen elite around the AKP that rides on the wave of values simultaneously conquering the Turkish heartland and the public space. Religious beliefs are as old as the history of the world, and in a proper time and within a proper context they can be the most powerful tool in the hands of political elites. (Regardless of how emotional they are and how archaic they seem to secular insiders and outsiders.) Equally challenging is to understand what the secular (old) elites offer to the masses in this struggle. Their ideas seem to be rather worn out, based on a very valid, but extremely outdated set of values. The followers of the tenets of the republican revolution that has achieved so much for this state, have become a bit tired of its maintenance and appear to be void of creative ideas. Their half-hearted flirt with, but never firm embrace of, democracy brought them only headache. The idea of having more impartial state institutions, somewhat liberated from the firm grip of the army, brought equally lukewarm results. And the list goes on. The key question is whether they have equally impressive ideas to match the values of their opponents.
Just keep innovating:
In many countries of the former eastern block, the Communist elites did a great job in reinventing themselves. Particularly in the old “vilayets” of the Ottoman Empire, from Sofia to Skopje to Belgrade, the Communist elites were always and still are close to the top power. The decline of the former regime did not hinder them in looking at “new” ideas, in taking up nationalism, looking at neo-liberalism and promoting (fake or real) market economies, tightly controlling the intelligence services, and many other methods they used to hold power, but also to charm the masses. None of these strategies are transferable to the Turkish society. Turkey is a great regional power, but with a specific makeup. The old elites who planted the seeds of the innovation that today is Turkey need to keep innovating.
Goran Buldioski is director of the regional Think Tank Fund of the Open Society Institute. The opinions herein are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of the institution.