A long history of resistance .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;} .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;} ISTANBUL - A democracy in which alternative political models are able to compete freely could only be implemented with the ruling Justice and Development Party coming into power, according to Rainer Hermann. However as the party has been curtailed with the constitutional court’s closure case against it, among other factors, Turkey has lost this chance, he says.

Turkey is a complicated country. The history and dynamics of the 85-year-old republic and the Ottoman roots underlying it are difficult for any analyst to conceptualize. However, This is exactly what Rainer Hermann has embarked on in his recently published book, "Where is Turkey's Society Heading? A War of Cultures in Turkey."

The former Turkey correspondent for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, who spent 17 years in the country, draws on his extensive experience to provide a lengthy account of Turkish political history and its social, economic and military dimensions.

"The history of Turkey is a history of resistance against the paternalism of the state and its principles," Hermann said in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "It is the resistance by the Kurds against the exclusionary interpretation of Turkish nationalism, by the pious Muslims against the elimination of religion from society, by leftists and liberals against the fiction of a homogeneous society and the illusion that state and society are one."

These forces of resistance, who are neither part of the official Kemalist ideology nor of the center, belong to the political and social periphery. As a result of the authoritarian approach of governing elites, the state imposed principles upon the people, such as Turkish nationalism and laicism, even after the transition to a multi-party regime, Hermann said. "This system was not a democracy in which alternative political models were able to compete freely. This opportunity only emerged after the 2002 elections," he said. Turkey, however, lost its chance after the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was streamlined, by the closure case against it among other factors, he said.

Clash of life-styles
Hermann said the election of the AKP in 2002 that launched a counter-elite in Turkey was the beginning of a clash of lifestyles. This clash was rooted in the fact that Turkey, unlike other European countries, was not able to neutralize challenges that arose from the periphery, such as the AKP’s electoral base, he said. "Here the urban elite in a rare show of arrogance neglected the people in and from the periphery. In other countries in Europe, the process to reconcile these two groups took centuries. Turkey has been witnessing this process over a mere two to three decades. This short span of time is also a reason for the severity of the clash," Hermann said. Today the periphery, who Hermann describes as the previously uneducated religious Anatolian people who have evolved into ordinary citizens, are in the majority and have a powerful political party that represents them.

Hermann, in reference to a study conducted by Hakan Yılmaz from the Boğaziçi University, said as two-thirds of the middle class voted for the AKP, "Turkey did not witness a clash between progressive secularists and backward Islamists, but a fight between two strata within society. It is a fight for primacy in the state, but also on a question such as: who is modern?" Hermann said, regardless of the economic crisis, the AKP could govern for decades if there was no credible opposition.

Furthermore, Hermann said accusations that the AKP is making Turkey more Islamic are not accurate. "I do not see a general trend toward Islamization, but rather single cases. Unfortunately some media exaggerate this. I have confidence in the maturity of Turkish society, which is basically secular, to not allow any kind of Islamization," he said, and added, the fight is between lifestyles rather than Islam and secularism. "I believe Turks are tolerant enough for a coexistence between these lifestyles. The so-called secular camp is afraid for various reasons. Firstly, most believe Muslims have to impose their beliefs within politics. Secondly, the two camps hardly interact with one another. If a covered woman is a cleaning lady going to the houses of staunch secularists, no one cares what she is wearing, however, if she is educated and prosperous and because of that, also a challenge, the covering of her hair becomes a real problem," he said.

Hermann said the problem was the Kemalist interpretation of secularism. "Laicism is used as the last and sharp sword of the old elite to defend its interests. They try to make themselves and the world believe that Turkey might become an Islamic Republic if their interests are given up. In Turkey there is, however, a broad consensus that politics and religion have to be separated. This is not the issue. The issue is the Kemalist concept of laicism, there is a difference between laicism and secularism."

Self-definition through culture
In his book, Hermann said Turkish society had increasingly freed itself from the constraints of Kemalism and more and more citizens had defined their identity through culture, beyond the official ideology of state-defined Turkishness. He described Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdoğan as a "pragmatic politician from the docklands," who wanted to increase the scope for democracy, despite religious and military factors.

"Erdoğan is a charismatic leader and one of a kind in Turkey. In the first years in government he succeeded in enlarging the scope of society and the rights of the individual against the state," he said. Comparing the transition from an Islamist to a center-right politician to the far-leftists in Turkey, who became liberals in the 1990s, Hermann said Erdoğan was a pragmatic politician who responded to the expectations of his voters. "He has energy and he needs someone to direct this energy so that it becomes constructive. Since Abdullah Gül was elected President, there has been no one left in the cabinet to do that which explains some of the reasons why this government has not been very successful," he said.

One major failing of the AKP is its handling of the Kurdish issue, said Hermann. "I consider the Kurds to be second-class-citizens, as they are only first-class-citizens when they accept comprehensive assimilation... It is not enough any more to raise the standard of living in the Southeast."

"The Kurdish question is a synonym for all unsolved problems in Turkey and as long as it remains unsolved it has the potential to destabilize Turkey. I am surprised that so many people seem to accept this unfortunate situation and do not act. I am disappointed the AKP is not willing any more to pursue reforms to defuse this time bomb," Hermann said.