Erdoğan is a very good orator and can unite people around even mythical elements of Turkish identity. However, it cannot offer a solution to the problems of the Turkish economy and society, and therefore has to play on the note of heightened nationalism. Photo by Yasin Akgul, AFP
Parliamentary elections also took place in Turkey on May 14 in the shadow of the presidential elections. Their result was marked by nationalism, which the pre-election polls could not reliably pick up.
Turkey as a world power
Nationalism is a long-standing element of Turkish politics and one of the cornerstones of the ideology established by the founder of the republic, Kemal Mustafa Atatürk. The influx of refugees in the last decade, which briefly made Turkey the country with the largest number of refugees in the world, together with the change in the electoral law, provided an unprecedented rise of nationalist parties. This will probably affect the shape of Turkish foreign policy in the coming years.
Turkish nationalism, based on the idea of Turkish exceptionalism, began to be associated with Turkish Islamism from the 1980s. However, only since 2015 has nationalism become omnipresent on television screens and in newspapers, and today it fundamentally defines Turkish politics.
It is part of the political project of President Erdoğan, who constantly attacks the emotions of the citizens and calls for the restoration of the lost glory of the Ottoman Empire in the new imperial Turkey. He points out, for example, Turkey’s former importance in international relations and its ability to stand up to a world power. The peculiar foreign and security policy in Erdoğan’s administration is supposed to guarantee the return of Turkey as a power of world importance.
According to him, the twentieth century was a time of servitude and humiliation. In the twenty-first century, under his leadership, Turkey and the Turks are to return to their dignity and place among the great powers: it is said that the “Turkish century” is coming. In the new imperial project, the primary appeal is to national identity, which, as a result of a deep economic crisis and a strong immigration refugee wave, is becoming one of the key sources of self-awareness and self-esteem for many Turkish citizens.
Erdoğan’s grandiose projects, such as the third bridge over the Bosphorus, the new Istanbul airport or the planned Istanbul Canal connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, as well as hundreds of kilometers of new highways, new hospitals, universities and business complexes are meant to symbolize Turkey’s greatness. Demonstrations of advanced technology are intended to create a feeling that Turkey is the center of the technology of the future.
Emphasis on own arms industry with a reduction in dependence on the West is a key part of the strategy. After all, this direction was proclaimed by both presidential candidates — in their speeches they advocated the so-called Turkish path, which is neither an alliance with Russia nor with the West. It is supposed to be a unique pragmatic policy that will primarily defend Turkish interests and only create alliances based on them in specific cases.
After the elections, the country’s poor economic situation remains a significant problem, which will lead the Turkish president to deepen special relations with Russian President Putin. Erdoğan describes them as the reason why he was able to negotiate an agreement on grain, or the release of some Ukrainian military prisoners. He would very much like Turkey to play a key role in the peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, thereby sealing his grandiosity.
Arms deliveries to Ukraine, on the other hand, are a strong advertisement for the fledgling arms industry and partially dampen criticism that Turkey has not joined Western sanctions. However, the Turkish president is increasingly economically dependent on Russia, which corresponds to the classic Russian strategy of subduing neighboring countries. Russian-Turkish trade already reaches sixty-two billion dollars annually.
Putin delayed Turkey’s gas payments ahead of the election and may broker a deal between Turkey and Syria needed to resettle the promised one million Syrian refugees in northern Syria. The reward for Putin was Erdoğan’s declaration that Turkey would not join Western sanctions. And above all, the victory of the candidate who calls Putin a friend, while Erdoğan’s rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu had a significantly more critical attitude towards Russia.
Erdoğan will remain the president of Turkey, he also won the second round
The question is how the Turkish president will manage to solve economic, institutional, social, infrastructural and other problems. Some Turkish independent journalists call his victory Pyrrhic.
Before and during the election, Erdoğan bombarded the public with hateful, discriminatory and offensive language and emphasized the need for a strong leader. However, he is not proficient in day-to-day management and at the same time is unable to nurture his followers. Every one of his candidates he has ever fielded has lost — most recently in the 2019 municipal elections.
However, Erdoğan is a very good rhetorician and can unite people around even mythical elements of Turkish identity. However, it cannot offer solutions to the complex problems of the Turkish economy and society, so it will have to continue to target impressions and feelings. As a result, society suffers wherever cooperation is needed. Not only art lags behind, but also education and the development of new technologies.
This is also why the municipal elections in 2024 will be crucial for the fate of Turkey. If the opposition succeeds in winning more municipalities, it can better counter the huge state machinery that supports the status quo. For this, the opposition will have to understand that it can only strengthen at the local level and retain the big cities like Ankara and Istanbul with a change in the leadership of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a strong and well-prepared contact campaign.
Source: Deník referendum by denikreferendum.cz.
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