Intellectuals and Europe
Europe represents a slippery and elusive object of desire for
Turkey, but Turkish intellectuals are wondering whether it might not
be best to define Europe before beginning to covet it.
The modernisation of Turkey was meant to take the institutional form
of a triangle, with the army at the apex, supported by a secular
administration, and all resting on a broad base of progressive
intellectuals. Yet this modernisation has consistently found itself
caught between two contradictory impulses. On the one side, there is
the vessel of the State, sailing Turkey Westwards into a kind of
"Europeanised" development - that is, national, secular and
positivist. And on the other side, there is the concept of "social
progress", acting as an anchor in the East - the guarantee of
national independence in the face of Western imperial encroachment.
Although during the course of several coups dÉtat, the
intellectuals have been expelled from this progressive triangle, the
original problem has not disappeared. It cuts a perpendicular line
across society and touches every perspective. And it is never so
striking as when the attention centres on Europe - a frequent focal
point in Turkish intellectual and political debate.
The beginning of negotiations for accession to the European Union,
which it is hoped will take place in spring 2005, would conclude the
long march instigated by Atatürk, the father of the Republic. It
could even be seen as the culmination of the thousand-year-old
migration of the Turkish people westwards. These negotiations are
therefore endowed with a very strong symbolic significance. In the
words of Ismet Berkan, the editor of the daily newspaper Radikal,
'Turkey is experiencing the most crucial eighteen months of its
history. I can only compare it to the period of the negotiation of
the Lausanne Treaty in 1923' (15/07/03).
The silent coup d'État
These circumstances are causing the re-emergence of the imperialist
question. Fast-approaching deadlines and the acceleration of reforms
demanded by Brussels reinforce the assumptions of that school of
thought which sees globalisation, of which the EU is simply one
symptom, as a threat to national independence.
Erol Manisali is a figurehead of this movement. Professor of
economics in Istanbul, and columnist for the daily newspaper
Cumhuriyet (The Republic), he has won renown defending his theory of
a 'silent coup d'État' orchestrated both by the EU since 1995 and by
the signing of the customs union with Turkey.
'To enter or not to enter? They keep the debates about the EU going
by trying to make us count rhinoceroses, Ionesco-style. The signing
of the customs union agreement is nothing less than an act of
colonisation. The recognition of Turkey's status as a candidate
country in 1999 was simply a decoy designed to bind our country more
tightly to the European Union.'
Mümtaz Soysal, adviser to the Cypriot-Turk President, and Attila
Ilhan, author and journalist, take the same tone: it is equally
prevalent on the right and on the left, revealing a significant
minority of nationalist persuasion. The idea of a conspiracy is
never far off. Suspicion is naturally amplified by ambiguous
political attitudes in Brussels, coupled with stalling tactics. It
is also exacerbated by the strategic absences of an EU which
considers its enlargement less as a political act than as a natural
process driven by issues of identity.
At a time when Bush's clique is deciding to destroy the world
security structure, the Commission in Brussels believes that it can
console its closest neighbours with the small rewards of prosperity
and freedom of movement. This is an attitude that speaks volumes
about the delicate situation currently faced by the EU. A diagnosis
of schizophrenia is not far from being accurate.' This is what Ahmet
Insed wrote on the 23rd of March this year in reaction to Prodi and
Patten's proposal regarding the idea of a circle of countries
friendly to the Union. 'While dreaming of a buffer circle of
friendly countries intended to preserve it from barbarians, perhaps
the EU will wake up one day surrounded by those other barbarians
with civilised faces from the extreme West'
A lecturer at Paris I university as well as at the Istanbul
Galatasaray university, Ahmet Insel contributes to the magazine
entitled Birikim, and runs the Iletisim publishing house.
Specialising in questioning contemporary economic dogma (Mustafa
Sönmez, Korkut Boratav) and in the analysis of new forms of
domination, this laboratory of the new left, allergic to ideological
reflexes, represents an intellectual point of reference in Turkey.
Considered to be the driving force behind Turkish democratisation,
the EU does not escape their scrutiny.
Oral Calislar, an intimate friend of Yachar Kemal, is an author and
columnist for the Cumhuriyet newspaper. He defends the converging
positions, and last March, wrote:
'Turkish leaders have only ever made use of the gap between the EU
and the United States in the context of narrow, short term political
calculations. They have never thought that it could become a
strategically important difference. That is why the process of
joining the EU has always been warped in Turkey: the general
mentality which decides the destiny of this country has never been
capable of assimilating European democratic values'.
Popular opinion about Europe is hazy and ill defined, with no
precise conception the implications of joining the EU. There is the
accepted idea of a kind of schizophrenia, according to which
'Brussels stands for prosperity and Washington, security' (Ahmet
Insel). This is a consensus of opinion shared in financial circles,
liberals united by moderate Islamists whose political party, the AKP
(Justice and Development Party), is currently in power.
The European torpor described by Ahmet Insel and the haziness of the
Turkish consensus on Europe evoked by Oral Calislar are simply two
sides of the same phenomenon. This popular opinion is European just
as much as it is Turkish.
The Turkish challenge will only be taken up in the context of
building Europe strategically, politically and socially.
Europe represents an opportunity for Turkey, and vice versa.
Turkey's accession must take on a significance other than that of
the extension of the common market if this opportunity is not to be
lost both for Turkey, condemned to a 'silent coup d'État', and for
Europe, heading towards the dilution predicted by Washington, an
ardent supporter of Turkey's candidature for the EU.
The Eastern Question
This intellectual left, which campaigns for strong EU integration,
once more comes up against the imperialist question of origins.
Rather than perceiving the consequence as a struggle for
independence, it considers the different aspects of the issue,
orientalism according to Edward Saïd, and a united, progressive
concept of identity, on a European level.
'The stance taken by Mr Giscard D'Estaing against Turkey's entry
into the EU, for reasons linked to the question of identity, has
compelled pro-Europeans, who are against such a culturalist
position, to support Turkey', states Ahmet Insel.
'Orientalism is learning born of strength', maintains Edward Saïd.
That is, learning which keeps opinion in shackles.
'This kind of reasoning, which argues, "You belong to the third
world just as you belong to Islam. Your system isn't perfect but it
is the best you can hope for", is no longer prevalent among many
intellectuals but still represents a pervasive vision of the world.
If, however, somebody (ie the EU) asks us to rethink our democracy
and to bring it in line with some general criteria, then it is a
sign that we are being taken seriously. It signals the end of
contempt for the East' writes Murat Belge, a journalist and essayist
published by Iletisim. (4/07/03)
The strategy of the Turkish left is this: to defeat the strength of
orientalist learning, not through rearguard struggles against
imperialist forces, but by breaking the inner mechanism through
unique representation of identity and the idea of natural, necessary
development. Destroying the myths surrounding the left as well as
the right, it is pursuing a third, inevitably European, way, between
withdrawal and introversion on one side and total uniformisation on
the other. This strategy brings to mind the compromise once sought
by Atatürk between capitalism and communism.
François Skvor - Istanbul - 20.2.2004 |
Translation : Karen Kovacs