The difference between Erdoğan and Putin

Published 03.01.2015 01:18
Updated 04.01.2015 12:08

Russian President Vladimir Putin's latest visit to Turkey created a new opportunity for those who see making Putin-Erdoğan comparisons as an intellectual activity. The asserted resemblances are numerous on the surface. They are both of the same age, they have both been in government for quite a while and are regarded as absolute rulers of political power and have been accused of limiting the freedom of the press with their power, along with many others. More ideological analyses underline that both leaders combine nationalism with conservatism, adopt a sharp stance against the West and endeavor to instill a new self-confidence into society. Also, there is over-expanding literature arguing that they are both conspirators. All in all, there is a public opinion ridiculing the mistakes they make and having contempt for these two actors on the global stage, who are hard to "restrain."

It should be noted that most of the evaluations and analyses on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are so superficial that one must keep in mind that the observations and evaluations regarding Putin might not be true if this is the depth of their analyses. For this reason, it would be useful to lay the Russian leader aside and scrutinize first how healthy the perspective on Erdoğan is. An ordinary Western man following the media will probably think that Erdoğan rules Turkey with an iron fist, no steps can be taken or no news stories or commentaries can be released without his consent.

But this assumption hardly ever corresponds to reality. Erdoğan's current effect on the government only covers a general perspective, which is already shared with the government in terms of foreign politics and fundamental choices. Consequently, he does not have any influence on the strategies and steps practiced by the government in any field. Additionally, the government does not have such a problem of "consultation" except for the weekly information exchange routine. Turkey now has the most pluralist public sphere in decades and there has not been any other period in the country's history when the freedom of thought has been so expanded. However, this does not mean that the political actors do not endeavor to influence this sphere and Erdoğan has both facilities and persuasiveness in this sense.

Without a true diagnosis of Turkey's political atmosphere, it would be hard to understand Erdoğan's attitude and why he is so successful. This is an atmosphere of conflict. Our main concern is the successive tsunami created by the fact that some circles still cannot accept that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is the ruling power. It is true that this situation favored the AK Party and the party gradually learned to use this polarization in its favor. Erdoğan unarguably stood out as the most influential actor of this tension politics and each threat reinforced his leadership qualities and his legitimacy. The Islamic base actually accepts this "authoritarian" feature of Erdoğan to a certain extent according to its functionality in this conflict. It is possible to say that no one dreams of such a leader as politics become normalized and, to your surprise, Erdoğan himself does not have such a dream.

Erdoğan and Putin are the successors of two great empires that saw themselves as superior to the West, but were still defeated. They are both on a quest for self-confidence and a "personality" for their people that will lead them to take genuine pride in themselves. The main reason for the popularity of these two leaders lies behind their ability to address this specific psychology and to display a solid and strong stance against the West, which is unavoidably accepted by the West.

However, there is also a critical difference between the two leaders and this difference can be said to favor Erdoğan. Putin was an officer in the KGB during the Soviet period while Erdoğan was the representative of an ideological detachment, a movement from the periphery to the center. Putin has a different image of the status quo while Erdoğan is the symbol of the status quo's defeat.

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