Does the Turkish electorate lean toward nationalism?

Published 02.11.2018 23:16

As Turkey heads to local elections, the prospective electoral behavior of the nationalist constituency constitutes one of the main topics of discussion. In Turkey, there exist two kinds of nationalism, Turkish nationalism and Kurdish nationalism. Although Kurdish nationalists consider themselves "democratic socialists" or "Marxists-Leninists," their policies are nothing but separatist and ethnic in nature.

In the last century of the Ottoman Empire, Yusuf Akçura famously summarized the main policies of the Ottoman State as three types: Western, nationalist and Islamist. These three categories of policies have always coexisted in Turkish politics; yet, how they have intersected, and which have predominated at certain points in history have varied greatly.

Today, Western democracy is grappling with escalating racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. Considering that German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler emerged in a similar climate of discrimination, the rise of extremely racist political parties in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and France raises alarms for the future of Continental Europe. In fact, right before elections in Europe, Western politicians always play up anti-Turkish sentiments of extremely nationalist and racist voters by targeting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in particular.

The fact is Europe has a long history of racism. For Christian Europeans, not only Muslims, but also Jews, have always been the "others." For hundreds of years, the Jewish community had to live in the ghettos of the most prosperous cities in Europe; therefore, rising xenophobia and Islamophobia in European countries could easily swing toward anti-Semitism. Historically in Europe, anti-Semitism has always been a reality, and the expansion of xenophobia in the vast majority of the public could easily spin out of control.

To determine whether the rise of racism and xenophobia in Europe could influence Turkish politics adversely, we need to examine the rising current of nationalism in Turkey. It is widely known that Turkish politics mainly rely on the balance between right- and left-wing political parties. Seventy percent of the Turkish electorate consider themselves right-wing, while the remaining 30 percent lean toward the left. However, the Turkish political spectrum, ranging from Kemalists to Islamists and from nationalists to conservatives, is far too complex to be defined by a black-and-white division.

In Turkey, nationalist electors consider themselves right-wing, with electoral support for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) fluctuating from 10 percent to 18 percent in the last decade. In fact, voters who support right and left political parties often prefer the MHP as their back-up party. Recently, a new nationalist political party, the Good Party (İP), which emerged from within the MHP, succeeded in taking 10 percent of the total vote. If we consider the fact that the sum of the votes of these two national and conservative political parties reached 20 percent, we must ask the question of if nationalism is on the rise in Turkey. Since the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) represents Kurdish nationalism, we need to consider whether a rise of nationalism would lead to discrimination and racism in Turkey.

Erdoğan has long been one of the most influential political actors in the international arena thanks to his conscientious consideration of world politics. Detecting the danger that was hidden in the rising separatist demands in Europe, which first appeared in the Basque Country, Erdogan has adopted policies and discourse that have strengthen the nation-state structure. While European countries have begun to fortify their own nation-state structures, the new administration of the United States has adopted a new nationalist perspective that mainly overlooks the power of international organizations.

In Turkey, nationalism refers to showing due respect toward the national values, history, culture, religion and customs of the country. Instead of being totally dependent upon Western states, the national policy refers to prioritizing Turkey's national interests and independence. In the post-Cold War era, Turkey has been a pioneer in pursuing its own national interests instead of the interests of one hegemonic bloc. MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli has adopted such a national stance by situating his political party close to the center of Turkish politics.

Contrary to European politics, Turkish nationalism has never relied on racist and xenophobic dictums and principles; instead, Turkish nationalism refers to a commitment to the country, history, people and the state. In this respect, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has itself been a nationalist political party whose long-standing political power concluded with the rise of national votes.

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