The parallel rises of political conservatism in Europe and Turkey were the subject of a three-day student forum at İstanbul’s Boğaziçi University.
|Entitled “New Conservatism and the Right on the Turkey-Europe Axis,” the event, sponsored by the university’s Center for European Studies Student Forum, began with two panel discussions featuring academics and journalists on Friday. The audience, comprised of students from various Turkish universities, engaged in a lively question-and-answer session with the panel speakers, while workshops were scheduled for Saturday. The event draws to a close today.
Center for European Studies Director Hakan Yılmaz opened the forum on Friday, centering his remarks on a research project the university completed in the summer on how Turkey is viewed in the European Union, which it aspires to join. The project was commissioned by the center to probe attitudes about Turkey in five EU nations: France, Germany, Poland, Spain and England. The first comprehensive academic project of its kind, the analysis of the results bears important implications for Turkey’s EU bid.
According to Yılmaz, opposition or support for Turkey’s EU bid among the European public, based on the countries polled, was correlated with generational group more than any other factor, including gender and education. While 85 percent of those aged 18-24 support Turkish entry to the EU, this drops for ages 25-36, while opposition to Turkish EU membership is significantly higher among people above age 40, with 60 percent those surveyed above age 60 opposing the nation’s accession. Emphasizing the implications of these findings in terms of the necessity for EU and Turkish youth to form lasting ties — as these are the ones that will matter most in the future — Yılmaz moved on to another interesting point.
Asking the forum audience what they thought respondents in the study said when asked to define the most basic component of European identity, many Turks in the audience named Christianity — not a surprise given the oft-expressed view in Turkey that Europeans want the EU to remain a so-called Christian club. As Yılmaz explained, though, this is not the case — the overwhelming majority of Europeans polled named democracy/human rights as the No. 1 factor of the EU’s identity, followed by economic prosperity. Other components such as Christianity and secularism amounted to less than 2-3 percent each — below the study’s margin of error.Europe judges self on ideals, judges otherized Turkey based on culture
There exists an asymmetry when it comes to Europeans’ self-view and their view of Turkey, Yılmaz said. While ideals such as democracy, human rights and economic prosperity were the way EU citizens viewed themselves, around 40 percent do not view Turkey in this way, but in terms of religion and culture. And this was independent of left-right political orientation and religious-irreligious character on the part of the respondents. “They went from post-Enlightenment [in viewing themselves] to pre-Enlightenment [in viewing Turks],” Yılmaz said, noting that amongst members of the right and center-right, 80-90 percent of people looked at Turkey in terms of culture, a critical factor considering the rise of conservative politics in Europe.
New or neo-conservatism in Europe and in Turkey was the topic of the panel discussions that followed Yılmaz’s talk. The first panel featured Koç University faculty member Murat Somer, Sabancı University faculty member Ali Çarkoğlu and Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş. Somer began the discussion by presenting a range of data on conservative attitudes on an array of topics in both the “religious” and “secular” media in Turkey and asserted that the “breaking point” between old conservatism and neo-conservatism in Turkey was the Feb. 28 period. Continuing the conversation, Çarkoğlu held that when the left in Turkey was virtually destroyed with the 1980 coup, this paired with rapid change in terms of industrialization and urbanization led to uncertainty in the public, which led to fear of the future and therefore a reaction that emphasized clinging to known traditions and conventions — the beginning of neo-conservatism — he asserted. For his part, Keneş contended that conservatism was not necessarily an ideology per se, but rather a set of attitudes. He emphasized that with regard to the evolution of the attitudes of those engaging in conservative politics in Turkey, the ‘80 coup was important in teaching those segments what it meant to be a victim.
The second panel featured Strasbourg University faculty member Samim Akgönül, Boğaziçi University faculty member Murat Akan and Today’s Zaman columnist Andrew Finkel. The session focused on neo-conservatism and Europe and Turkey viewed in this conservative perspective, the inverse of the previous session’s topic. Akgönül began the discussion by emphasizing the variety of conservative approaches at play in Europe, noting that some of those conservatives who can be classed as anti-Turkey view this nation just as they view Europe itself. He asserted that many conservatives have at the root of their conservatism the reaction to the sandwiching of the nation-state between new pressures, both from above (such as EU legislation that overrules national laws) and from below (such as immigrants demanding rights). The same conservatives that oppose Turkey joining the EU can also be anti-EU to begin with, he said.
Importantly, Akgönül noted a loop of increasing conservatism with regard to Turkey and Europe. European conservative reactions to Turkey increase conservative reactions in Turkey on one hand, while on the other increasing conservative reactions of those with ancestral ties to Turkey who live in Europe — which feeds back into the same loop. For his part, Akan said that when questioning the direction of integration with Europe the issue needs to be examined more critically from a perspective of “Is there disintegration within Europe?” highlighting a number of focal issues being grappled with by Muslim minorities inside Europe. Finkel ended the discussion, noting that since the dissolution of clear lines between the Turkish left and the Turkish right, it’s been increasingly difficult for Europeans to understand which party is what in Turkey, as parties such as the Republican People’s Party (CHP) aren’t leftists by any means, while those who desire to categorize the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) as far-right run into a wall when it comes to classifying groups such as the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). “What you see isn’t what you get,” Finkel said.
|ROBERTA DAVENPORT İSTANBUL|