segunda-feira, 26 de dezembro de 2016
Erdoğan, the new Atatürk
Erdoğan, the new Atatürk
A nearly century-old reverence for the father of modern Turkey is being replaced by a doctrine shaped by and centered on its president.
By ZIA WEISE 12/26/16, 5:34 AM CET Updated 12/26/16, 9:06 AM CET
ISTANBUL — At the beginning of December, Turkey’s president felt compelled to shift the focus of his speeches from the near-daily diatribes against political opponents, critics and terror to the economy. The Turkish lira, already unsteady after a year of domestic turmoil, was hitting a new record low every day.
The reasons for the national currency’s decline are not difficult to grasp: months of bombings, an attempted coup d’état, friction with the European Union and worsening repression have sent Turkey’s economy spiraling downward. After Donald Trump won the U.S. election, badly affecting emerging markets, the lira fared worse than even the Mexican peso.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, had a different view. “Someone,” he declared, “is trying to force this country to its knees by economic sabotage.” With the president’s words, the economic troubles became entangled in the narrative the government had pushed since this summer’s coup attempt — that shadowy powers were conspiring to bring Turkey down.
It’s such often bellicose rhetoric that has further raised investors’ doubt and European unease over Turkey. But much of it is intended for domestic consumption only: This tale of a nation under attack from sinister outside forces — be they terrorists, coup-plotters or the often-invoked “interest rate lobby” — casts Erdoğan as the only leader capable of defending Turkey, cementing his power.
This narrative also serves as the backbone to a dramatic shift in Ankara, helping replace Turkey’s century-old official ideology — Kemalism, named after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern republic — with an ideology shaped by and centered on Erdoğan.
“Kemalism was a guideline for the whole nation, as it was put. That era has, by and large, ended. People still give lip service to Atatürk. But the hegemony of Kemalism has ended,” said Turkish author and columnist Mustafa Akyol. “It’s being replaced by Erdoğanism.”
The face of Mustafa Kemal, whose honorific “Atatürk” translates to “father of the Turks,” adorns coins and lira notes, homes and offices, schools and public squares; it’s illegal to insult his memory. He defined the modern Turkish nation as secular and Westernised, abolishing the caliphate and replacing the Arabic alphabet with Latin letters, among a series of sweeping reforms.
Erdoğan has long held ambitions to supplant Atatürk as the country’s most revered leader, distancing himself from the founder’s ideals and emphasizing Turkey’s Ottoman and Islamic heritage over its more recent secular history.
“The national mythos that’s been created since July 15 is that this is the second war of independence. Erdoğan, Turkey, it’s merged into this national mythology” — Asli Aydintasbas
Erdoğan, too, made consequential reforms over the years — transforming the economy, reducing the power of the military, granting long-denied political and cultural rights to the Kurdish minority — but his narrative lacked a founding myth that Turks could rally behind, a grand victory akin to Atatürk’s successful war of independence.
This changed on July 15 when Turks marched against tanks and defeated a military coup. The attempted putsch, Erdoğan seemed to understand, was “a gift from God,” the symbol-laden victory that would allow him to reshape the country.
The coup became a unifying force, at least before the sweeping sackings and arrests of regime opponents soured the mood. The images of flags, tanks, and martyrs were plastered across the pro- and anti-government media for weeks, the nation mourning its dead and celebrating the coup’s failure. Even the opposition rallied behind Erdoğan’s democratically-elected government.
“The national mythos that’s been created since July 15 is that this is the second war of independence,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Erdoğan, his survival, the expansion of Turkey, the independence of Turkey — it’s merged into this national mythology.”
It’s the narrative that had been missing from Erdoğan’s ambitions for a “New Turkey,” his vision for a prosperous country with him as its executive president. Along with the notion of a “war of independence,” the Erdoğan ideology shares another strong similarity with Kemalism — its strong cult of personality.
There the similarities end. While Atatürk westernized Turkish society, Erdoğan views the West and its socio-economic order with suspicion. Erdoğan encourages Ottoman nostalgia, which Atatürk despised. And unlike Atatürk, who presided over a one-party system, Erdoğan does see his state as a multi-party democracy — albeit one without independent institutions, where winning the vote is all that’s needed to rule.
Islamism is a strong factor, too. The Kemalists, Turkey’s secular elite, long repressed overt expression of religion, for instance banning the wearing of religious insignia in public and forbidding headscarved women from entering universities. Erdoğan, who was briefly imprisoned in 1999 for reciting an Islamic poem, not only gave a voice to the country’s pious citizens when he came to power; he turned the tables and made them the ruling elite.
But besides the Islamic element, the Erdoğan ideology is not unique. “This idea of a strong leader taking the support of people who weren’t traditionally at the center of power, dethroning the elite, establishing control, making himself the embodiment of the nation — you see that elsewhere,” Akyol, the Turkish columnist, said. “It’s mainly a story of populism.”
“Erdoğan’s Achilles heel is the economy” — Mustafa Akyol
And it’s popular in Turkey. After the coup, Erdoğan’s popularity level soared to new heights; he’s now confident that if a referendum on whether to establish an executive presidency and extend his powers is held soon, he would win comfortably. This month, the government put forward a proposal for a new constitution and suggested a plebiscite could be held the coming summer.
But the rhetoric has its side effects. For one, Erdoğan’s Ottoman nostalgia and disdain for the current world order occasionally takes on an aggressive nature: his laments about being forced to give up Ottoman lands have enraged neighbors like Greece and Iraq.
Investors aren’t impressed, either: Each time Erdoğan blames outside forces or high interest rates, the lira tumbles a little further. This tumultuous year may have raised the president to Atatürk-like levels in the minds of many Turks, but the floundering economy threatens Erdoğan’s success and possibly hold on power.
“Erdoğan’s popularity rests on several pillars — his ideology and Islam, but also because he raised the life standards of the ordinary Turk,” Akyol said. “His Achilles heel is the economy.”