Compromise and confrontation
How will historians write the long, occasionally progressive, rarely peaceful, often regressive and definitely always traumatic journey Turkey has travelled under Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments? In 20 years’ time, will the Turkish society of that time consider the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan years of Turkey as a period when a huge conservative transformation of society was systematically achieved? Will this period be remembered for a grotesque palace and gigantic projects? Or, will it be remembered as a period of oppression, repression, tyranny and cruelty liberally applied against free thought, democratic norms, rights and liberties?
No… No one has died and this is neither an obituary for the absolute ruler, his comrades in arms or “his” AKP.
The AKP governing mentality, or the Erdoğan style of governance, must be examined well at universities in not only Turkey. What were the similarities, differences, commonalities, divergences, convergences and, of course, contradictions with methods of some other forms of governments that the world has experienced in previous centuries, particularly in the last one. The Italian example, the German one, the bitter Russian experience, how crisis management worked during the war years, what great efforts were spent to rebuild Europe after an almost perfect catastrophe – all of these need to be compared.
Everyone tends to forget why, for example, the European Union was established. Right, it was a coal and steel pact at the beginning. The French-German brigade formed at the very early years of the long and winding road that carried Europe to a union was perhaps considered an exaggerated and officious undertaking at the time. Yet, it was with such aloof undertakings that the trauma of the previous decades was successfully left behind and a new Europe was created.
Cohabitation, accepting and respecting the differences, tolerating what was “different” or “alien” and embracing commonalities. Among many other things, these were the landmarks that enabled the European Union to reach this day. Of course, it is still deficient, full of problems and is perhaps a bit chaotic when it comes to decision making and devising common policies and strategies. All through its existence, the European project encountered many problems and each time, it successfully exited the crisis by further cementing its institutionalization. When Europe was hit by a crisis, be it the last economic/financial crisis in the Mediterranean basin countries or the political ones triggered with the French and the Dutch in 2005 or the one produced by the Irish “no” vote to the “Nice Constitution” reform of 2008, the old continent has managed to achieve a bright, progressive and always inclusive way out each time.
In the culture of compromise, there is give and take. It was not easy for Europe to acquire that culture. European history was not one of comfort, tranquility and peaceful coexistence either. The Dark Ages of the Inquisition. The Renaissance, the Enlightenment. A huge accumulation of global culture through colonial experience – which by the way was not that bright for those people colonized. Two world wars, in addition to numerous bilateral and multilateral conflicts. Europe managed to emerge from all that with the European project. That is why when discussing a possible Brexit, wise British politicians are warning that such a development might jeopardize European peace. They are indeed right.
But what’s the relevance of the AKP, Erdoğan and their governing style with the story of progress of the European Union train?
There is a mental, sentimental, emotional and physical difference that condemns Turkey to the role of a bridge between east and west, Africa, Asia and Europe. Being a bridge is a very difficult role; people keep walking over you, and irrespective of how much one might boast about being a bridge, a bridge is just a bridge that is not part of anything. It all creates a permanent identity crisis.
It is difficult to understand the mentality of confrontation with the compromise approach. If a political elite has made it a habit to nourish itself from confrontation and polarization of all sorts, developing compromises might be understood as “giving in” or “stepping back.” Whereas, in compromise culture, there can be no stepping back or giving in, but achieving “win-win” ends results through mutual compromise.
The reform of Article 5 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, one of 72 conditions Turkey must undertake to get visa-free travel to Europe and 6 billion euros in exchange for harboring millions of refugees from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere from the East was a win-win compromise deal. Europe believed it was high time to prod Turkey to undertake a key reform that it has been avoiding despite all pressure ever since that contentious article entered into the country’s criminal law.
Europe hoped Turkey would not kill a landmark deal because of such a “small” detail. They were wrong. The mentality of “all mine, but only mine” could not agree to narrow the definition of “terrorism” and “terrorist” and give critics a breath of air…
Will Erdoğan be called a dictator? That is irrelevant. The question must be, can Turkey and EU leave behind this standoff with a compromise approach? Well after 200 years of history, perhaps there are segments in Turkey’s government that went beyond being just a bridge and might come out with some magical formula. But am I hopeful? Unfortunately not.