CHP should learn from AKP and come up with its own story

CHP should learn from AKP and come up with its own story

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
CHP should learn from AKP and come up with its own story

Secularists in Turkey have a love-hate relationship with the West, says Osman Ulagay, talking to the Daily News’ Barçın Yinanç about his recent book ‘To Whom Turkey Will Be Left.’ DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

The opposition Republican’s People Party (CHP) should draw lessons from the success story of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP), said veteran Journalist Osman Ulagay. A new story is needed as an alternative to AKP, whose plans for Turkey’s future are worrisome, according to Ulagay, who recently gave an interview to Daily News regarding his recent book “To whom Turkey will be left.”

Q: You claim that AKP has a story. What is it that makes this story so attractive?

A: It is a story that fits well to the times it was born. There is only a month between the formation of AKP and Sept. 11. I don’t seek a conspiracy theory behind it but I find this coincidence interesting. AKP comes fore at a time all the political parties that have been ruling Turkey since the 1980’s had come to the point of bankruptcy. The political movement with religious reference comes to the point of making a jump. AKP drew lessons from the mistake of previous parties with religious references that were closed. There was tremendous effort within AKP to comprehend the expectations of the society through opinion polls. With an economic and politic bankruptcy in the background, they adequately analyzed the need for a new approach and came with a story.

This is a story that overlaps well with the international environment. A new enemy was found following Sept 11; fundamental Islam. Yet there emerges a party in a country which is very important in the Islamic world that is different than fundamentalists and looks towards the west.

This whole phenomenon coincides with the rise of emerging markets like Turkey where there is a big increase in capital flow.

Q: AKP was also successful in implementing its story.

A: The success as to the results of the story in the implementation increases the strength of the story. There were great efforts to have economic gains to spread out to grass roots. Developments in the health sector, housing and education were very important for certain segments of the society. There comes also the contribution of the Gülen community that complements the AKP government. While services were brought to the grass roots, this was done through a mechanism that created a profit for those taking the service to the grass roots.

Q: What makes you worried about this story since you claim in the book that you are frightened?

A: There is a distinction of “us and them,” that has become very apparent since 2010. There is a rhetoric that totally excludes the segment that is seen as “them.” As a person that has appreciated many policies of AKP, there are more things that I disagree than I agree about the final destination that the prime minister wants to take Turkey.

But I am more concerned about the implications of this “Us and them” attitude in the society. It is a fact that Turkey has made a big leap forward and it is counted among countries that will play an important role in the world’s future. Turkey needs to use all its accumulation to use that opportunity. But that will be difficult with this discriminatory rhetoric.

This discriminatory attitude is reflected in all spheres of life, we see it in the recruitment for bureaucratic cadres, we see it in their approach to private sector, in the administration of educational institution and recently they are now acting to establish their own hegemony in the culture sector.

Q: You also claim AKP has a big dream and this dream diverges from what the picture of Turkey the founders of the republic have imagined.

A: The starting point there is the conviction that a model that did not converge with the past, traditions and aspirations of the society was imposed upon people after 1923. Those with that big dream believe that the development model of the West that was taken by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) because there was nothing else does not converge with the aspirations of the society. Their dream is to change the model that takes West at its gist and have a governance that represents people with its past, traditions and religious identities. I don’t claim that they want to apply shariat regime similar to that in the Arab countries. They are after a conservative way of life that reflects the influence of Islamic civilization.

Q: What is your worry of that big dream, since you claim that Turkey should no longer stick to the model dating from the early republican days?

A: I am worried that prime minister refuses anything that goes against his rhetoric. I’d like to hear a more universal rhetoric. I also find that the rhetoric that the West tried to impose on the world has been eroded and that the West needs to question its own rhetoric. AKP’s approach that we should not consider the West’s rhetoric as the right one and take it as a model is right. But AKP’s rhetoric that is based essentially on Islamic civilization is too traditionalist, too conservationist. In a way, just as Turkish (folk) music was looked down on in the (early days) of Republican Turkey, now there is an approach that looks down on classic music and ballet. May be in the future those thinking of being a ballet dancer might have to think twice. Turkey needs an approach that should not be limited by a uniform view, based on one civilization approach.

Q: You are also critical of AKP’s opponents criticizing them of sticking to too much to the symbols of the early republican symbols.

A: AKP’s example shows that it is possible to come up with a new initiative by reading the need for change and be successful. This success destructs the anti imperialist conviction the left wing has been stuck that Turkey is under the control of the imperialists and that nothing can be done about it. Why can’t the opposition come up with an alternative project?

One of the reasons of this phenomenon takes us back to the early years of the Republic. The elites that assumed the mission of educating and modernizing a society where literacy was 15 percent are not realizing that the circumstances of those times are no longer valid. There is still an educated elite group that feels they are responsible of modernizing the “ignorant people.” When you put the equation like this they feel that they are naturally entitled to govern. As they cannot wake up from that dream, they don’t force themselves to come up with a new alternative.

Q: You talk about the need for a mental jump.

A: The seculars need to make a mental leap to today’s world. They absolutely need to make this transformation in order to be influential in today’s Turkey as a political force. They need to accept that the source to governance comes from winning the society.

There is still to a certain degree this disillusionment that they can impose their own truths to the society. But the game is no longer played like that. They need to find out what the aspirations and potential of the society are, built policy upon it and make it compatible with the world’s circumstances.

Q: In this respect what is your assessment of the CHP?

A: I see the first signs of a new opening that I am longing for. It is certainly a very problematic party. It carries the legacies of the 90 years that we have been talking about. There are still traces among its members of the approach that see itself as the natural owner of the government. But there is a light of hope that the conviction that this is not the right way is gaining ground starting from the leader going down to the young people that started to work in the party.

Q: In a way your criticisms about the secularists are valid for CHP since they constitute the constituency of the CHP.

A: That’s right; CHP did not come up with an alternative story. CHP is only recently getting rid of the complex of seeing itself superior (or above) the people.

Q: What would be your advice to CHP?

A: It needs to draw lessons from AKP’s story and come up with its own story. It can start by adopting reconciliatory rhetoric against AKP’s polarizing and discriminatory rhetoric. I wish CHP’s leader quit from daily exchange of words with AKP and come up with his own rhetoric. It should show that it is CHP that is after real democracy and fight for freedoms not the AKP, which is now in my view prisoner of its authoritarian rhetoric in an irreversible way. It should also come up with concrete proposals on spreading the welfare to all segments of the society which the AKP has been partially successful.

Q: You also claim that seculars have a love and hate relations with the West.

A: As the West has been taken as a model there is an aspiration to be like the West. But there is equally the conviction, “we cannot be like the West; they will never allow us.” And there is this hate coming from this conviction.

Q: But they are the ones who are the most close to the Western values yet they can’t read the codes of West adequately?

A: Yes there’s a paradox here. This is also nurtured by being excluded from the EU. Yet the supporters of AKP have always been s skeptic of the West, so the fact that the West lets Turkey down is only natural in their eyes.



Osman Ulagay graduated from the economics department of İstanbul’s Boğaziçi University. He got his master’s degree from Manchester University, with a thesis on “Kemalism and national development.”

Ulagay began working for daily Cumhuriyet in 1981 as head of its economics section. He contributed to the development of economics journalism through his commentary and interviews. In 1993 he became a columnist for daily Milliyet. He stopped writing his columns in 2010 in reaction to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s criticism of journalists and call to media owners to put pressure on columnists.

Ulagay is the author of 13 books, and received the Sedat Simavi Journalism Award for his book “The fear of globalization and the crisis of 2001.” His most book “Quo Vadis? The two faces of globalization” was published in 2000, and his most recent book “The truth about the AKP and the fiasco of the secular coup” was published in 2008.

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