New Republic

New Republic

You don’t have to be a political scientist to see that Turkey is redefining the republic. No doubt, in this redefining, a different envisagement, more precisely, a different worldview is prevalent compared to the envisagement that marked its foundation. This new definition also questions the values of the republic at its founding stage. There is no harm in this, as we are living in a more democratic period and as we have long since come out of the context that added meaning to the project of the 1920s.

There are serious differences of opinion and contrasting preferences on what should be the principles of the republic. However, this does not prevent it from experiencing a serious and deep continuity in the behavioral patterns of the state, its mentality and its understanding of law. This continuity stands out, by far, in the distancing of the entire elite of the republican period from a democratic governance mentality respecting the principles of rule of law.

The despotism that prevails in the mentality of almost all sides in politics in Turkey causes, in almost every matter, a stubbornness or vengefulness to come forth. It cannot be fully grasped that there is not much of a difference between criticizing, and rejecting and denying the joint history; as the name implies, it is joint. In this case, instead of facing history, settling accounts politically comes to the forefront. It becomes difficult to analyze history in a healthy way and shape the future by benefiting from it.

The political cadre ruling today comes from an ideological line that does not accept the framework of the ideas of the founders of the republic. Hence, they cannot stop themselves from struggling with it.

This struggle prevents an evaluation of the republic objectively in its own circumstances. In the final analysis, despite its faults and sins, the republic also allowed them to come to power, people who actually set out by rejecting it.

When we look back from today, I believe that the republic - with plenty of flaws and sins - should nevertheless be accepted as a successful project. It is successful in this sense: The cadre belonging to the last period of the Ottoman Empire, in the colonial period, were able to read global equilibriums exceptionally well and were able to found an independent and sovereign state. At that time, there was no precedent to this success story in this region or anywhere else.

In addition, the foreign policy of the founding period enabled this new and fragile state to become a respectable actor taken seriously in the world system. Turkish foreign policy was able to pursue a skilled diplomacy both in the power struggles in the Mediterranean and in the Balkans. The country’s strengths and weaknesses were correctly assessed; the state of affairs in the world (more precisely in Europe) was read with a realistic point of view. As a result, Hatay was able to be annexed to the new republic without the firing of a single bullet. Those who are responsible for conducting foreign policy today have a lot to learn from that period.

It is plainly obvious that as the new republic is being formed the country is becoming increasingly tense. More and more, the common denominators of society are disappearing; the polarization is reaching such a level as to shake the social equilibrium. In this trend, the share of reading the past through today’s political polarization is huge. However, a factor just as effective as this one is the lack of a policy in this society that defends and truly believes in the rule of law, respects individual rights, and one that does not seek to impose its own absolute values.

In short, it is the weakness of beliefs in a modern democratic structure. If this cannot be overcome in the next 10 years, then it will not be possible to talk about the success of the republic.

*Soli Özel is a columnist for daily Habertürk in which this piece was published on Oct. 30. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.