The new CHP and the ‘zeitgeist’
Twenty-six months ago when Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu replaced Deniz Baykal as the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), there were so many question marks about whether this unknown former bureaucrat could be successful in running the country’s oldest political party. While his opponents in the party tried to knock him down with arguments that he was not loyal to the Kemalist roots of the party, his political rivals were trying to describe him a weak leader who lacked charisma.
In the last two years, however, he has won his in-house struggle against the politburo of the CHP and fully renewed the executive cadres, including Önder Sav. That followed the change in the party’s internal regulation for a more participatory, libertarian party management. The “new CHP” he described is now more open to the youth, to women, and is on the way to becoming a more authentic European sort of social democratic party.
Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the German Social Democrat Party and George Papandreu, head of the Socialist International, underlined the process of transformation at the CHP and expressed their full support for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in messages read out at the CHP’s 34th congress held Tuesday.
Democracy, prosperity, human rights, and the right to access to affordable health services and education are demands not only in Turkey but also in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The Arab Spring has already toppled age-old tyrannies and old-fashioned regimes in North Africa and it is now shaking Turkey’s southern neighbor Syria. Meanwhile, socialist and social democratic parties are rising in Europe, which has been hit by a major economic crisis. Given the fact that social democracy is on rise in our neighborhood, the CHP is now seeking ways to do the same in Turkey.
Among so many other messages Kılıçdaroğlu delivered yesterday, his words on transforming society into an information society was the most attention-grabbing. “Autonomous universities, independent men of science” is the slogan he used, while touching on the fact that Turkey’s record in terms of the human development index remained poor in contrast with its 16th place in the list of world’s largest economies. “Turkey cannot produce own information society unless hurdles in front of the emancipation of the mind have been removed,” he stressed.
One important reference he made was to the German philosopher Hegel’s “zeitgeist” theory, or the “spirit of the times.” He used this concept at least three times in different parts of his long speech, in which he tried to depict the CHP as the party that best reads the evolution of history. “We proved this when we introduced social democracy to Turkey,” he said, adding they were now doing the same by emphasizing democracy.
His emphasis on the need to resolve the Kurdish question, on a non-military solution to the Syrian problem, on a new constitution based on freedoms and rights instead of on restrictions, on ending poverty in the entire country by adopting an economic model that produces more, are signs that the CHP is catching the “zeitgeist.” The only problem is how to turn this into votes in upcoming elections.