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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Our Opinion

The Narcissism of Asia Minor Differences (A Psychopolitical Tour of a Region)

[T]his inclination to aggression…in ourselves and…in others, is the factor which disturbs our relations with our neighbor and which forces civilization into such a high expenditure. In consequence of this primary mutual hostility of human beings, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration. The interest of work in common would not hold it together; instinctual passions are stronger than reasonable interests….
It is clearly not easy for men to give up the satisfaction of this inclination to aggression. They do not feel comfortable without it. The advantage which a comparatively small cultural group offers of allowing this instinct an outlet in the form of hostility against intruders is not to be despised. It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness. I once discussed the phenomenon that is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other—like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch [sic], and so on. I gave this phenomenon the name of “the narcissism of minor differences”….
—Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

While Freud failed to mention Turks and Greeks among his adjoining communities “related to each other” but “engaged in constant feuds and…ridiculing,” many (Greeks and Turks, mostly) have made that connection in the decades since he formulated his famous notion of “the narcissism of minor differences.” We’re not so naïve as to compare Greeks and Turks to the English and Scots (let alone to citizens of Berlin and Munich). While Turkey and Greece are each often insufferably narcissistic, their respective self-absorption is many times related to quite major differences (religion, language, radically differing cultural antecedents, most obviously). Still, that former president of Greece who once notoriously (and pompously) described his countrymen and -women as a “siblingless people” was as deluded (or ideologically disposed) as Atatürk when the latter concocted his fantastic “historical theses” about the (essentially racial) superiority of the Turks. Identity fabrication can get pretty ugly—and, occasionally, even homicidal. That’s why even minor differences can lead to competing narcissisms, and irreconcilable divisions.

In April, for example, the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC) announced the results of a survey. We quote from the article by John Leonidou in the Cyprus Mail (“Most Greek Cypriots ‘don’t want to live with Turkish Cypriots,’” April 5, 2006):

Despite the vast majority of Greek Cypriots theoretically remaining in favour of a united Cyprus, 48 per cent of them are against the idea of living side by side with Turkish Cypriots.
According to a survey conducted by the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation…48 per cent of those asked said they would choose to live separately from Turkish Cypriots, to 45 per cent opting for co-existence. More worrying still, the vast majority of Greek Cypriots under the age of 35 are against the idea of living with their Turkish Cypriot neighbours—a result which casts considerable doubt over how willing Greek Cypriots are to rejoin Turkish Cypriots on a united island.
The study revealed that 63 per cent of Greek Cypriots within the age group of 18 to 24 are against the idea of living with Turkish Cypriots, while for the age group 25 to 34, 59 per cent are against the idea.
The same cannot be said for Greek Cypriots over 55. Greek Cypriots, aged between 55 and 64, were 59 per cent in favour of living with the Turkish Cypriots while those aged 65 and up were 61 per cent in favour.
The overall percentage of people wanting to be reunited with Turkish Cypriots has dropped dramatically since 2003—the year the checkpoints opened allowing the communities to mingle for the first time in almost three decades....

This report’s dispiriting nature is equaled only by its surrealism. It has been over 30 years since the forced division and Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus provoked by the Greek military dictatorship in 1974. The only Greek Cypriots, therefore, who actually have a real memory of living alongside Turkish Cypriots are those above 55—all those, in other words, who were at least in their early twenties when the island was divided and, as such, have a font of genuine bicommunal experience from which to draw some existential (and social) conclusions. They indicated a clear desire (almost three to two) to construct an integrated republic. In fact, those 65 and older—old enough, that is, to remember living with Turkish Cypriots when the island was a cauldron of intercommunal conflict ensuing from the anticolonial struggle—were marginally even more supportive of integration. Those 34 and under—who’ve never experienced bicommunal life because they were born about the time of the island’s division or later—are opposed to the very idea of integration, however, with the youngest Greek Cypriots most opposed.

And most separatist, for whom an “ideal” Cypriot republic would apparently be founded on apartheid. Understandably, those who’ve lived segregated (which is to say pathological) lives are, at best, uncomprehending about the virtues of what Freud called “work in common.” After all, again as Freud notes, “instinctual passions are stronger than reasonable interests”—especially when those passions are reinforced by reactionary education, fanatical religion, and politicians who are both cynical and craven. Nonetheless, one would think that all those 24-and-unders, born in the last quarter of the twentieth century, would be capable of a social vision that was slightly less occluded. In the event, the CyBC’s poll pointed clearly to the victory of the rejectionist front (aligning “communists” and right-wingers in a condominium whose only social coherence seems to lie in shared paranoia) that did, indeed, occur last month in the Greek Cypriot parliamentary elections.


Meanwhile, back in the real world, a week before those elections, Mustafa Yücel Özbilgin, a justice of Turkey’s highest constitutional tribunal, the Council of State, was assassinated (and four other justices wounded) when a man ran into the court’s chambers, screaming “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and “I am a soldier of Allah,” and firing point-blank at the justices. One of the wounded judges, Mustafa Birden, had provoked the ire of religious conservatives by ruling that schoolteachers, who are legally banned from wearing the Islamic headscarf at work, could not cover their heads even on their way to school. Generally, the Council of State has been in the forefront of defense of Turkey’s Kemalist constitution, which is often referred to as “secular” although a more accurate term would be repressive.

That same day, just a few hours later and thousands of kilometers to the West, in what seems to be an utterly different planet (if not a parallel universe), Greece’s current president was proving how the narcissism of minor differences can lead to cognitive dissonance of major proportions. At a press conference following his address to the European parliament in Strasbourg marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of Greece’s accession to the European Union, His Excellency, Mr. Karolos Papoulias, warned all and sundry that Turkey has “some very serious problems,” that its government “needs to get a grip on them,” and that “I do not think that Turkey will be able to have closer ties with the EU by violating fundamental rights.” He went on to clarify that, “We are talking not only about the Kurdish minority, but about human rights in Turkey in general. This is an issue, a problem, to be faced by the Turkish government.”

At the very moment Mr. Papoulias was “berating” Turkey (to echo Kathimerini’s headline of the story), Turkey’s government was, of course, trying to deal with the political—and constitutional—ramifications of the physical attack on the Council of State. That same day, Turkey’s president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a staunch Kemalist, assured anyone who might have any doubts (including, presumably, the country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has consistently expressed his opposition to the headscarf bans) that the judicial system would remain steadfast in its loyalty “to the secular and democratic republic.” Just to prove the point, the next day, thousands of protesters—including judges dressed in their robes—marched to Kemal’s mausoleum in Ankara, chanting, “Turkey is secular and will remain secular.” Upon reaching the building that houses the remains of “the father of Turkey,” many of these “secularist” demonstrators kissed its marble façade. In Turkey, it seems, “secularism” only proscribes religious cults.

But there was more to come. The day after the demonstrations, Gen. Hilmi Özkök, chief of Turkey’s general staff, felt the need to express his gratitude to the defenders of “the secular and democratic republic.” “The protests and the people’s sensitivity is truly hope-giving and admirable,” the good general proclaimed, and then came the stern counsel: “But this reaction should not be limited to a single day, to a single event. It must gain continuity and it should be followed by everyone all the time.”

Whenever Turkish generals advise that a political current “gain continuity,” most of their fellow citizens rightly have a tendency to run for the hills, or at least for their passports and the nearest airline counter. Which is why Prime Minister Erdoğan called the general’s statements “irresponsible,” adding that, “people…in positions which require responsibility…should know what we should advise and how.” Mr Erdoğan concluded that, “We should all make efforts to strengthen democracy, secularism…and the rule of law.”

The problem is that we think that Gen. Özkök knew very well what he was advising “and how.” Contrary to most of the received liberal wisdom both inside Turkey and out, we also believe that, while Gen. Özkök is undoubtedly an authentic secularist—or, rather, Kemalist—it is Mr. Erdoğan, the once and future Islamist, who is more genuinely committed to strengthening democracy and the rule of law in Turkey. The paradox is more apparent than real. Mr. Erdoğan understands—because he’s spent time in its prisons as a consequence of it—that the Turkish republic has borne the burden from its foundation of an illiberal (quite literally, quasi-fascist) constitution whose “secularism” was not the considered distillation of Enlightenment tolerance but of a garrison state that saw, and continues to see, religion as a threat to its monopoly of civil, and even political, power. is committed to—even zealous about—secularism, but we’ve continually said that secularism built on a legalistic edifice of compulsion and, worse, repression is a constitutional disaster waiting to happen. Genuine secularism arises from democratic deliberation and consent; its consensual basis is so evident, transparent, and extensive that it precludes even the possibility of constitutional revisionism. (That has been the case in France for the last hundred years and in the United States for the last two hundred, although the latter has lately presented a distinctly problematic profile regarding precisely the extent of its constitutional dedication to secularism.) Turning a half-millennium-old theocracy (the Ottoman empire, whose head was not only sultan but Islam’s caliph) into a secular regime (the Turkish republic) by diktat is not “modernization” (as it has been perversely described over the years by Kemal’s devotees, from Lord Kinross to Bernard Lewis to Richard Perle to Gen. Özkök). It is arbitrary repression; and while it can last one day or a thousand, one year or a century, it is as authoritarian, and thus fragile, an act a hundred years after the fact as it is in its first hour. Of course Islam is back in force in Turkey—it had never disappeared. It was just driven underground by the security apparatus of a repressive state. That is precisely why Mr. Erdoğan is probably the only person in Turkey right now who can finally achieve a democratic constitutional settlement between mosque and state that will lead to authentic secularity. (And speaking of the narcissism of minor differences, as a polity and civil society that still privileges Greek Orthodoxy, and remains constitutionally incapable of sundering the connections between state and church—thus fostering a climate of religious fundamentalism that has, quite literally, led to the ayatollahization of the Church’s leadership—Greece’s claims of democratic superiority on this matter ring brazenly hollow.)


Just to prove that major differences can be as narcissistic as minor ones, however, on the same day that Judge Özbilgin was dying on the operating table in the unsuccessful, six-hour attempt to save his life, the EU’s enlargement commissioner, Mr. Olli Rehn, joined Mr. Papoulias in internationally browbeating the Turkish government. Speaking at a press conference in Sofia, he stated that, “It is necessary that the Turkish government take immediate action in order to restart the momentum of reforms in the country and also to respect its commitments, as regards the Ankara protocol, to full [EU] member states,” concluding, in a hardly veiled threat, “That is the best and only way to avoid a recess later on this year in the negotiations between the EU and Turkey.” In Ankara meanwhile—yes, in Ankara!—the Finnish prime minister (a compatriot of Mr. Rehn), who was visiting the Turkish capital in preparation for his country’s assumption of the EU presidency next month, also called on Turkey to ratify the Ankara protocol, which extends the EU customs agreement signed by Turkey to Cyprus. Two days later, in Brussels now, Mr. Rehn was back at it. Speaking to reporters again (after meeting with Turkey’s chief EU negotiator), Mr. Rehn was in full-pontification mode. “There is a sense of urgency and it is now the time for Turkey to regain the momentum of reforms, and enhance rule of law, human rights and freedoms,” he said, adding, in a truly astonishing summation, “We have a major challenge ahead of us. By speeding up the reform process, we can avoid negative repercussions in the negotiation process.”

We can’t help but be reminded of the old joke, “What’s this ‘we stuff,’ white man.” One doesn’t have to be Turkish to look upon all this officious sermonizing, and holier-than-thou posturing and hectoring, as positively breathtaking in its seemingly lunatic refusal to ignore Turkey’s social and political realities—and the unceasing efforts by Mr. Erdoğan’s government to radically alter and reorder them. Over a year ago, we wrote:

Every confirmation of concrete progress made by Turkey to meet EU standards and demands—which, lately, has almost invariably dictated fundamental Turkish constitutional reform—is countered by criticism that Ankara is failing to fulfill all of the so-called Copenhagen criteria….[One can add the Ankara protocol to that now.] It seems that Turkey’s critics either do not understand how utterly radical the effort to put the country on a permanent path to democratic government and, above all, the rule of law is, or they, in fact—and we believe this to be much closer to the truth—want to see Turkey fail, if only to validate their own prejudices about the “incompatibility” between Turkish society and European “civilization.”

We then went on to warn that, “Some of the issues that Turkey will have to address on its way to (re)joining Europe are so deeply embedded in the modern Turkish state’s mythology that it will be impossible to deal with them without provoking almost pathological reactions” (see, “Turkey in Europe.” April 26, 2005).

Welcome to “secularism” in Turkey, among other fissures under the surface of the Kemalist “order,” which can no longer cover them over. We were not prophets (indeed, we now regret the timidity of that adverbial “almost”); we were simply conscious of the profound nature of the genuine modernization that is finally taking place in the country, one of whose fundamental requirements is the complete dismantling of the Kemalist regime. What we find inexplicable and, frankly, grotesque is the spectacle of Europe’s great and good lecturing Turks on “regaining the momentum on reforms” at a time when the country is on the verge of civil strife precisely because of the extraordinary toll taken by the (necessarily constitutional) reforms to date.


A couple of days after the Greek Cypriot elections, a Turkish and Greek fighter collided over the Aegean. The Greek pilot, Kônstantinos Êliakês, was killed. The Turkish pilot survived. (There were rumors that he pulled a gun on Greeks trying to rescue him. Because of the respective motivations, both truth and falsity in this case are equally depressing.) This continual, and truly stupid, “mock” aerial combat has, of course, gone on for decades (provoked mostly by Turkey) and it was only a matter of time before calamity ensued. It is a testament to the skills of the pilots on both sides that more men have not died so senselessly. Predictably, in the aftermath of Capt. Êliakês’s tragic demise, a poll commissioned by an Athens daily showed that 64 percent of respondents in Athens and Thessalonikê opposed Turkish entry into the EU, while only about 23 percent supported it.

The question that nobody asks in Greece, naturally—because to do so would entail more intellectual honesty than is seemingly abroad in the land—is what the alternative, for Greece’s security, is to Turkish accession. Is there any Greek in his right mind who actually believes that a moorless, scorned Turkey, rejected by the European Union—and, so, under no further obligation to heed its counsel on any issue, let alone on all those it might consider of vital national interest—would be less of a threat to Greece, and to the peace of the eastern Mediterranean as a whole, than a Turkey fully integrated into and, therefore, fully circumscribed by, the EU on virtually all matters, foreign and domestic? Is there anyone mad enough to believe such a preposterous notion? Well, then, if not, why this continual, disorienting, and, in the end, patently useless resistance to the only course that can lead to radically different, and unprecedented, relations between the two countries?

There is some heartening news in all this bleakness, however. The fact is that we have seen the future, and you can take it to the bank—literally. The recent acquisition of Finansbank, Turkey’s sixth largest bank, by the National Bank of Greece speaks louder, and infinitely more eloquently, than all the sloganeering, posing, and differential narcissism of Greek presidents, mediacrats, and assorted professional jingoes. The very process of negotiating its entry into the EU has changed the reality, both in Turkey itself and in its relations with its only neighbor that is actually an EU member. Once upon a time, Greece’s current president was foreign minister of a government that prided itself, and actually boasted of being guided by, the Marxian canon. We suggest that Mr. Papoulias delve into it again. Material relations in—and among—societies reflect political realities much more acutely and faithfully than political rhetoric or constitutional preambles. The significant investment of Greek capital in the Turkish economy heralds a much more profound and intimate integration of the two societies in the coming decades.

We repeat: we are not naïve, either about the difficulties of Turkish accession to the EU, or about the nature of Turkish society and—to us, much more relevant—the regime that has tormented it for so long. Several months ago, we noted that, in addition to a desire to join the European Union, Turkey was racked by “...ambivalence…panic...arrogance, and…even a reverse anti-European bigotry, and…active opposition to conforming to European values because they are considered to be ‘anti-Turkish’” (see, “Turkey’s Eurotunnel,” October 14, 2005). We believe that Mr. Erdoğan’s major problem right now is not his Islamist political base, which, as a master politician, he thoroughly controls. His problem is the Kemalist regime: both overt and hidden in what Turks call “the deep state.” He must finally decide to take it on, in one fell swoop, instead of allowing it continually to sabotage his political agenda and set its own (from murdering Kurdish activists, to prosecuting writers and journalists for “insulting” Turkey, to banning newspapers).

There really is no other way, for him, for his country, or for peace in the eastern Mediterranean. Because, as strange and even discomfiting as this might sound to both Turks and Greeks, and as difficult as it might be for them to accept it, Judge Özbilgin and Capt. Êliakês were victims of the same regime. Kemalism is dying. Unfortunately, it falls to Mr. Erdoğan—and to everyone who wishes only the best for Turkey—to ensure that its death throes do not claim more innocent victims. Confronted by the truly modernizing and democratic vision of Turkey’s European integration, the Kemalist center can no longer hold. It is now too fraught with contradiction; too weighed down by the accumulated, historical burden of the corruption and violence committed in its name; too incapable of self-reformation, let alone of a radical break with its past; too mired in arbitrary, abusive power; and, worst of all, too blind to the needs and demands of the people that it has violated and terribly misgoverned for all these years. Mustafa Kemal died decades ago. It is way past time for Turkey to bury Atatürk as well.

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