Where is the Turkish Syriza?

In the fourth in our series in response to the Greek elections, Ozan Nadir Alakavuklar, lecturer in the School of Management at Massey University in New Zealand, discusses the prospects for a Turkish Syriza and the current state of the left in Turkey. Click here, here and here for the first, second and third parts in this series.

While Turkey has experienced authoritarian neoliberal policies for a while, particularly following the 2011 elections, in Greece (which Turkey has a long history of conflicts and tensions, but cooperation as well) a radical left party came to the power. Syriza’s win created a new wave of excitement in Europe (a spectre haunting in Europe (again?)) and in Turkey, too. I would like to reflect and think on what Syriza’s win could mean for Turkey. Could there be a Turkish Syriza even though the context is quite different? Where can we see ‘the hope’ in Turkey?

A simple comparison of history of two countries may bring lots of details to talk about. One may refer to tradition of the left in Greece, resistance to the Nazi occupation, the impact of the Communist Party in the society, membership of the European Union or the low threshold in the elections for getting seats in parliament. When it comes to Turkey, one can talk about how the left was suppressed for years as a part of the Cold War discourse, military coups in the political scene, the role of the state in terms of showing its stick mostly to the left rather than right and the 10% threshold in elections since 1980 military coup. We can add that the only legal socialist party in the history of the Turkish Parliament, with a multi-party system since 1946, was the Workers’ Party of Turkey (Türkiye İşçi Partisi), which got 15 seats in the election of 1965 and was then banned in 1971 following the military coup. It is hardly fair to say that there are no left movements in Turkey, there have always been; however, the social, cultural and historical realities were not very welcoming to leftist ideas and the Turkish left has not been immune to the global discussions shaping left movements in the world following the neoliberal wave of 1980s. Even though the ideals are alive, the impact of these ideals over the society is quite limited and there is still a question mark over how to create an impact.

Apparently, there is a history in Greece that rewarded the efforts of Syriza in addition to effective reaction of people to austerity measures. Now we watch Syriza carefully and closely regarding their attitude to the global capital, the European Union and neoliberalism. They have a responsibility, not just to Greeks but also to global left, in terms of showing to the world that alternatives to capitalism may be possible. In addition to Latin American experiments of left, we now wonder what the Greek experiment in Europe will be like (as discussed in the previous articles in this series). They already announced some radical changes which were somewhat unthinkable before; yet it is still of concern how the EU and global capital will respond to this. It will take a matter of time to see where their promises will land Greece and our hopes, while we also have an eye on Spain’s Podemos for another possibility of alternative in Europe.

In the other side of the Aegean Sea, in Turkey, left parties – from radical to social democrats – have been questioning what can be learned from the Syriza’s win. Some movements and parties already associated themselves with the model of Syriza; yet this is highly questionable considering the peculiar historical, economic, social and cultural differences. While Turkey does not experience a visible economic crisis (yet), proposal for the presidential system and the limits of power which might be given to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are open to debate. In such a context where the democracy of Turkey is tested, if the key is ‘the hope’ then this hope already showed its shining face for Turkey in June 2013 with Taksim Gezi revolts. It was the moment when particularly the young people, who met in similarities rather than differences, exclaimed ‘that is enough’ in the face of the AKP government. That is enough: we do not want your authoritarian intervention to our private lives; we are not happy with your destruction of the nature and history for the sake of neoliberal gentrification projects; we do not want to live a life led by imposed conservative-religious values; we want our politics back and not determined by you. It is not clear to what extent these similarities will bring people together for the future, but it was obvious in the case of Gezi Revolt that people can get politicized and mobilized against authoritarianism and neoliberalism in a broader sense.

The Gezi park protests in Istanbul could lead to the realignment of the Turkish left. Source:  http://mstyslav-chernov.com/ Creative Commons Attribution License

The Gezi park protests in Istanbul could lead to the realignment of the Turkish left. Source: http://mstyslav-chernov.com/ Creative Commons Attribution License

Each country has its own peculiarities, and Syriza is a very good example of organizing such local dynamics and meeting the demands of the Greek society. This is probably what Turkish left has been trying for years despite all the negatives. We now would like to believe Gezi Revolt and its legacy might be an opportunity to turn these negatives into positives and build up a new Turkish model based on Syriza. If we need to talk about hope in Turkey, then the ‘spirit of Gezi’ should lead the way: being diverse but meeting for the commons; being critical to each other but remembering what the real problem is; eventually fighting for democracy against authoritarian neoliberalism. This is not an easy path to take and it is not clear how this legacy may turn into political will (with the recent efforts of some movements), but, at least, now we have a ‘hope’ and a very close new experience on the other side of the sea.

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