Polarisation a threat to Turkey - German Marshall Fund

Polarisation in Turkey is eroding the country’s democracy by paving the way for majoritarian and populist politics, wrote Özgür Ünlühısarcıklı, a director at the German Marshall Fund.

Polarisation is neither a new, not an exclusively Turkish phenomenon, but research published in February by Istanbul’s Bilgi University shows that Turkish society is now so polarised that citizens live in echo chambers where they are seldom exposed to viewpoints different to their own.

In such an environment, “a politician can fence a sufficiently large part of the voters, who do not wish to interact with others, who feel morally superior to others and who accept the violation of political rights of others,” said Ünlühısarcıklı.

“Social cohesion is important for promoting trust and creating an inclusive society with upward mobility opportunities for everyone and giving individuals in the society a sense of belonging despite their differences. As the successor of a fallen multinational empire, Turkey’s diverse and traumatised society poses a challenge to social cohesion. Polarisation makes it even more difficult to build bridges within the Turkish society,” Ünlühısarcıklı said.

In Turkey, polarisation does not just threaten pluralistic democracy, but also represents a threat to national security. One way it does this is by making it difficult to settle violent conflicts through peaceful means, as shown by the failure in 2015 of negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) a group that has been battling the Turkish state for decades. But polarisation also creates opportunities for terrorist groups. Both the PKK and islamic State have based their strategies in Turkey on exploiting divides between groups that are sympathetic to them and others.

The dangers of polarisation can only be reduced if politicians see it as a problem, rather than a political opportunity. Only then can society be expected to regain its cohesion.  “And only then can Turkey be at peace with itself and the world.”