Polarization in Turkey: no end in sight

Polarization in Turkish society has increased over the past few years, according to an article on the German Marshall Fund of the United States’ website.

A consequence, according to the author Emre Erdoğan, is that the Turkish social and political system is increasingly fragile and unable to cope with external and internal shock.

The report is based on survey data collected by researchers at Bilgi University and published last year.  Among the key indications of polarization were the findings that 78 percent of survey respondents did not approve of their daughter marrying a supporter of the “other party”, whilst only 29 percent said they would like to be neighbours with such an individual. Further, 91 percent of respondents believed supporters of “their political party” were “honorable”, with 80 percent believing that “other party’s” supporters are “arrogant.”

Many factors contribute to the increasing polarization, according to Erdoğan. Turkish political culture has long revolved around tensions between various groups, among them secular vs. religious, and Kurds vs. Turks. A lack of intraparty democracy and the autocratic style of party leaders prevents diversity within parties. Finally, populist politicians from both ends of political spectrum see these divisions as opportunities to exploit rather than as problems.

Turkish citizens increasingly live in “echo chambers”, walling themselves off from opinions and ideas that differ from their own. The public sphere, where views can be exchanged, has all but disappeared.

 “According to the findings of the survey, people do not engage in political discussions except among family or friends. Only two thirds of participants said they could engage in a discussion about the state of emergency — considered a highly sensitive issue — in a family dinner or with friends. The percentage of those willing to discuss this issue in the work or school environment was 36 percent. More than 80 percent of respondents said that their significant others, families, and friends share the same opinions with them about the state of emergency. The unwillingness to discuss with foreigners and being exposed to different opinions, creates a twisted perception of the reality.”

Perhaps surprisingly, there are still some issues that Turks agree on. The perception that the West wishes to divide Turkey is widespread across different parts of society. There is also agreement that the more than 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey should return home.

Polarization in Turkey is likely to strengthen rather than diminish in the near future, argues Erdoğan, as people increasingly insulate themselves from opposing views and politicians continue to exploit relevant issues. “As long as the sense of insecurity and emergency rule continue in Turkey, there is no way to solve the polarization problem.”

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