Turkey is not a lost cause

 
The West shouldn’t give up on Turkey, especially for the sake of the many Turks who did not vote Erdogan in the last two ballots. In both, the 2014  presidential election and the 2017 referendum on the constitutional amendment, slightly less than half of the electorate voted against the incumbent. Nonetheless, after the unsuccessful coup attempt in the summer of 2016, Erdogan managed to massively expand his influence over the country’s political institutions, courts, and media. As a consequence, the second half of the Turks have become virtually invisible to the rest of the world. Ever since the transformation of the country according to Erdogan’s ideology is in full swing. 
 
His strategy builds on his own idiosyncratic reading of Turkey’s Ottoman past. Since the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos,   where he had brushed off Israel’s president Shimon Peres on stage, he has campaigned to reposition Turkey as the protective power of the Near East – just like in the heyday of the Ottoman Empire. A clear line leads from 2009 into the current military deployment against the Kurds and in Syria. In the years before 2009, Erdogan was the hope of all Turks, the secularists and the pious. Heading towards EU membership, he had brought reforms on their way and strengthened the economy. 
 
Unlike in Erdogan’s much-admired Russia, where minorities are demonised and hunted down, no such strategy is necessary on the Bosporus. While homosexuals and journalists have to fear for their life in Putin’s Russia, Turkey liberalises in some areas, normalises the relationship to the Kurdish minority by allowing more space for their language on airwaves and their culture in the public space. 
 
Today, only a few years later, the fear of a civil war is on the mind of many Turks. Both camps, Erdogan supporters and opponents, face each other with equal might and unforgiving steadfastness. Under the radar, Erdogan long worked towards this confrontation. Back during his first campaign in 2003, he employed a rhetoric that today belongs to the essentials of any populist movement: He, Erdogan, constructed himself as the representative of the ‘brown Turks’, those who call Anatolia and the Coast of the Black Sea their home. In a classic ‘us-versus-them’-narrative, they were pitted against the so-called Kemalist and secular ‘white Turks’. Divide and rule tactics brought him to power. 
 
The West currently discusses, whether Erdogan has forsworn Islamism or not, and consequently whether he intends to lead Turkey back into Islamic ages or a future that reconciles Islam and democracy. 
 
The Turkish EU rapprochement initially gained speed but was ultimately slowed down again by the unsuccessful French and Dutch referenda on an EU constitution. The denial of such an EU-wide constitution was read as a rejection of Turkish EU membership. It will be up to future generations to uncover the point at which Erdogan’s ensuing radicalisation became irreversible. 
 
From today’s perspective, it’s undeniable that he must have recovered a religious reading of his political authority and the country’s path, should he have renounced an Islamic worldview in the first place. Today, the president of the secular Republic of Turkey offers its citizens advice on the number of children a  Turkish Muslim wife should have. Erdogan also knows that there is no homosexuality in Turkey, given that such would against his reading of Islam. 
 
The Christian minority in the country is facing enormous pressures. The Turkish Ministry of Religion, ‘Diyanet’, which was initially founded to hedge in the Islamic movement of the country and work towards its compatibility with modernity, now spies on Turkish citizens – domestic and abroad. 
 
In the Federal Republic of Germany, cases became public of Turkish Imams on a government-backed mission to find and denounce sympathisers of Fethullah Gülen. Erdogan does not seem to grow tired of pointing his finger at the preacher as the mastermind behind the coup attempt in Summer 2016. He has thus far produced no evidence or proof of these accusations. 
 
After the coup attempt, thousands of people were stripped of their economic and social status. The fear of an overly-powerful state apparatus firmly in the President’s hands has stifled the resistance of many but hasn’t yet silenced the whole opposition movement. Hundreds of thousands of people, for example, partook in the ‘March for Justice’ in Summer 2017, lead by oppositional politicians and representatives of civil society. The march concluded with a rally in Istanbul. 
 
Turkey was a democracy for ninety years, the country harbours a developed civil society and is accustomed to diversity in opinions, not least on religious issues. Contrary to Erdogan’s retrospective monolithic construction of the Ottoman Empire, different ethnic and religious groups, the Millets, lived a relatively free and autonomous life within it. ‘Turkish Islam’, as the President describes it, is thus not historically ‘Turkish’. Rather, it is part of a much more extensive religious restoration in various parts of the Islamic World that builds on ideological dogmatism and the creation of boundaries. 
 
In today’s terms, the Ottoman Empire certainly was no democracy with human rights, such as religious freedom. But it equally wasn’t a fundamentalist theocracy characterised by religious despotism, as Erdogan’s imagines its resurrection. 
 
The many millions of Turks, who did not vote for Erdogan, are equally descendants of the Ottomans and children of the Turkish Republic. They stand for a different interpretation of the role, which Turkey should assume in the geopolitics of the 21st century. They stand for a conception of society that radically diverges from the Islamic one, which Erdogan’s is busy trying to sell to the West as the only authentic one.  
 
The West would fare well by strengthening and supporting these Turks in their debilitating struggle for the future of the country. We must not give up on Turkey. 
 
Professor Alexander Görlach is an affiliate of the FDR Foundation’s Defense of Democracy program and a senior fellow to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. He is also a fellow to the Center for the Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, UK. He holds PhDs in linguistics and comparative religion and is the publisher of the online-magazine www.saveliberaldemocracy.com. This article represents his views alone, not those of the FDR Foundation or other institutions. 

What Finland Can Teach the West About Countering Russia’s Hybrid Threats

by Mackenzie Weinger in World Politics Review, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 

These Finnish efforts have even had some success. “The Finns know that they’re reasonably good at this,” says Jed Willard, director of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Center for Global Engagement [sic] at Harvard University. “Because they have a long border and long history with Russia, they know instinctively how to deal with any sort of interference coming from the east. Because of that confidence, they were on board with tackling this problem pretty quickly.”

During a visit to Helsinki last November, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis offered an enthusiastic endorsement of the Hybrid CoE, saying it would be highly valuable as the U.S. and its allies work together to understand a new world in which hybrid threats are proliferating. “Here in this Helsinki center, the shared concerns of our transatlantic democracies can be researched and addressed in a collaborative manner, each of us learning from the other and building resistance to those with malign intent toward our democracies,” he said. “With this center, Finland has created an institution fit for our time.”

While many Western governments only recently woke up to the threat posed by Russia’s newer hybrid warfare tools, Finland has spent years trying to render them ineffective.

On the other side of the two countries’ shared 833-mile border, Russian operatives also seemed to recognize the center’s potential—and immediately tried to disrupt it. Even before the Hybrid CoE officially began its work, it had a target on its back. A website with a Russian “.ru” domain was quickly created for “The Helsinki Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats,” an obvious imitation of the Hybrid CoE. When the Hybrid CoE debuted its logo—a simple arrangement of nine blue and red dots—this Russian website posted a similar one featuring a Finnish coat of arms. The contents of the imposter website included a pamphlet titled, “EU’s Infowar on Russia: Putting in Place a Totalitarian Media Regime and Speech Control.”

The Hybrid CoE’s leadership was unfazed by the knock-off. To the contrary, says Juha Mustonen, the center’s director of international relations, “That was somehow poetic justification for the center’s existence, that as soon as it was established there was a fake one.”

Read the rest of Mackenzie’s piece at World Politics Review and check out the Hybrid CoE here!

 

A Liberal Democracy Doesn’t Just Fall from the Sky

by Alexander Görlach [translated from the German original published in Neue Zürcher Zeitung, December 17th, 2017]
 
The West appears to face its end. After seventy years of liberal hegemony, the opposition carries the day in countless places. This opposition stands in stark denial of the core principles of citizenship and social liberties which the West brought: tolerance of religious minorities, equality of men and women, free speech, and openness to the variance of life-paths. Regarding the relations between peoples and nations, it’s “us first” again – from the US to Catalonia. Cosmopolitan thinking, which thinks of politics as a solution to global quests, is ridiculed. 
 
Narcissism returns to the grand stage of international politics: the appraisal of the self at the peril of the other. The Western model – secular liberal democracy – functioned in the exact opposite way: a democracy that derives the general well being from the liberties of its minorities. It is a community that strives to enable participation and welfare the broadest possible group. This order ultimately realizes the utopia of equality, liberty and brotherhood by combining the political with both economic and welfare metrics. 
 
A liberal democracy can only exist where schools and universities are open to everyone. It can only exist where social pathologies are countered with unemployment welfare, statutory accident insurance, health care, and pensions – for all. Liberal democracy doesn’t just fall from the sky; it is the result of equal living conditions for all those participating in it. The middle-class societies of the West are its perfect breeding ground. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht: where there’s enough to eat, there’s time to think about morality. 
 
Civil liberties only enter conscious thought where education welfare and affluence offer it a breeding ground. That’s why the United States, in its rebuilding strategy after World War II ,prioritized economic projects that overcame the differences of the past – both in Europe and the Pacific Rim. The susceptibility to demagogic rhetoric decreases with affluence. This also explains why The People’s Republic of China strengthens its grip on society at the very moment a well-situated middle class establishes itself. Beijing learned its lessons from the West’s success story. 
 
In the countries of Europe and the United States, which make up the West as we know it, the liberal model isn’t yet fighting one-party systems and autocrats. Instead, it’s battling with a perceived unlinking of economic and political participation. If the middle class isn’t growing anymore, if savings pay no interest anymore, and if the access to education is increasingly hard, then this middle-class loses faith in liberal democracy. 
 
That’s why calls for a strong leader are audible in almost every country of the western world. And it’s the reason, too, why minorities and Muslims are demonized and declared to be the root of all evil – past, present, and future. In Germany, for example, supporters of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and Pegida claim in surveys that while they’re content with their present situation, they fear a bleak future of mass immigration. 
 
In the internet age, the facilities for political participation have substantially increased in number. That doesn’t apply to the possibilities of profiting economically from these new developments. The criticism aims at the political system but means the financial-economic sector. During the summer of 2011, Thatcher biographer Charles Moore and German intellectual Frank Schirrmacher began a public discussion on the question of whether the Left might have been right with its criticism of financial capitalism. 
 
The conservatives, argued Schirrmacher, had entrusted the financial liberals with their values and ever since waited for the dividend – without success, as Schirrmacher concludes. That’s how both the conservatives, which understood themselves as patriotic cosmopolitans, and the social-democrats, who considered themselves an international alliance, stumbled into a crisis created by what is now labelled neoliberalism. 
 
The world, globalized by the West, holds both blessing and curse. Blessing, because it realized the cosmopolitan vision of classical antiquity by enforcing free movement of persons and ideas. Curse, because free-flowing capital doesn’t benefit the many, but the few – contrary to knowledge. 
 
The result is a divide between expectations and unfulfilled hopes. This dialectic of the liberal world is a re-issue of the dialectic of enlightenment. Curse and blessing are still intertwined in political consciousness. That explains why citizens are willing to protest against refugees with a smartphone, but not when the Panama or Paradise Papers reveal how the most affluent abuse financial globalization to avoid their duties to the welfare state. 
 
European modernity, with its pursuit of enlightenment and development, got the ball rolling. It alone can reconcile the quarreling spirits that it conjured up. To do so, the West has to reappraise its origin: Christian humanism with its emphasis on humankind as an end in itself. As the Christian theologian argues, man is the axis of salvation. The world, in which man finds himself has to befit his proportions and remain intelligible and comprehensible to him in relation to the self.    
 
In the classical sense, this certainly does not imply that human beings of foreign origin, language or religions are perceived as beyond the bounds of his proportions. Instead, cosmopolitanism argues that the rulebook of the world applies equally to all because all are equal. The first cosmopolitans, by name and conviction, were philosophers of Athens (and later Rome). To them, it meant an empathetic basis for thinking and acting that would reveal the whole world in us and our actions. Only in this way can the gaze, in a next step of abstraction, direct itself to the world beyond the city walls. 
 
When, on Christmas Eve 1968, the Apollo 8 crew first transmitted a photograph of the Earth from outer space, the dream of the ancient European cosmopolitans was about to be fulfilled. Doesn’t this planet look too vulnerable, from up there – sub specie aeternitatis – for its inhabitants to be divided over trivialities such as race, gender and language? The photograph, titled “Earthrise” inspired the peace and environmental movement alike. 
 
Today, the isolationist movements in all parts of the world point to the opposite direction, into an age of nationalism and totalitarianism that could be termed ‘second middle age’. To the European, accustomed to vicissitudes of life, the relapse into barbarism seems undeniable and fatal. But it isn’t. He ought, instead, to go into battle and missionary mode and offer to humankind what has always been in its nature: a political and social system that builds on the connection lines of the human family, embedded in a shared sense of compassion. Above all, doing so will require a global social contract that puts an end to the rule of capital, which has enslaved man and disfigured his soul for far too long. 
 
Professor Alexander Görlach is an affiliate of the FDR Foundation’s Defense of Democracy program and a senior fellow to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. He is also a fellow to the Center for the Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, UK. He holds PhDs in linguistics and comparative religion and is the publisher of the online-magazine www.saveliberaldemocracy.com. This article represents his views alone, not those of the FDR Foundation or other institutions.

The Disinformation Vaccination

By Nina Jankowicz, in “The Wilson Quarterly”

The most illuminating conversations I’ve had about Russian disinformation have not been with ex-Cold Warriors, Russia hands, or government officials. They have been with the people that – according to many of those I just listed – are purveyors of disinformation themselves.

“I don’t believe in fighting [against] information. That’s what the communists did,” Jaroslav Plesl, the editor-in-chief of Dnes, the Czech Republic’s second-largest daily newspaper, told me in January 2017, just after the Czech government unveiled a new center to fight terrorism and so-called “hybrid threats,” including disinformation.

I caught a lot of flak for publishing a quote from that conversation in an editorial on how to fight fake news. A Czech friend in the anti-disinformation field told me that while he didn’t think Plesl was on the Kremlin payroll, he might as well be, given all he and his publication do to amplify the Russian state’s narratives.

My friend won’t be happy to find out that on my last trip to Prague, I met with an editor at Parlamentní Listy, one of the most popular fringe media outlets in the country. It is often accused of having Kremlin ties. Whether or not that’s true, Jan Rychetský, the editor with whom I spoke, described his employer’s strategy very simply: “We try to speak to the people that no one from the mainstream media speaks to.” …

Read the rest of Nina Jankowicz’ piece in “The Wilson Quarterly,” here:

https://www.wilsonquarterly.com/quarterly/the-disinformation-age/the-disinformation-vaccination/

Taiwan Versus the Beijing Narrative

 

As a European in Taiwan, I came to understand why the conflict of Taiwan is often misunderstood in the West. The knowledge about the civil war between the Kuomintang and Communists, resulting in the retreat of Chiang Kai-shek and his troops to the island, is not widely known. The implications of the term “One China,“ therefore, leaves many Westerners clueless. When Chinese President Xi Jinping deals with the island as if it were a defecting province, as he did at the 19th Communist Party Congress this week, he sounded somewhat legitimate.

 

Surely, Western governments are aware of the complicated situation and the pending threat, but they may feel that their hands are tied. Europe has always looked to the United States of America when it came to supporting Taiwan. Now, with declining support for the values of liberal democracy across the Old World in recent years, as evidenced by the Brexit vote and the rise of far-right xenophobic movements, little compassion is left for a far-away country such as restricted Taiwan. The stance that US President Trump takes on the issue is still unclear.


Prior to the National Day on October 10th, an article was widely shared and discussed on social media. The text claimed that the Chinese military would finally meet the necessities to invade Taiwan by the year 2020. Observers, however, would argue that the Mainland’s military would neither dare nor have the capacity to invade and long-term occupy Taiwan. Alas, that doesn’t mean Taiwan will not see some serious infringement on its liberal democracy. 


For Beijing, Taiwan is a threat because the leader of the Communist Party sells the idea to his followers and the West alike that being Chinese and simultaneously a liberal democrat is impossible: the tradition of Confucianism can only live on in the form of the one-party state. Mr Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption and moral misconduct needs to be seen as him catering to the narrative that he has deployed during his first term as president of the People’s Republic of China: emerging to the very top is only possible by applying the highest ethical standards


In the West, where democracy is typically deliberately limited by the rights of individuals or specific groups such as minorities, leaders do not cease to praise the Chinese president (and leaders before him) as visionary, innovative, and thoughtful. What they mean is that, due to the autocratic one-party rule, Beijing is capable of following through with policy ideas – such as tackling climate change – that would take years in a democratic framework.


The existence of Taiwan, however, reminds Mr. Xi Jinping and the West of the existence of a democracy in a Confucian context. As a matter of fact, Taiwan is not the only liberal democracy of the region. It has potentially powerful allies in South Korea and Japan. All three are allies of the United States, and all three have a similar set of interests when it comes to fighting off a power-hungry China.


Yet, for historic reasons, the three have not elaborated on their common policies. And it is doubtful that they will do so anytime soon. Beijing is anything but sad about the disagreements of its democratic rivals across the Sea. In Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo observers may already be nervous when they anticipate Donald Trump’s visit to China in a few weeks. The US president seems to have been marveling autocratic rulership.


One can only hope that the result of the meeting between these two power-hungry men of dubious mindset and character when it comes to civil liberties and liberal freedoms will not be frightening the three truly democratic countries in the region. As for Taiwan, the leadership and the people should be eagerly trying to strengthen their ties with Western allies and the liberal democracies in South Korea and Japan. For China may not be able or willing to invade the country, but it will also not tolerate any further development of a free and independent society for this may, in the logic of Beijing, inevitably lead onto the street of independence. 


Alexander Görlach is an affiliate professor with the FDR Foundation’s Defense of Democracy Program. He is also a fellow to the Center for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, UK. He’s a senior fellow to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and a senior advisor to the Berggruen Institute. Alex holds a PhD in linguistics and a PhD in comparative religion. He is the publisher of the online-magazine www.saveliberaldemocracy.com and an op-ed contributor to the New York Times. This academic year he is a visiting scholar to National Taiwan University and City University of Hong Kong. This article represents his views alone, not those of the FDR Foundation or other institutions.

How the New Right-wing Party AfD Dominates German Politics

Now Germany…
 
After all other European countries, the Federal Republic will also have a right wing party in the midst of its national parliament. The 13 percent, which the party achieved on Election Day, September 24, can be called a landslide victory. Beyond strongholds in the East of the country where they gained nearly thirty percent of their followers, their voter base now also extends to wide parts of the West of the country, where they numbered, in many places, in the double digits. 


The country, however, even 26 years after its reunification, still shows regional electoral preferences. In the nineties and the early ‘aughts the far left party Die Linke attained power in all states in the former East. They have now lost plenty of voters to the new right. In the West, on the other hand, right wing parties have sparked every ten years or so, only to disappear after a short while. Usually, they had a try-out period in state parliaments where they did not convince the electorate. They were not voted for again.


Until now Germans in the West, so it seems, had had enough of this extremism, for it led the country into the catastrophe of the Second World War and the Shoa. Nazism should never return to the country. The notion of a strong leader with claims to have the capacity to solve all the country’s problems was frowned upon. Moreover, today’s right wing extremists, the so called Alternative for Germany, did not fall in with one chairman but with a whole array of front row politicians, some of them using extreme right wing vocabulary. That included praise for the German Wehrmacht and revisionist utterances when it comes to German’s commemoration of the Holocaust. The new right wing populism is a pan-German phenomenon. And that was the real news in the results of this year’s election in Europe’s largest country.


Since the election, both German and international media are trying to wrap their head around the success the AfD had in this years voting. Undoubtedly the refugee crisis of 2015; where up to one million refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia made it into Europe and further on to Germany; has played a role. The Alternative for Germany before the crisis had plummeted in the polls. Created in 2013 as a party mostly opposing the European Union and the European currency, they had initially lost momentum. When the refugees entered into Germany, one of their AfD chairs, Alexander Gauland, cheered: the refugees were a godsend to his party.  With their xenophobic, anti-Muslim voice they indeed quickly re-gathered followers: in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt they gained 24 percent of the votes in the state election, in Baden-Württemberg 15 percent. Mr. Gauland is the one who recently claimed that Germans ought to be proud of the Wehrmacht, the German army, and their doings in both two world wars; this outrageous statement only surpassed in egregiousness by Björn Höcke, who claimed that the Holocaust Memorial Site in Berlin should be considered a monument of shame for the Germans, urging the country to move on and leave any narrative commemorating the Shoa behind. The pundits disagree on whether the AfD receives their support for this sort of rhetoric. They are now in 13 of the countries 16 state parliaments and in the national parliament, the Bundestag.


The Bundestag in the Reichstags-Building is now the international stage for the party. They are in their view on equal terms with other similar movements all across Europe. But, more importantly, they are also on the radar of the international media that usually does not report about the ongoings in state-level German politics. That’s why the former right-wing movements disappeared rather unnoticed. Focusing on a single topic, they fail to govern once confronted in parliament with actual legislative work (“what is your stance on the pension funds, the retirement age or environmental protection?”). As a matter of fact, AfD made it into the Bundestag without having a concise pension model. And this in an aging society such as Germany! 


In the weeks before the Election Day, the AfD had sunk to seven percent in the polls, as one could expect given the prior experience of right-wingers. But all of a sudden – and there is lots of guesswork why this has happened – it went up again to 12, 13 percent, a figure very close to their final result. As a result of the success of the right wing populists the political spectrum in Germany has shifted to the right. It is a dangerous approach: the hope that people will return to traditional parties simply because they may use sharper rhetoric against the AfD is delusional. In Bavaria the conservative CSU (Christian Social Union), sister party to the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) that governed the country for almost seventy years, lost 11 percent in the federal election. They tried to mimic the new appeal and rhetoric of the AfD. But when people have the choice between an original and the copy, they go for the original. Very sadly so in this case.


Alexander Görlach is an affiliate professor with the FDR Foundation’s Defense of Democracy Program. He is also a fellow to the Center for Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, UK, and a senior fellow to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Alex holds a PhD in linguistics and a PhD in comparative religion. He is the publisher of the online-magazine www.saveliberaldemocracy.com and an op-ed contributor to the New York Times. This article represents his views alone, rather than those of the FDR Foundation.