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Mediterranean Quarterly 11.4 (2000) 168-170

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Book Review

Contemporary Turkish Politics:
Challenges to Democratic Consolidation

Ergun Özbudun: Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000. 171 pages. ISBN 1-55587-735-4. $49.95.

For readers in Greece and elsewhere whose first feeling when they look across the Aegean is one of deep anxiety at what they perceive to be a nationalist-driven, military-dominated behemoth prone to issue casus belli threats against Greece's maritime rights and determined to maintain a rigid line over Cyprus, the notion that a process of democratic consolidation could be taking place in Turkey may appear to be counterintuitive. This is precisely why Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation is so valuable. Written by the distinguished scholar Ergun Özbudun of Bilkent University, this concise and well-organized overview of contemporary developments in Turkish politics provides an excellent entry point to this subject. Its appearance at a time when so much of the traditional pathology is draining out of Greek-Turkish relations is particularly welcome.

Özbudun's central thesis is that Turkey has a relatively long democratic tradition dating from its emergence from single-party authoritarianism in the 1940s, albeit one interrupted on three occasions by military interventions. Given this longevity, he argues that Turkey should not be regarded as a third-wave democracy comparable to countries emerging from communism but as a second-wave democracy with many similarities to Latin American examples, the chief characteristics of which are a highly personalistic style of leadership, weak political institutions, and the lack of horizontal accountability.

This is an enlightening argument for policy makers and others outside Turkey trying to make sense of an often contradictory pattern of information about the country. It illuminates both Turkey's long-standing acquaintance with democracy and the constraints on its developing into full flower. The author's conclusion is that "Turkish democracy may endure, but it may do so in a state of inherent vulnerability."

This image of Turkey as half inside and half outside the democratic camp, in support of which Özbudun presents a detailed and convincing case, has important implications for regional problem management. It sends a signal to the European Union that the process of integrating Turkey into the EU, launched at the December 1999 Helsinki summit, will not be a path of roses. There is also a message for Greece, namely, that immediate gratification from its rapprochement with Turkey is unlikely. The Greek leadership and people have to be both patient and creative in their approach to Turkey.

The book's main chapters present both a historical survey of the democratic movement in [End Page 168] Turkey and a review of the main pillars of Turkish political society: the parliament, political parties, civil service, military, and interest groups. A notable and perhaps revealing omission is any substantive discussion of the mass media. These chapters provide much valuable information. Optimists will note that for each military intervention--in 1960, 1971, and 1980--Özbudun records that "democracy was restored relatively quickly and smoothly." Pessimists will point to the bleak picture he paints about the volatility, fragmentation and polarization of the Turkish political party system. In weaving this complex tapestry, Özbudun observes welcome standards of academic impartiality, noting encouraging constitutional advances such as the reform of the Amnesty Law but never shying away from necessary criticism.

Inevitably, much attention will center on the chapter on the military. This is the chief factor that distinguishes Turkish politics from those of the European community that Turkey hopes to join. The main sense of this chapter is that in terms of full democracy Turkey still has a very long way to travel. This much Özbudun acknowledges. What is of concern is that he does not make the case that there is a sufficient awareness in Turkey of the enormity of the task the country faces. Unlike other observers such as Nicole and Hugh Pope in their book Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey, his review of the composition and functioning of the National Security Council...


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