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The South Atlantic Quarterly 102.2/3 (2003) 283-292

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Sibel Irzık and Güven Güzeldere

During the last couple of decades, Turkish economy, society, and culture have undergone intense hybridizations under influences no longer easily characterized as importations of a Western modernity. In February 2001, the liberalized market economy instituted within, if not by means of, the repressive political environment following the 1980 military coup produced a major crisis bearing all the marks of a full-scale integration with global capitalism. The consequences of this economic crisis are currently being experienced in the form of sharply escalated rates of unemployment and poverty. The increasingly more visible manifestations of poverty in urban settings coexist with material and symbolic displays of what Tanıl Bora calls a "neoliberal chauvinism of prosperity" personified in "Euro-Turks."

Ayse Bugra's description of the changes in the place of the economy in contemporary Turkish society shows that the current dissolution of "society-specific arrangements, which, until recently, were able to prevent the worst forms of social exclusion and poverty" cannot be interpreted as a sign of modernization in the sense [End Page 283] of the replacement of such arrangements with the rules of the competitive market, formalized labor relations, and formal mechanisms of redistribution. While the new orientation toward a globalized market renders informal relations of reciprocity such as family support incapable of continuing to function as systems of social protection, the same types of informal relations are mobilized to deregulate the labor market, to facilitate flexible production, and to accelerate the use of public resources to support private sector development. The emergence of "Euro-Turks" is largely due to the fact that "liberalization and deregulation have provided ample opportunities for the mobilization of networks for private gain, and what was critically labeled as populism has given way to downright corruption." The currently experienced shocks of Turkey's insertion into the global market are thus not accompanied by a promise of evolving toward what used to be a Western model of justly and rationally regulated configurations of economic and social life.

While the Westernized prosperous elite was busy distinguishing itself from the impoverished lower classes it viewed as a hindrance to membership in the EU, a predominantly right-wing coalition government including the radical nationalist MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) recently surprised both the Turkish public and the European authorities with a speedy enactment of a number of significant legal reforms required by the EU. Soon after, in October 2002, the EU released its latest report on Turkey's progress toward accession to membership. It praised the new reforms but also cited several antidemocratic practices and human rights violations as serious obstacles in the way of starting membership talks. Although Turkey's possible membership in the EU continues to be a contested issue, and although several representatives of the state challenged the accuracy of the claims in the report, the standard objection to the EU's demands as interferences with Turkey's internal affairs was not voiced as loudly as it would have been even a few years ago. It seems to have lost much of its appeal in a widely shared knowledge and acceptance of the permeability of national borders.

Tanıl Bora's taxonomy of nationalist discourses in Turkey becomes especially interesting in this context. It registers the rising appeal of a liberal "neonationalism" largely shaped by an ideology of economics. This brand of nationalism sees the self-interest of the nation in merging with the globalization process, defining Turkishness as an "intrinsic" capacity to harmonize [End Page 284] with universal standards. This "sterile, narcissistic, and hedonistic" nationalism coexists with official, racist, and Islamic varieties, each involving "articulations, osmoses, and ‘syntheses' alongside its ‘Eastern' and ‘Western,' ethno-essentialist and civil aspects."

Against this background, the sense of belatedness and the fear of inauthenticity that accompanied the traumatic late-nineteenth-century encounter with the Western model have become complicated by a bewildering sense of simultaneity with the rest of the world. Analyses in terms of Turkey's geographical and cultural situation "between two worlds...


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pp. 283-292
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Archived 2004
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