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The following article by Oral Çalışlar was published in the quality daily Radikal on 6 October 2009. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton.

Why is the left capable of winning in Greece and not here?

by Oral Çalışlar

The message on my mobile phone which arrived in the early hours of the morning proclaimed the victory of the left in the elections in Greece. The PASOK leader Papandreou will be the neighbouring country’s new prime-minister. That is, the left has beaten the right to come to power.

I have once again became consumed with my thoughts about our left. It seems like a century since the left here was last able to win an election. One of my friends said the following; “Is there such a thing as the left in Turkey?” We know that the social democratic parties in Turkey that describe themselves as being on the left are statist and nationalist. The fact that there exists in Turkey no left-social democratic party in terms of universal criteria is gradually becoming apparent to ever wider sections of society.

It can be said that the left parties in other countries have not been purged of ‘nationalism’. For example, it could be argued that the winner of the Greek elections, PASOK, is nationalistic. In this context, the sincerity of Greek socialism could be subjected to debate.

However, we can easily say that the Greek left and the European left follows a line in various regards that makes it more democratic and receptive to universalism. PASOK’s nationalist dimension, as opposed to that of our left wingers, is a dimension that is more distanced from statism and nationalism.

The leading names of the European right such as Merkel and Sarkozy have allied themselves on certain points such as xenophobia and hostility towards Turks. In Greece the left-winger Papandreou charts a far more positive line than the right-winger Karamanlis on the question of relations with Turkey and a peaceful solution to the Cyprus problem. PASOK supported the Annan Plan in Cyprus. In general, the left parties in Europe adopt a more positive attitude towards minorities, foreigners and immigrants living in those countries compared to other parties. In Europe right-wing parties are in the vanguard of xenophobia. These right-wing parties also take a far more negative stance with respect to Turkey’s EU accession. None of these things is surprising; quite the reverse, they are things which accord with the universal/general definitions of right and left.

***

Spain, Portugal and Greece for long years all suffered the pain of military rule and militarism. This pain ended with a massive settling of scores. These countries ridded themselves of military rule and the institutions bequeathed by it. This ridding was spearheaded by those countries’ socialists, social democrats and communists.

The left-wing movement in Turkey, by contrast, has displayed mixed and complex positions in this area. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), emanating as it does from a statist and militarist tradition, has not distanced itself too far from coups. The opposition voiced by Bülent Ecevit to the 12 March 1971 military coup was tantamount to a break with the traditional CHP. This break was to be short lived. The CHP, in part influenced by the 12 September military coup, returned to its core position of support for militarism.

The CHP today manifests itself as the political current closest to militarism. Its approach to this country’s diversity also disqualifies the CHP from being classified as a left-wing party. The Turkish socialist movement unfortunately places a great deal of its weight behind nationalism, militarism, statism, bureaucratic elitism and the status quo. This general state of affairs leads to the conclusion that it is impossible to speak of a left-wing movement in terms of universal standards in Turkey. Hardly a day passes without the emergence of fresh examples which confirm the thesis that it is on the matters of militarism and democracy that the left-wing movements in our country diverge from those in Europe.

The opposition voiced by Bülent Ecevit to the 1971 military coup and his adoption of an anti-militarist stance brought the CHP into contact with the universal left movement. As a legacy of this, today’s CHP is part of the Socialist International. Nowadays, though, world social democracy does not see the CHP as being one of its own.

Currently the left-wing movement in Turkey is not a candidate for power. It does not appear that it will be in the near future. I think that it is useful to dwell in some depth on the question, “With Turkey undergoing change and feeling the need for restructuring on fundamental issues, should the exclusion of the left movement from this be seen as an irony of fate and the new circumstances, or should it be considered normal on the grounds that ‘our left is anything but’?”

***

I intend here to repeat once more an event that I witnessed years ago in Greece with the aim of conveying my message with an example. I was in Athens with a group of our compatriots, most of whom lived in Europe. We visited the Turkish Embassy.

Displayed on the table in the embassy entrance hall was a photograph of Kenan Evren signed by the ambassador. If my memory serves me correctly the year must have been around 2000. Even though almost twenty years had passed since the military coup, the photograph of a coupist was displayed on the table of honour of the embassy of a country that was supposedly under democratic rule.

At that time, of the two most prominent leaders of the military coup which was brought down in 1974 in Greece, one had died in prison and the other had been in prison for over twenty years. A member of parliament who attended the funeral of the coupist who died in jail was expelled from the right-wing New Democracy Party.

We continue to be governed under a coup constitution. The greatest obstacle to change, unfortunately, is presented by those who call themselves left wingers. The painful thing is that simply speaking of this truth does not make any concrete contribution towards changing it.

The expectation that a left which does not trust the people and leans on militarism, the state, power and elites will win the support of society in any case flies in the face of reality.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton