Rise of Nationalism in Europe and US: Will Turkey Follow?

Sinan Baykent

Political Analyst, Turkey


Nationalist agenda the world thought to be dead by the end of WWII is born again out of its ashes. After years of incubation policy, European nationalist right resurged especially in 2014. European Parliament (EP) elections held on May 2014 depicted the “renaissance” of nationalism. While France’s National Front Party got 23 MPs and came first with a score of 25%, UKIP led polls in Great Britain. Greece’s Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party, gained three seats in EP. German neo-Nazis (with the NPD) also entered EP, even if it’s with one seat.

May 2014 created a real momentum for the nationalist right in Europe. It incited David Cameron, the ex-PM of Great Britain, to hold a referendum on EU membership, which turned out catastrophic for him; UKIP’s “Brexit” campaign succeeded and Cameron resigned. Polls in France show that 2017 Presidential elections will also be a tough one for mainstream parties; Marine Le Pen, National Front’s charismatic leader, seems to be already qualified for the second round with at least 30% of total votes.

Meanwhile in US, Donald Trump’s gradual rise on recent polls is an ongoing trend. The American public opinion is getting more and more suspicious about Hillary Clinton’s health and ability to lead the US. Thus, it seems like for now Obama himself assumes responsibility for the democratic candidate’s campaign. Trump’s political discourse is an unusual one, especially in US context. It bears some similar features with European nationalists whether on international issues or domestic policies.

In this respect, nomination of ex-mayor of London, Boris Johnson, for Foreign & Commonwealth Office is certainly not a coincidence. Great Britain’s Raison d’Etat is widely known and appreciated for its future-planning abilities since old imperial days. World politics is on the edge of a paradigm shifting process and its main driving force is nationalism.

Even if during its entire republican history (or precisely since Tanzimat reforms), Turkey had always cultivated a special interest for Western ideas and political developments. Until a recent past, this interest was contributing to Turkey’s political thinking, especially concerning our nationalistic views. Founding fathers of the Turkish Republic were deeply influenced by Western nationalists; Young Turks were inspired by European nation-building project, Atatürk on the other hand established a single-party rule similar to Italy’s.

In this sense, modern Turkish nationalism owes a lot to Western nationalism in terms of inspiration and stimulus. Nevertheless contemporary Turkish nationalism is obstinately denouncing those European currents and rejects them in block. Maybe this is why Turkish nationalism, as an independent political current, is actually struggling with itself and trying to find a way out of its actual ideological dead-end.

While European national parties’ vote potentials are flying high, Turkish nationalists’ crumble. In Europe, nationalists have the ear of the oppressed workers, craftsmen, some predominant intellectuals and even old communists. Nationalism in Europe is once again exploring its historical roots and trying to combine them with actual popular expectations. Turkish nationalist, on the other hand, are still prisoners of a nostalgic Cold-war era criteria series.

As long as nationalism in Turkey continues to live (or survive) under the pressure of “systemic market-politics”, it will never be able to achieve what European nationalists are currently achieving and this, for a long time.

It’s maybe time to remind Turkish nationalists (which I am personally a part of) that nationalism isn’t merely an emotional state of mind but a political doctrine with a concrete political program in harmony with popular aspirations. If Turkish nationalism doesn’t reform itself from within, fossilization is near.

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