Things are developing so fast in this country that it is necessary to take a look at events from the outside. In this way, it is possible to make objective assessments and evaluations independent of emotion and bias. I was in Russia for a couple of days. I have been to St. Petersburg, the country’s window to the West, which has recently held elections for the Duma, the lower house of the parliament. I was invited by the Turkish-Russian Cultural Association.
Turks and Russians are two peoples displaying similarities because of their ambivalent location between the West and the East. The city of St. Petersburg was built by Peter the Great in the early 1700s. The city is one of the greatest symbols of Russian ambition to become Westernized and European. Peter was a dictator; but he was also talented and smart. This talent, coupled with the authority and recklessness of being an emperor, created this city, constructed in a swamp upon millions of stakes. Tens of thousands of slaves died during the lengthy construction period.
Peter witnessed the murder of his family in the palace when he was a small child. Back then, he decided to change the archaic state structure of Russia. The first thing he did when he came to power was dissolve the army and create a new one. In the aftermath, he traveled to Holland, along with a group of his men, where he worked at the docks. Based on this experience, he created his country’s national navy.
Peter the Great hated the archaic nature and clumsy outlook of his country. And he viewed Moscow as the greatest symbol of this state of clumsiness. After finally reacquiring the land of St. Petersburg from the Swedish, who defeated him 20 times, he built the city on this territory that is close to Baltic Sea, the nearest location of the country to Europe. To him, Moscow represented the old and the archaic whereas St. Petersburg represented the new and the modern. He brought architects from Italy and attempted to create an anti-Moscow. For instance, he banned the onion-dome church architecture, the symbol of Moscow. He designed the city with architecture that extended toward the horizon, giving it an air of infinity. He considered the views of the architects in his decisions on each phase of the construction including the height of the pavements. He believed that the people too should change and imposed some prohibitions that are not actually very strange to us. He banned the growing of beards and local dress. He also introduced the death penalty for some acts, encouraging the nobles to move from Moscow to St. Petersburg in the process.
I believe that these mad attempts by Peter and his successors, as well as the mad efforts members of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) and the Kemalist elites, who gave the CUP a run for its money with their madness, stem from the same psychology. After a clear defeat in the rivalry with the West, both the vaccine and the poison should have been taken from the same source. In other words, the CUP and Kemalists should have imitated Western progress; on the other hand, the West, which they hated, was also a role model for them because of its successes and the civilization it created. This also applies to Russia which has had many disagreements and conflicts with France, Germany and Britain. This dilemma is best visible in the works of Dostoyevski and in some cases, it turns into categorical hatred against the West.
Both countries have created new regimes in early 20th century: Russia in October 1917 and Turkey in April 1923. To me, both totalitarian regimes collapsed almost simultaneously. The one in Russia made a dramatic farewell in 1989, and the Soviet Union was dissolved. The one in Turkey, however, started to crumble after the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) took power in the November 2002 elections. What Turkey experienced was more like an evolutionary change. In the period between 2002 and 2011, there has been a struggle against coup attempts staged by the Kemalist pro-guardianship bloc which sees itself as the master of the people. In a total war and set of efforts, the military, judiciary and the Ergenekon have worked tirelessly to undermine the effective rule of the AK Party as well as the people.
The end of the Cold War
Why they failed in their efforts has something to do with Russia as well The Cold War was officially over when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the world started to experience what is called globalization. The end of Cold War meant there was no need for deep state structures like Gladio (state-sponsored secret terrorist networks) and some Western countries have effectively dealt with this problem, removing these structures from their systems. The last example of this was the elimination of Italian Gladio through an effective operation in Italy. The information revolution, an indispensible part of globalization, also ensured people’s easy access to information which was previously held under a monopoly. Thanks to the Internet and social media, it became possible to have the entire world within the same room in a cyber world. The free movement of capital, the main engine of globalization, envisaged just distribution of wealth and peace on a global level, indicating that the time for the totalitarian states and regional wars was over. The USSR was not an alternative modernization model for Third World countries anymore. It was a glorious balloon, but it exploded. Turkey’s pro-status quo and pro-guardianship actors failed to properly read how the world order and paradigm changed after the fall of the Soviet Union. They failed to appreciate that it was not possible anymore to state a conventional coup, that coup preparations would not remain confidential and that there was not a superpower willing to support the coups. I think that they are still unable to comprehend this new situation.
Today, there are similar motives behind the Arab Spring: the absence of the USSR as a balance of power, a model and an umbrella, and the information revolution. It is not possible anymore to isolate people from the world. For this reason, the dictatorships of the old world are crumbling. They were actually gone in the 1990s but they just did not know that. We view the current Assad regime in Syria as outdated and are thinking that it will soon be gone; you should be sure that other dictatorships will also disappear.
When I looked at Turkey from Russia, I saw a country that has resolved many of its structural problems without reliance on violence and extreme measures, made a huge progress and become the most fortunate country in the region. Turkey is a rising star in the region because of its young population, matured democracy and strong economy. It is normal to be critical of things within the country, but you should give credit to what has been done. Whenever I travel abroad, I hear praise from foreigners about Turkey. Everybody is admiring Turkey. A Greek told me during my visit to Greece last summer to ‘give us your prime minister and his team for a period of five years.’ And he was serious.
I am constantly saying the same thing: that Turkey will become one of the brightest countries of the 21st century. The biggest obstacle to this is the PKK issue. We will always have an impediment before us unless we solve this issue. Turkey will have difficulty using this opportunity because of the PKK issue and rising complaints of the Kurdish citizens because in the end, we are stuck between a rock and hard place.