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June 04, 2012, Monday

Search for a new model

One of the world’s most important issues today is the uncertainty that arises from how people are organized. During the last two centuries, under the influence of the West the world was organized into nation states. Families were separated and traditional forms of community, clans, tribes, etc., were disbanded and replaced with homogenous, monolithic “societies” and “nations” that were managed by a central power.

With the ever-expanding wave of globalization reaching even the farthest shores of the world, it can be said that a nation state has three gradual stages of organization: a central government that focuses on citizens; a local government that focuses on a group of people; and regional integrations that are based on unions.

A closer look reveals that these three types of organizations are actually based on a “central, territorial and nation-centered” model. This issue needs to be discussed from various aspects as this model -- which is considered to be outdated -- is the primary reason for the emergence of big crises in many parts of the world. Although it appeals to very few Turkish scholars and politicians, this topic is one of the hotly debated issues in the West. (For more information, see “Modern Ulus Devlet [Modern Nation-State]” by Ali Bulaç, 2007).

Currently, the widely accepted argument is that local governments should be strengthened against a central government, a process that tends to turn into all-inclusive deep-running totalitarianism. This is due to an increased red tape stemming from scientific and technological developments and the fact that local administrators should be granted extensive powers, authorities and facilities as they are more familiar with their own problems. This view, once espoused by elite groups, has over time become one of the oft-voiced demands of certain ethnic groups.

Those who believe that even the strengthening of local governments will not solve today’s aggravated problems advocate decentralization. “Democratic autonomy” is one of the views that have gained some weight after 30 years of conflict over the Kurdish issue. It is argued that many powers and authorities currently undertaken by the central government, such as security, tax collection, the judiciary, education and health, should be transferred to local governing bodies.

It is clear that in a country like Turkey, which is built upon a central administration and top-down guidance, small problems become larger and are thus more difficult to solve. In such a country, reforms are implemented to shrink the center but those who come to power later backpedal on these reforms. It is clear that some parties secure electoral appeal by making strong democratic demands such as “greater expansion of the civilian sphere,” “increased and effective political participation” and “shrinking the state apparatus,” but the core at the very heart of this apparatus is resisting radical and authentic reforms, and in the end these parties are successful.

As a matter of fact, any attempt to reverse this course would be like swimming upstream and would not help the situation except to complicate it. Oddly enough, Koçi Bey, a 17th century Ottoman scholar, had made the same diagnosis. In sum, Koçi Bey had advised Murad IV, who wanted to reinforce the state authority, that “whenever the state is unable to solve its own problems, it tends to subordinate many things to the center, which in turn adds to increased deadlock and crisis.”

Really, history repeats itself. The solution is obvious: to introduce a system that is central and centralist from a political perspective and pluralistic and decentralist from a socio-cultural perspective -- as was the case with the typical Ottoman and Islamic model. This is a model unknown to Western democracies, which need it badly.

Previous articles of the columnist