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The amendments in civil–military relations due to the EU accession process have been documented well in the 20 literature. For examples, see Hale Akay, “Avrupa Birliği: Güvenlik ve Sivil-Asker İlişkileri” in Almanak Türkiye 2006-2008: Güvenlik Sektörü ve Demokratik Gözetim, eds. Ali Bayramoğlu and Ahmet İnsel (Istanbul: TESEV Publications, 2010); Ümit Cizre, “The Justice and Development Party and the Military: Recreating the Past After Reforming It?” in Secular and Islamic Politics in Turkey: The Making of the Justice and Development Party, ed. Ümit Cizre, (London and New York: Routledge, 2008), pp.132-72; Linda Michaud-Emin, “The Restructuring of the Military High Command in the Seventh Harmonization Package and Its Ramifications for Civil– military Relations,” Turkish Studies vol. 8, no. 1 (2007), pp.25-42; Yaprak Gürsoy, “The Impact of EU-Driven Reforms on the Political Autonomy of the Turkish Military,” South European Society and Politics, Vol. 16, No. 2 (2011), pp.293-308.
Cizre, “Problems of Democratic Governance,” Ünlü Bilgiç, “The Military and Europeanization Reforms,” Michaud-Emin, “The Restructuring of the Military High Command.” 11 turkish public attitudes toward the military and ergenekon: consequences for the consolidation of democracy er words, as long as there is high confidence in the armed forces, it would be difficult for attitudinal support for democracy to flourish.
Changing Levels of Turkish Public Trust in the Military There is reason to believe that societal level of trust in the Turkish military has recently decreased. Even though the results from the 1990s and early 2000s indicate high public confidence in the military among all social classes and demographic groups,22 Eurobarometer surveys demonstrate that since 2008 there has been a significant drop in the level of trust in the Turkish military. From 2004 to 2010, the Eurobarometer surveys asked respondents in the EU member states and Turkey how much trust they have in the military. The timing of the surveys gives a unique opportunity to compare levels of confidence in the military in the 2000s and observe if there has been any drop in trust levels. Similar to other surveys conducted in the early 2000s, the Eurobarometer surveys also show that in these years, the Turkish public attitude was in general supportive of the armed forces, with on average close to 87 percent of the respondents saying that they tend to trust the army, and close to 11 percent declaring that they tend not to trust it.
These results were relatively higher than the trust respondents accorded to other institutions, such as the government (ranging between 63 and 80 percent), parliament (64-76 percent), the legal system (63-69 percent), and political parties (19-31 percent). Moreover, compared with the attitudes in European member states, the Turkish public trusted the army more than the European publics trusted their militaries.23 Between 2004 and 2007, on average 69 percent of the respondents in European member states declared that they tend to trust the military, whereas 21 percent said that they tend not to trust (see table 1).
Yılmaz Esmer, “Islam, Gender, Democracy and Values: The Case of Turkey, 1990-2001,” in Changing Values, 22 Persisting Cultures: Case Studies in Value Change, eds. Thorleif Pettersson and Yılmaz Esmer (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2008), pp.291-3. For surveys cited in Turkish dailies, see, for instances Şükrü Elekdağ, “Halkta Güven Bunalımı,” Milliyet, 08 November 1999, p.16; “Anketten ‘Ordu’ Çıktı,” Milliyet, 06 December 2005, http://www.milliyet.com.tr/2005/12/06/siyaset/siy02.html; “AKP Anketi: En Güvenilir Kurum Ordu,” Hürriyet, 18 January 2005, http://hurarsiv.hurriyet.com.tr/goster/ShowNew.aspx?id=289761.
Surveys conducted in 1990 and 1997 also show that the Turkish public had more confidence in the military 23 than on average in European countries. Yılmaz Esmer, Devrim, Evrim ve Statüko: Türkiye’de Sosyal, Siyasal, Ekonomik Değerler (Istanbul: TESEV Yayınları, 1999), p.45.
The following question was directed to the respondents: “I would like to ask you a question about how much 24 trust you have in certain institutions. For each of the following institutions, please tell me if you tend to trust it or tend not to trust it?” The army was one of the institutions that the surveys asked about.
12 turkish public attitudes toward the military and ergenekon: consequences for the consolidation of democracy Even though the Turkish military seemed to have a special relationship with the public in the early 2000s, the results of the surveys started to change after 2007. In 2008, 82 percent of the respondents declared that they tend to trust the military, while the percent of the people who declared that they do not have confidence in the military increased four percentage points. The number of people in Turkey who asserted that they tend not to trust the military increased further to 20 percent in 2009 and 27 percent in 2010. Conversely, the trust people accorded to the military decreased to 77 percent in 2009 and to 70 percent in 2010. Once the respondents who gave a “don’t know” answer are omitted from the calculations, it can be seen that that by 2010 the Turkish public trusted its army even less than the EU societies (graph 1).
The conclusion that trust in the Turkish army dropped to similar levels with the EU democracies holds true even when the Turkish results are compared with public opinion in Spain, Greece and Portugal (graph 2). These EU countries had authoritarian experiences and unpopular military plots in their pasts and therefore, are expected to have more negative attitudes toward their national armies than the EU average. Although the Turkish public in 2010 tended to trust its army at higher levels than the Portuguese (66 percent), it had similar levels of trust to the Greek public (69 percent) and lower than the Spanish respondents (74 percent). Thus, the Eurobarometer survey results clearly indicate that after 2008 there is a drop in the trust Turkish public has in the military, which does not differ from its European Union counterparts.
Source: Eurobarometer Survey, European Union 1995-2010. Available online at http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/cf/ Several international and domestic factors explain the transformation of the Turkish public’s attitudes towards the armed forces.27 Previous studies conducted by Esmer28 and Sarıgil29 pointed
out the following factors that influence public confidence in institutions of order and the military:
(1) Demographically the likelihood of observing trust in the military is higher among women, in rural areas, and among older individuals. As education levels increase, however, trust in the military decreases.
(2) The likelihood of observing high levels of confidence in the armed forces increases among nationalists, pious Muslims, those who have higher levels of trust in civilians, and those who believe that democracy is the best form of government.
(3) The likelihood of observing lower levels of trust in the military increases among those who vote for pro-Islamist and pro-Kurdish parties.
From the analysis of the SAFST data, I also hypothesize that similar demographic and political factors have an impact on public trust in the military. However, in addition to these factors, I examine the influence of the Ergenekon trials on confidence in the military. When we consider the timing of the drop in military trust levels in the Eurobarometer survey results and the Frequencies were re-calculated without the “don’t know” answers.
26 See the following resources for a discussion on the changing attitudes among the public and elites toward the 27 armed forces in the 2000s and possible reasons, Aydınlı, “A Paradigmatic Shift,” pp.586-7; Nilüfer Narlı, “EU Harmonisation Reforms, Democratisation and a New Modality of Civil-Military Relations in Turkey,” in Advances in Military Sociology: Essays in Honor of Charles C. Moskos (Contributions to Conflict Management, Peace Economics and Development, Volume 12), ed. Manas Chatterji (Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2009), pp.447-65; Demirel, 2000’li Yıllarda Asker ve Siyaset, p.8-10, Yaprak Gürsoy, “The Changing
Role of the Military in Turkish Politics: Democratization through Coup Plots,” Democratization (2011) DOI:
Esmer, Devrim, Evrim ve Statüko, p.50.
28 Sarıgil, “Deconstructing the Turkish Military’s Popularity,” pp.717-21.
29 14 turkish public attitudes toward the military and ergenekon: consequences for the consolidation of democracy start of the investigation (in 2007), there is reason to suspect that attitudes toward Ergenekon have an effect on public confidence in the military. In particular, Ergenekon is expected to explain some of the decrease in the popularity of the military.
Thus, among those individuals who have positive attitudes toward Ergenekon, the popularity of the military is hypothesized to be lower. If this hypothesis is correct, this is good news for democratic consolidation in Turkey. But this is only one side of the coin. An examination of Turkish politics also shows that the Ergenekon trials are leading to polarization in society, which is not conducive to democracy. This is the other side of the coin that I will consider now.
Democratic Consolidation and Polarization in Turkey Few scholars of democratic consolidation would disagree with the argument that polarization in politics is unfavorable to democratic consolidation.30 Widespread support for democracy means that there should be consensus among political groups and especially the elites on the basic rules of the regime.31 Polarization threatens this basic characteristic of a consolidated democracy. It can lead to severe conflicts and radicalization among groups both at the elite and mass levels. Intense political disagreements, in turn, may result in the questioning of the rules of the regime and eschewing of democratic norms and attitudes.32 More specifically, as Sani and Segatti argue for the Italian case, polarization might jeopardize the two basic values of democracy: “(1) the notion that competition is the very essence of democracy, and (2) recognition that the winner of this competition is rightfully entitled to rule.”33 The existence of actors who challenge these fundamental elements of democracy makes the regime an unconsolidated one, by definition.
Apart from damaging democratic consolidation through attitudinal changes, polarization also alters the behaviors of the actors. As a result of polarization, actors might view a risk for their interests, not commit to the regime, and sustain anti-democratic exit options.34 In other words, when conflict is intense, actors “look for other, frequently illegal and antidemocratic ways to shore up their positions, engaging in democratic processes only as long as such activities are useful in advancing their interests.”35 Centrifugal tendencies breed more conflict, since rival groups mutually suspect each other’s intentions and question their commitment to democracy.
Thus, as the government (or one group) attempts to suppress the opposition (or the rival group), the end result is a vicious circle of continuing polarization.36 In fact, such spirals of polarization could even contribute to the collapse of a democratic regime altogether.37 See, for instance, the figure in Michael Burton, Richard Gunther and John Higley, “An Introduction: Elite 30 Transformation and Democratic Regime,” in Elites and Democratic Consolidation in Latin America and Southern Europe, eds. John Higley and Richard Gunther, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p.23.
31 Leonardo Morlino, “Political Parties and Democratic Consolidation in Southern Europe,” in The Politics of 32 Democratic Consolidation, pp.349, 359.
Giacomo Sani and Paolo Segatti, “Antiparty Politics and Restructuring of the Italian Party System,” in The Politics of Democratic Consolidation, p.163.
For some examples of what might constitute such exit options and mechanisms of “hedging” see Gerard Alexander, The Sources of Democratic Consolidation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), p.60.
Gunther, Puhle, Diamandouros, The Politics of Democratic Consolidation, p.10.
36 See for instance the collapse of the Greek regime in 1967 and the Pakistani political system in 1999, respectively, in Thomas C. Bruneau et al., “Democracy, Southern European Style,” in Parties, Politics, and Democracy in the New Southern Europe, eds. P.Nikiforos Diamandouros and Richard Gunther (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), p.58; Larry Diamond, The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Buıld Free Societies Throughout the World (New York: Times Books, 2008), p.58.
15 turkish public attitudes toward the military and ergenekon: consequences for the consolidation of democracy Turkish democracy broke down after intense conflicts among political groups two times, in 1960 and 1980. Since then, polarization has been an important characteristic of politics, in part explaining the failure of Turkish democracy to consolidate.38 While before the 1980 coup, polarization among leftist and rightist groups damaged democracy, since the intervention, centrifugal tendencies on two other cleavages, namely secularism-religious conservatism and Turkish-Kurdish nationalism, have dominated politics.39 The first cleavage is between pro-Islamist and secularist groups.40 Islam has always been an important aspect of politics in Turkey and the military has always been a central player in this cleavage, protecting the secular foundations of the Republic and taking action against pro-Islamist parties. The armed forces justified their military interventions in 1960, 1971 and 1980 in part by the favors political parties gave to Islamic currents.