Interview with Prof. Roland Benedikter (UCSB and Stanford University)
Changing Turkey in a Changing World: Your main research interest is the “Global systemic shift”, including the current shift between Europe and its neighbours, among them Turkey. Could you briefly explain what “Global systemic shift” is?
Prof. Roland Benedikter: In the most basic sense, “Global systemic shift” is the macro-development of globalization in our time. It is first of all a name for the change that has been occurring since the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11, as at yet. As a research approach, “Global systemic shift” is conceived as a multidimensional, typology-based and integrative approach that wants to understand the complex “big picture” of contemporary socio-political change through the comprehension of a) systemic and b) discoursive elements supposedly active behind its phaenomenological curtains.
Changing Turkey: Could you talk a bit about your stay as a Visiting Professor in Turkey? Was it interesting?
Prof. Benedikter: During my time as a Visiting Professor at Mersin Universitesi from 2000-02, first of all I made a lot of friends who have become important partners of debate and research. These are people that I don’t want to miss, and I feel blessed to have them. I have particularly taken lots of profit from the insights into the multi-dimensional constellation of the Middle East, and into the importance of cultivating a multi-faceted, even if – for the time being – in many ways contradictory bridge between the Middle East and Europe, which de facto is Turkey in its present shape. These remain insights that were provided to me by outstanding academics of truly global stance like, for example, the founding president of Mersin Universitesi, Vural Ülkü, who became my much estimated mentor, role model and friend. There are many others. Second, I noticed an impressive openness to the new questions connected with the “Global systemic shift” that we briefly sketched here especially from the side of the younger generations of Turkish students and researchers. It was an openness and an enthusiasm which I did not expect in such a lively, well-informed and productive way.
Changing Turkey: What about the “systemic shifts” you observed within Turkey, if at all of course?
Prof. Benedikter: The main shift I have been observing since 2000 is a generational one. It became my conviction that the younger generation of Turkish researchers, civil society activists and intellectuals are, in their large majority, absolutely Europe-fit. In my opinion, they understand well and by primordial, individual experience, i.e. with common-sense, good (sometimes sarcastic, if not British-like) humour and an “essentialist” sensitivity (oriented, a.o., towards the implicit “essentialism” of the human rights question), 1. what an open society is; 2. what its necessary prerequisites are; 3. how modern “bottom-up” strategies of democratization by using new social media like Facebook, Twitter, webcams, smartphones etc. may work; and 4. how important a liberal foundation of society in general becomes in order to keep track with the fast-advancing global developments. So I became convinced that if these younger generations get a chance – a tiny chance maybe, but a fair chance, please, in your own interest! – to participate in the public process; if they are allowed to contribute their view on how Turkey should evolve; and on what is needed to modernize the Turkish society further: that then Turkey will have all the reasons to be optimistic about its future.
Changing Turkey: Any problems with this optimism, as far as you can see?
Prof. Benedikter: Unfortunately, it seems to me that the Turkish academic community is not as well connected with the international academic community, as it could and as it really should be. Extremely talented Turkish PhD students and researchers are still clearly disatvantaged on the international stage regading opportunities and integration of qualification and career if compared, for example, with their colleagues stemming from Asian countries like China or the Tiger states, as long as they stay in their country. This is because Turkey, as a national state, has missed a lot of opportunities to forge international, national and institutional arrangements with other states like the U.S. or the European states – while others seized these chances. So many of the most talented Turkish academics I personally know – and you believe me, there are so many! – are forced to emigrate to realize their full potentials. I think this has to change as soon as possible.
Changing Turkey: What do you think about Turkey’s efforts to become a member of the European Union?
Prof. Benedikter: This is certainly an extremely complex topic which is difficult to address in just a few sentences. I can’t address it appropriately here. But if you look at my publications on the topic where I tried to look at the issue from different points of view, including the pros and cons, my overall stance on the issue may become a bit clearer. Given the ambivalence of the situation, my answer for the time being remains ambivalent.
Changing Turkey: Give us a résumé of it, please!
Prof. Benedikter: First of all, I believe that the younger generations of academics, intellectuals and civil society activists I mentioned know the answers of how to make Turkey fit for becoming part of the greater European community, be it as full member or as associated member with special status. I don’t think that it will be decisive which of these two – or other potential – options will be realized. I think it is much more important that Europe starts to understand Turkey better than it was possible in the past; and that certainly includes applying a multi-dimensional, at least six-fold methodology of apprehension on its past, present, and outlook. The second prerequisite from my personal point of view is that Turkey makes itself fit for Europe by adjusting its systemic and institutional framework which has, at least in parts, not been sufficiently adapted so far. That means in my view that first of all, there has to be more concrete intellectual and civil society exchange in order to create the prerequisites for in-depth integration below the nation states. I think this kind of integration, and mutual awareness that has to be created on a much broader level than it has been so far will be more important than all the declarations of good will that we are hearing these days from the official bearers of political charges and offices.
Changing Turkey: What are the pros and cons of Turkey’s future?
Prof. Benedikter: Let me make it very short here, even at the expense that I will not be very accurate. My viewpoint is, as far as I can be integrative: 1. Turkey has managed the recent financial and economic crisis of 2007-10 comparatively well, and its economic outlook is positive. 2. It is technologically innovative, globally interconnected and demographically growing. On the other hand, 3. an array of crucial political prerequisites have not been matched by the current government, a.o. questions of democratization and the improvement of the situation of the Turkish civil society, the many open questions of minority issues like the situation of the Kurds and religious freedom, including the much important, if not fundamental question of how a “European Islam” appropriate to open societies could look like. These are issues where culture and religion come into play and mix up with politics, and particularly these fields have been not appropriately addressed so far. Some of these questions could be solved in a comparatively short period of time, for example by conceding a regional autonomy to the Kurdish areas taking as an example the regional autonomy of South Tyrol within Northern Italy, which is founded as a constitutional right of the linguistic and cultural minorities present on national soil in the national constitution of the Republic of Italy. At the same time, it cannot be ignored that Turkey could serve as a hub for liberalization between Europe and Asia, i.e. as a realistic, and indeed as a badly needed model of democratization for its neighbours, for example for Iraq, or for the Syrian and Iranian civil societies. How exactly this could be the case I tried to point out, a.o. with the help of my doctoral father Ferhad Ibrahim Seyder, in my book on the Democratization of Iraq Through Socio-Cultural Approaches, Elements and Methods already in 2005 (see:http://www.passagen.at/cms/index.php?id=62&isbn=9783851656299&L=0, in German). I am convinced that this outstanding potential of Turkey of serving as a model of pluralistic modernization in Islamic countries is still valid, and that will be valid throughout the coming years.
Changing Turkey: Finally: The relationship between Turkey and Europe in the years ahead – put just into two or three sentences?
Prof. Benedikter: Trying to sum up what we have said here in just a few words, I would assert that both the standpoints of Europe and Turkey have to evolve throughout the coming years. It depends on both partners whether the process of in-depth, i.e. six-dimensional convergence and rapprochement will be a productive and satisfying one. And that’s certainly what I wish for. Because the most important issue in my view is that progress will be made, independently of any solutions that may be found for the single problems. Progress, multidimensional progress where different, in the ideal case of course all six fields of systemic action mutually influence and empower each other, is certainly more important than many of the rather one-sided economic or political outlooks that we may continue to hear in the coming years from all sides involved. In my view, it is all decisive to make continuous, stable, multidimensional progress, even though it may be a silent one that is less spectacular than single symbolic events.
Published in Changing Turkey in a Changing World.