The Public Opinion Producers

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Eylem Akdeniz, Istanbul Kemerburgaz University, Turkey

    Especially in the last decade, during the three consecutive terms of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), a very particular type of “democrat” has come of age. As assumed in this study, this “democrat” is more narrowly defined; not as a typology of ordinary citizens equipped with ideals of liberty and justice, but as a category claimed by a specific group of public opinion producers who defend the state of “being a democrat” against authoritarian practices and ideologies in Turkey. In the study, this group is separated from other, more leftist oriented, democrats who may share some of the opinions of how Turkey can become more democratic. Understood this way, the “democrat” has been tempered with various critical moments in the process of democratization in post-1980s Turkey: The discourse of the group of opinion producers who claimed the identity of “democrats” against militaristic, nationalistic and Kemalist ways of governance was weak in the few years following the 1980 coup. Yet as the country headed towards the 1990s, struggling with the twin major challenges of political Islam and Kurdish radicalism, the profile of the democrat has become stronger and more visible. The democrat emerged as a dominant position within the field of opinion production (encompassing the publishing world, newspapers columns and TV programs) as a a critique of Kemalism, of “strong state,” who appeals to the “democratic hopeful” leader(s) of Turkey. Democrats (as opinion producers) became more rigorous in communicating their own ideas about how democratization should proceed, and in expressing their frustrations when things do not go as smooth as they wish. The study contends that two moments of Turkey’s post-1980 democratization condition the consolidation of the democrats’ position within the arena of opinion production: (1) the rise of PKK’s armed contention against the domination of a Turkish ethnic identity; (2) the rise of political Islam as a contender for municipal and parliamentary power. It is argued that these political processes in Turkey have created a cultural atmosphere in which high-profile democratic opinion producers interact (through the exchange of ideas in the media sphere) with rulers in power on matters concerning democratization. As exemplary cases for the “matured” profile of these opinion producers, two figures will be under critical examination: Etyen Mahçupyan (a regular columnist for the conservative daily Zaman) and Ali Bayramoğlu (a regular columnist for the conservative daily Yeni Şafak). The study will analyze their socio-political trajectories and their political position-takings in relation to the critical moments during Turkey’s process of democratization. The originality of the approach is the focus not only on opinions per se, but also on the relationship between the carriers of those opinions and the socio-political environment through which they carry them. By looking, using the two cases, at the strengths and weaknesses of the trajectories followed by democrats, it is argued that it will be possible to shed more light on the strengths and weaknesses of Turkey’s democratic adventure itself.