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The politics of psychology

By Nikos Konstandaras

Turkey is at a turning point. Since coming to power in 2002, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has led his country out of an economic crisis and instability and made it an economic and political force in the region, with even greater ambitions. At the same time, Turkey is caught up in Syria’s collapse, relations with Russia are suddenly chilled, domestic reforms are slowing, the Kurdish issue keeps erupting, and the European Union is worried about human rights and Ankara’s refusal to normalize ties with Nicosia.

In this light, and beyond the importance of every contact between high-level Turkish and Greek officials, Ahmet Davutoglu’s visit to Athens on Wednesday was especially interesting. Turkey’s foreign minister was here to prepare for a meeting of the two states’ prime ministers in Turkey next January -- but the visit also provided a few journalists with a chance to meet with the theoretician of Turkey’s recent strategy. It is noteworthy that the political science professor described his country’s success in psychological terms.

“We know the economic situation in Greece. It is not alien to us,” he said, sitting at the head of a large table at the Turkish Embassy. He described how, in 2001, 15 Turkish banks had gone under, how the economic crisis had exacerbated political instability. “Most destructive, though, was the creation of a pessimistic psychology. We needed to create a new self-confidence in Turkish society. In 10 years we changed this psychology,” Davutoglu said.

Of course, a major part of Turkey’s success is owed to the fact that when Erdogan’s AKP came to power it formed the first one-party government in nine years. Also, it maintained a strict economic reconstruction program that had been adopted by a previous government. Stability and reforms brought development, which brought prosperity and self-confidence in dealing with major issues (such as confronting the military establishment and the Kurdish question), as well as in relations with other countries.

Today, Davutoglu’s doctrine of “zero problems” with neighbors is being tested (because of changing circumstances but also perhaps because sometimes too much confidence can lead to mistakes). He explains this in psychological terms again, listing the number of countries (including Greece) with which Turkey’s diplomatic and trade relations improved because it chose to see the potential for improvement. “As a social scientist, I know that there are no ‘zero problems,’ not even in a family,” he said. “I wanted to change the psychological paradigm, that we are surrounded by enemies.”

In Greece, how do we see ourselves and others?

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