Turkish tug of war

The expected tug of war between winning party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey’s politico-military establishment kicked off yesterday. Mobilizing the media, the bureaucratic mechanism and state officials under its control, the Turkish establishment launched an attack on the Islamist leader for his remarks on the Cyprus issue a day after his election. Although his vague support for a solution based on the Belgian model was open to many interpretations (as the state propaganda machine rushed to point out), the fact that Erdogan was forced to backtrack on it marked a clear withdrawal. «We don’t want to imitate the Belgian model on the Cyprus issue but we are inspired by it,» the Islamic leader said in a television interview yesterday. «We are talking about two equal sovereign states,» Erdogan added, reiterating Turkey’s typical intransigent line. Despite its disappointment, Athens should not take Erdogan’s oscillation at face value. Nor should it nourish illusions about radical developments on Cyprus in the next few weeks. As a government still has to be formed in Turkey and Erdogan has to appoint one of his party cadres as prime minister (since he has been barred from taking up the post by the judiciary), the defeated representatives of the Turkish establishment are doing everything they can to show that nothing has changed and nothing can change against their will. In truth, the situation is quite different. A new political momentum has emerged based on popular support and a strong government majority that will be ever more lucidly reflected in Turkey’s internal power balance. Even though Ankara’s authoritarian administrative model does not allow a democratically elected government to pull the levers of the state mechanism, it would be a grave error to think that it can escape intact from the ongoing political fermentation – even less so after a political earthquake of the magnitude which shook Turkey. Athens must bear in mind that Erdogan will govern as the new head of the Turkish elite, not as a dissident. His dynamism will soon be compromised by the power of the establishment. This will produce new positions on Greek-Turkish relations and Cyprus, but no break with the past. The exact shape of this compromise is still unknown, but even a move away from current stagnation is in itself some form of progress.

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