Asst. Prof. Dr. Can Büyükbay, Political Scientist
Vice-Chairman, Progressive Thought Institute
Generally speaking, political cynicism has different aspects and can be directed towards various institutions, issues and regimes. In the context of Eurocynicism the term “cynicism” refers to coexistence of scepticism and sarcasm. To clarify more, Slavoj Zizek in his article “Why fear the Arab revolutionary spirit” in The Guardian on 01.02.2011 discussed “the Western liberal reaction to the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia frequently shows hypocrisy and cynicism…The cynical wisdom of Western liberal, according to which, in Arab countries, genuine democratic sense is limited to narrow liberal elites while the vast majority can only be mobilised through religious fundamentalism or nationalism, has been wrong.” As can be observed by this comment, cynicism in this context refers to a decoupling of irony, sarcasm and doubt with a more pragmatic than argumentative way.
Correspondingly, in the last years, distrust of the EU in Turkey has been transformed into contempt for Europe, which can be called “Eurocynicism”. Eurocynicism has been augmented by overconfidence particularly in the conservative and Islamic discourses. The media and conservative political discourses have stressed that Turkey has acquired more self-esteem, making EU membership seem less essential. Accordingly, in the Turkish case, cynicism towards the EU is characterised as an absence of trust or as negativism and disapproval.
This piece demonstrates that it includes one more element, which is equally important: overconfidence. The overconfidence topos misperceives the subjective probabilities in utilising heuristics that are mental shortcuts, where focussing on one particular aspect of a phenomenon or process may lead to wrong decision. A strong cognitive bias may lead to incorrect judgment and perceptual distortion. We see in Turkish foreign policy a great deal of confirmation biases, meaning the inclination to search for information that confirms one’s preconceptions and leaving contrary information outside the analysis.
The economic crisis in Europe and the relative economic progress in Turkey and its ambitions to be a regional power in recent years have led to a distrust and an extreme self-confidence in Turkey, especially among conservative and Islamic groups. Hence, Europe’s present situation has generated an exaggerated sense of Turkey’s own importance and abilities. Eurocynicism, cynicism towards the EU is frequently utilised as an argumentation strategy by the conservative and Islamic circles. Eurocynicism has particularly intensified among those groups that support the AKP and its policies.
Hence, the European rhetoric of politicians and public are increasingly laden with Eurocynicism, which political scientist Cengiz Aktar describes as an advanced version of Euroscepticism. Aktar emphasised that the reason for this new national enthusiasm can be found in Turkish over-confidence on the one side and the Eurozone crisis on the other. Accordingly, the government party engaged in an overconfidence backing on Turkey’s Ottoman past, economic growth and its ambitions to be a regional power.
The discourse “Turkey doesn`t need Europe” gained in strength after the European economic crisis and especially after Greece, a member of the EU, went bankrupt. In public discourse, there emerged a kind of “Schadenfreude”[i] over the problems faced by EU, given the fact that the EU has not accepted Turkey as a member.
To illustrate, the éclat of Erdoğan at Davos has a strong symbolic value in the eyes of the Islamic and conservative circles and is one of the most important sources of overconfidence, which is interpreted as a sign of power. Moreover, it should be noted that an implicit Euroscepticism is present in the Islamic discourses that stresses that Europe does not want that Turkey became a strong country. Additionally, the way in which Turkey would contribute to the synergy of the EU is explained with the foreign policy choices of Turkey that are not only dependent to Europe, but also on good relations with the Arab countries.
Parallel to these views, in 2011, the foreign media held Turkey up as a democratic model for the near eastern countries without a close observation of the democracy deficits Turkey is facing. European politicians have used the World War I-era description of Ottoman Empire as “the sick man of Europe” for Turkey for a long time, which has contributed to criticism by Turkish elites. Many conservative and liberal political scientists argued that after the AKP came to power, “a healthier, stronger and dynamic Turkey” has arisen with a strong economy and with a proactive foreign policy via “zero problems” with neighbours. The European and American media discourse in 2011 strongly stressed Turkey’s self-confidence with headlines such as “Turkey`s new-found self-confidence” (see Diplomatic Courier). Nevertheless, in 2012, the media discourse became more sceptical. Patrick Cockburn (2012), an influential journalist, warned that Turkey could become a victim of overconfidence and asked the following:
Are the Turks seeing the Ottoman Empire reborn or are they going to be the next victims of economic chaos in Europe and political turmoil in the Middle East? Is Turkey about to pay a price for the overconfidence suffered decline or disaster? Turkish optimism has ominous parallels with the self-regarding opinions once heard in İreland and Greece. As with Turkey, both these countries had histories of poverty and emigration which made them psychologically receptive to the self-deceiving idea that they had at last attained the prosperity so long and so unfairly denied them. Excessive belief in their own booms produced disastrous economic bubbles. (Cockburn 2012: 13)
In 2012, many articles in the Turkish and international media have stressed that Turkey’s overconfidence may result in disappointment. These statements turned out to be a bitter political reality in Turkey. Finally, this overconfidence resulted in a big disaster in Turkish foreign policy. The intolerable accumulation of argumentative fallacies (in other words of errors of reasoning) in pro-AKP media and political discourse continue to be dangerous to Turkey’s stability and to the peace in the neighbourhood.
[i] Schadenfreude is generally defined as “pleasure at another’s misfortune”. In psychological research, schadenfreude is connected to envy that results “when a person lacks another`s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it’ (See Goslinga et al. 2006).