Alienation from the West

While opinion polls show a high degree of volatility with respect to electoral intentions and the popularity ratings of top political officials, and a reversal of the trend cannot be ruled out if conditions become more favourable as the COVID pandemic is overcome, opinion polls are more stable with respect to foreign policy and international relations. Numerous surveys are available on this topic. Turkey's relations with the European Union (EU) are a focal point of opinion polls.

Different surveys come to a similar conclusion on one key question: Around two-thirds of Turks support their country's membership in the EU. But only 40 percent consider this prospect realistic. The figures illustrate the frustration of many people in Turkey over the frozen accession issue.


Probably the most important source for the systematic analysis of public opinion on issues of international politics is the annual study by Istanbul's Kadir Has University. Under the title "Turkey Trends", Mustafa Aydin presents in well over a hundred pages and with many tables current moods on more or less all aspects of Turkish foreign relations. The advancing alienation of the people in Turkey from the West can be described as the common thread running through the work of tables.

The table entitled "Threat to Turkey" is particularly revealing. The United States of America has topped this list unchallenged in recent years. According to the table, more than 60 percent of Turks regard the leading Western power as a threat. They are followed – at a small distance – by Israel, Armenia, France, Great Britain and Germany. According to the study, one in two people in Turkey – just over 50 percent – consider Germany a threat.

A mirror image of the countries seen as threatening is the list of allies. Unchallenged at the top here is neighbouring Azerbaijan. The first Western country in the hit list of friends is Germany, in 11th place. But from the German perspective, there is little reason for euphoria: only 15 percent of those surveyed consider the country in the heart of Europe to be an ally.

A recent survey sponsored by the German Marshall Fund shows how deeply rooted the distrust of the West is in Turkish society. According to the survey, 79 percent of respondents believe it is the goal of European partners to divide and split Turkey. Nearly two out of three Turks also believe that the reforms demanded by the EU in connection with the accession negotiations are tantamount to capitulation. 

Politically, Turkey is a highly polarised country with two camps at cross-purposes on fundamental issues. It is striking that public opinion on important foreign relations issues does not fit this pattern of dichotomy, meaning that there is far greater unanimity on foreign policy issues than on domestic issues.

This observation supports the thesis that even in the event of a change of government in Ankara or Erdogan's departure from politics, the basic features of Turkish foreign policy would not change. Or, to put it another way, alienation from Europe and the West is not a temporary phenomenon; it has long since taken deep root in large sections of Turkish society.

Ronald Meinardus

© 2021

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