‘Regimes of Eth­nic­ity and Na­tion­hood in Ger­many, Rus­sia, and Tur­key,’ By Şener Ak­türk


In this eru­dite and en­light­en­ing book, Şener Ak­türk asks sem­i­nal ques­tions about the de­vel­op­ment of eth­nic­ity regimes in Ger­many, Tur­key and Rus­sia. By look­ing at the way in which eth­nic­ity is treated in these dis­parate coun­tries, he is able to iden­tify cru­cial vari­ables in the na­tion-build­ing process in all three and gen­er­al­ize more broadly about eth­nic­ity regimes world­wide. His ar­gu­ment is de­cep­tively straight­for­ward: that the in­ter­sec­tion of three in­de­pen­dent vari­ables can forge a new con­sen­sus of po­lit­i­cal think­ing and ac­tion about eth­nic­ity: 1) the com­ing to power of counter-elites that em­body the de­mands of eth­ni­cally spe­cific con­stituen­cies; 2) the con­sti­tu­tion of a new “hege­monic ma­jor­ity” from these counter-elites that is able to in­flu­ence the pol­icy of the re­spec­tive states about eth­nic­ity; and 3) a “new dis­course” about eth­nic­ity pro­pounded by this ma­jor­ity that cap­tures the al­le­giance of the po­lit­i­cal classes and public con­stituen­cies (5). He makes the case that no sin­gle one of these fac­tors is able to change pol­icy about eth­nic­ity in it­self; they are “sep­a­rately nec­es­sary and jointly suf­fi­cient” (7). In short, only the con­flu­ence of all three is able to cre­ate a new stage of state ac­tions about eth­nic­ity.

State poli­cies about eth­nic­ity in Ak­türk’s schema break down into three ba­sic pro­to­types: Anti-eth­nic regimes, mono-eth­nic regimes and mul­ti­eth­nic regimes. They are char­ac­ter­ized re­spec­tively by as­sim­i­la­tion, seg­re­ga­tion and conso­ci­a­tion. Anti-eth­nic regimes -France is the most no­table in Europe -- in­sist on a sin­gle ethno-lin­guis­tic en­tity to which mi­nori­ties can as­sim­i­late or re­main out­side the body politic. Ac­cord­ing to Ak­türk, Tur­key fol­lowed this model, which was based on the think­ing and poli­cies of Ke­mal Atatürk, prior to the 2004 re­forms. When the Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AK Party), which grew out of the ear­lier counter-elite of the Wel­fare Party (RP), came to power in 2002, it forged a new hege­monic po­lit­i­cal force ready and able to en­gage in se­ri­ous eth­nic re­forms, in­clud­ing al­low­ing non-Turk­ish lan­guage broad­casts for the first time in the coun­try in 2004 and en­cour­ag­ing a form of Is­lam-based mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism that rec­og­nized Kur­dish, Alevi and other mi­nor­ity rights. An im­por­tant part of Ak­türk’s ar­gu­ment in re­la­tion to Tur­key is the fact that the Demo­crat Party (DP) in the 1950s, though hege­monic in its po­lit­i­cal rule, could not bring sub­stan­tial change to the Ke­mal­ist anti-eth­nic poli­cies be­cause of the ab­sence of a strik­ing new dis­course of na­tion­hood that could forge fresh gov­ern­ment poli­cies to­wards eth­nic­ity. In Ak­türk’s ren­di­tion of this history, even though the num­ber of Kur­dish and Alevi politi­cians elected to Par­lia­ment in­creased markedly with the DP vic­tory in 1950, thus con­sti­tut­ing a sig­nif­i­cant “counter-elite,” there was only a par­tial re­pu­di­a­tion of Ke­mal­ism and no no­table new

In this eru­dite and en­light­en­ing book, Şener Ak­türk asks sem­i­nal ques­tions about the de­vel­op­ment of eth­nic­ity regimes in Ger­many, Tur­key and Rus­sia

dis­course about eth­nic­ity and na­tion­hood (137). More­over, the gov­ern­ment’s poli­cies of as­sim­i­la­tion in ed­u­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment fol­lowed in the tra­di­tions of Ke­mal­ist Turk­ish na­tion­al­ism.

De­spite chal­lenges from the So­cial Demo­cratic Party of Ger­many (SPD)-led coali­tion gov­ern­ment in Bonn dur­ing the 1970s, Ger­many con­tin­ued to fol­low the model of a mono-eth­nic so­ci­ety that was ear­lier sup­ported by the ma­jor­ity Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union of Ger­many (CDU). The poli­cies that re­sulted ex­cluded non-Ger­mans from rights of cit­i­zen­ship, while easily mak­ing that cit­i­zen­ship avail­able to Ger­mans from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, who fre­quently knew less about Ger­many, the Ger­man lan­guage and Ger­man cul­ture than did Yu­goslav, Turk­ish or other “guest work­ers.” Poli­cies were some­times en­acted that were in­tended to pre­vent the immigration of non-Ger­mans, es­pe­cially when the econ­omy did not need ad­di­tional la­bor. Un­der this eth­nic­ity regime it was dif­fi­cult for Turk­ish work­ers to bring their fam­i­lies to Ger­many from Tur­key or for the work­ers them­selves to gain cit­i­zen­ship rights.

Ak­türk ap­pro­pri­ately em­pha­sizes the role that Turk­ish work­ers them­selves played in al­ter­ing this sit­u­a­tion, through their in­volve­ment in the Ger­man po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and es­pe­cially their ac­tivism in Ger­man trade unions. It took un­til 1999 for the Bun­destag to pass a new cit­i­zen­ship law, which it did by a large mar­gin. This was, writes Ak­türk, “in­dica­tive of the hege­monic ma­jor­ity around the idea of ex­tend­ing cit­i­zen­ship, at least of im­mi­grants will­ing to as­sim­i­late, which in turn was in­dica­tive of a new, non-eth­nic no­tion of Ger­man na­tion­hood” (32). Both Tur­key and Ger­many, then, could be con­sid­ered to have moved into the sec­ond cat­e­gory of “mul­ti­eth­nic regimes,” which al­lows for lin­guis­tic, cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sions of dif­fer­ence. Both the US and Canada are ex­am­ples of this kind of regime.

Ak­türk’s treat­ment of the Rus­sian case re­veals dif­fer­ent dy­nam­ics in the mak­ing of im­por­tant shifts of ethno-na­tional pol­i­tics, though the same three fac­tors of counter-elites, hege­monic ma­jor­ity

Both Tur­key and Ger­many could be con­sid­ered to have moved into the sec­ond cat­e­gory of ‘mul­ti­eth­nic regimes’

and new dis­course ap­ply. As in the Turk­ish and Ger­man cases, his ar­gu­ments about Rus­sia are based on an im­pres­sive com­bi­na­tion of orig­i­nal sources, in­flu­en­tial news­pa­per and jour­nal ar­ti­cles, in­ter­views and po­lit­i­cal speeches and mem­o­randa. Al­ready in the Khrushchev pe­riod, Soviet po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and aca­demics with close ties to the Polit­buro looked to change the Soviet Union from a multi­na­tional state to a mul­ti­eth­nic one, mean­ing to one more at­tuned to no­tions of Soviet “na­tion­hood” ver­sus the par­tic­u­lar­is­tic ethno-na­tional goals of the po­lit­i­cal elites in the var­i­ous na­tional re­publics. This was seen as more pro­gres­sive and more “com­mu­nist” than Stalin’s orig­i­nal de­sign of a multi­na­tional state. The at­tempts by some in the lead­er­ship to abol­ish the tra­di­tional in­clu­sion of eth­nic­ity in Soviet pass­ports (in­tro­duced in 1932) were part of the move­ment to­wards re­duc­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of eth­nic dif­fer­ence in the Soviet sys­tem. These ideas were wide­spread in the Brezh­nev pe­riod as well, but could never quite get past the ac­tive op­po­si­tion of the lead­ers of the na­tional re­publics, who feared the loss of their power and the as­sim­i­la­tion of their peo­ples in a “Soviet na­tion.”

Most in­trigu­ing in Ak­türk’s con­sid­er­a­tion of the Soviet/Rus­sian case is his dis­cus­sion of the lit­tle­known plan by for­mer KGB chief Yuri An­dropov, who ruled the Soviet Union for 15 months (19821984), to abol­ish the borders of the union’s re­publics al­to­gether and re­place them with ad­min­is­tra­tive units that con­formed to eco­nomic, topo­log­i­cal and ge­o­graph­i­cal de­ter­mi­nants. How­ever, once again Soviet lead­ers could not put an ef­fec­tive po­lit­i­cal coali­tion to­gether to get past the op­po­si­tion of the lead­ers of the re­publics. But the ideas proved so pow­er­ful that in 1997, dur­ing the late Yeltsin years, the Krem­lin was able to re­move the cat­e­gory of eth­nic­ity from Rus­sian pass­ports and re­duce the salience of eth­nic dif­fer­ence in fa­vor of a loosely de­fined “Ros­sian” na­tion­hood and na­tion­al­ism. As in the case of op­po­si­tion from Soviet eth­nic elites, the lead­ers of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion’s semi-au­ton­o­mous

eth­nic units, Tatarstan and Chech­nya the most prom­i­nent, wor­ried about the at­tacks on the in­tegrity of their “na­tions.” Some Tatar deputies even con­demned the pass­port ac­tion as a form of “geno­cide” and sought ways to cir­cum­vent the new laws (247). Cur­rent Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s first pe­riod in of­fice from 2000 to 2008 saw an in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of the same trend of re­duc­ing the im­por­tance of eth­nic­ity. There was a con­tin­u­a­tion of the shift in the eth­nic regime from the multi­na­tional her­itage of the Soviet Union to an “anti-eth­nic regime premised on as­sim­i­la­tion”(255).

Stu­dents of com­par­a­tive pol­i­tics might add to Ak­türk’s list of cru­cial vari­ables in cre­at­ing new eth­nic regimes the fre­quently cited in­flu­ence of in­ter­na­tional norms, es­pe­cially if one con­sid­ers the im­pact of the Euro­pean Union on the de­vel­op­ment of Turk­ish pol­i­tics or the in­flu­ence of in­ter­na­tional norms of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism on Ger­man na­tion­al­ist ex­clu­siv­ity. But Ak­türk deftly coun­ters these ar­gu­ments by de­mon­strat­ing that these in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ences pre­date the ac­tual turn of af­fairs in the re­spec­tive coun­tries. In­ter­na­tional norms con­trib­ute to chang­ing dis­courses of think­ing about eth­nic­ity, but are not causal. His anal­y­sis adds to the sense that the com­ing to­gether of these three fac­tors is a rel­a­tively rare and hard-won source of sig­nif­i­cant ethno-po­lit­i­cal change.

Ak­türk suc­cess­fully com­pares the de­vel­op­ments of the changes in eth­nic pol­i­tics of three of the largest and most im­por­tant Euro­pean na­tions. He is sure­footed with the sources, knows the lan­guages and cul­tures in­volved and makes a num­ber of im­por­tant and sug­ges­tive ob­ser­va­tions about the pro­cesses of sub­stan­tive rup­tures in their eth­nop­o­lit­i­cal regimes. For his­to­ri­ans, to be sure, his method­ol­ogy might seem ex­ces­sively em­bed­ded in the spe­cial­ized lan­guage and literature of com­par­a­tive pol­i­tics, which can some­times be te­dious and ob­scure clar­ity of ex­po­si­tion. For this reader, the book’s most sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions may well be the nu­anced and well-in­formed ex­plo­rations of the cases them­selves and what they say about the larger world of state poli­cies re­gard­ing eth­nic­ity, rather than in the struc­ture of the ex­plana­tory ap­pa­ra­tus.

Ak­türk succ ess­fully com­pares the de­vel­op­ments of the changes in eth­nic pol­i­tics of three of the largest and most im­por­tant Euro­pean na­tions

Aug. 18, 1962 PHOTO: AP

Al­ready in the Khrushchev (C) pe­riod, Soviet po­lit­i­cal lead­ers looked to change the Soviet Union from a multi­na­tional state to a mul­ti­eth­nic one file.

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