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