Fighting Polarization
Overcoming Polarization through Dialogue: “Türkiye Talks” by Aposto & Friedrich Naumann Foundation Türkiye

Türkiye Talks
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

While polarization is a challenge that virtually all countries experience to an increasing extent, Türkiye is particularly vulnerable to an affective and pernicious brand of polarization due to its political environment and interpersonal relationships. Politically speaking, the presidential system splits the electorate into two camps, in favor and against the incumbent. This split is almost in half, and this political divide reflects and reenforces itself through news consumption and social media usage.
When parts of a society become pulled apart from each other due to high levels of political polarization, people who have opposing views perceive each other as enemies rather than as co-citizens; we call this affective polarization. The main mechanism that allows for political polarization to become affective polarization is the lack of cross-cutting social cleavages and accordingly weak interpersonal relationships such as respect, interpersonal trust and so on.

Türkiye is one of the countries that has the highest level of interpersonal distrust and highest affective polarization. This makes overcoming political disagreements extremely difficult as people do not have an assumption of mutual good will. The most constructive step that we may take to overcome this is to promote these values essential for democracy: trust, assumption of good intent, sense of togetherness as opposed to a zero-sum approach to politics, and respect.
Aposto tackles these issues from a news perspective, allowing its readers to escape partisan narratives and follow current events from a facts-based perspective that offers different perspectives on issues. Some common ground, some mutual acknowledgements of basic facts are necessary for any constructive and transformative dialogue.

Türkiye Talks 2
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

Türkiye Talks

Türkiye Talks is a format that matches our vision and values perfectly regarding above concerns. We start by choosing a subject of discussion for each event. In doing this, we balance the concern for existing polarization and try to avoid issues that could spark aggression or outright rejection to engage with the other, and on the other hand, in keeping with the spirit of the event an issue that people do have reasonable disagreements about. For our first two sessions, our discussion subjects were mandatory conscription to military and private education.

As our moderator for the conscription chapter of Türkiye Talks, Olgun Akbulut pointed out, “Türkiye is a militaristic nation” with a historically high reverence for the military personnel. On the other hand, a lot of people, young men in general as the mandatory conscription affects them the most, sometimes see it as a waste of time and disruption of their plans.

The second issue was private education: although a lot of people are unsatisfied with the state of public education and the expensiveness of private schools, people tend to disagree about the cause of these problems and solutions. Educator Ayşe Alan drew a framework of the issue and initiated the discussion where participants talked of first-hand experiences.

Türkiye Talks started with event coordinators from the Aposto team laying out an ethos for the discussions, essentially highlighting values mentioned in this document and their relationship to a functioning democracy. Assuming that the person in front of you is also trying to solve the same problem but from a different angle, rather than assuming that they are unsensitive to the problem was the most fundamental part of the ethos that we could see the participants resonated with and put into practice.

Türkiye Talks 3
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom