Narli Nilüfer argues that Turkey is facing a test for democracy and its EU membership bid at a critical juncture of its development. Two major issues are at stake. First, democracy is threatened by growing extremism, either of a religious or a secular character. As polarisation grows, people are forced to take sides. Many are squeezed between the extremes: ultra-nationalism, hardliner laicism, and neo-fundamentalism. Second, Turkey risks losing its EU perspective. There have been doubts about the Justice and Development Party (AKP) drive for the EU membership. The stagnation of EU-driven reforms and the perceived Islamisation of society have left many wondering, both in Turkey and in Europe, how much enthusiasm is left for EU membership?
Turkey is currently characterised by increased polarisation along the following cleavages: Islamist versus secularist; Kurdish separatism versus Turkish ultra-nationalism; and liberals verses static nationalism. Most liberals, who could help moderate tensions, consist of the urban middle and upper classes. They are frustrated with the “old static mentality” represented by the major opposition party, the People’s Republican Party (CHP). The EU membership issue fosters nationalist-liberal tensions at a time when the AKP presents itself as the only supporter of EU integration despite the fact that reforms have slowed down since 2005.