On this series: This blog post belongs to a series under the title and leading question „Can networks of local governments challenge the rise of cross-border neo-populism?“. The complete series are my contribution to an edited volume by Dr. Agata Rogoś, postdoctoral research fellow at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Agata’s Edited volume’s working title is „Permeability of dispossession / Dispossession of borders“. In accordance with her, I publish my contribution on my personal homepage, prior to the finalization of the book. The final version may still change, whether due to further copy editing and proofreading, or regarding the unclear and unforeseeable course of events and political circumstances in Europe, in the Western Balkans, and in Turkey. Yet, I believe that the phenomenon of cross-border neo-populism, as in the given case of Bosnia and Turkey, will not disappear any time soon. The complete list of references will be included in the first and in the last contribution of this series, which consists of eight single sections.
7. The role of ‚Renommiergeld‘ in a culturally annotated economy
The entanglement of culture, economy and neo-populism deserves a deeper look. Historian Dubravka Stojanović sees “economic embitterment” as a crucial element of populism (Stojanović 2017), while the economist Dani Rodrik distinguishes two types of authoritarian populism:
There are essentially two schools of thought on the drivers of populism, one that focuses on culture and another that focuses on economics. The cultural perspective sees Trump, Brexit, and the rise of right-wing nativist political parties in continental Europe as the consequence of a deepening rift in values between social conservatives and social liberals, with the former having thrown their support behind xenophobic, ethno-nationalist, authoritarian politicians. The economic perspective sees populism as the result of economic anxieties and insecurities, themselves due in turn to financial crises, austerity, and globalisation.
If populism is rooted in econcomic misery, Rodrik argues, the remedy is easily identifiable, and populism can be challenged by counter-populist economic policies — as campaigns for economic reforms and redistribution of wealth in Latin America demonstrate. In the second case, where “it is rooted in culture and values, however, there are fewer options”, Rodrik asserts (Rodrik 2019). Pierre Rosanvallon identifies protectionsim as the general economic policy of populism, which is more profoundly intertwined with the idea of national sovereignty, dignity and the security of the people – and the reason why the economy in populist politics is highly politicized (Rosanvallon2020).
Likewise, the Turkish economy and its investments in the Balkans are a controversially discussed topic: the comparatively low share of Turkish investment on the Bosnian market – when it comes to real figures, as compared to other Balkan countries – regularly seem to be outplayed by Turkey’s symbolical and cultural investments (Thumann 2015; Hake 2019). Drawing from Rodrik’s distinction, Turkey’s appeal and interest in Bosnia-Herzegovina can be assigned as a culture and value rooted, cross-border populism – yet, the picture is more complicated, for more than one populus (and their sovereignty, dignity, and security) are involved as stakeholders.
Culture, in the given context, mostly means religiously gilded Ottoman identity and civilizationalism as the conceptual ground for cross-border siblinghood, which is why the most visible vehicles of the Turkish cultural focus are symbolical investments in the religious and post-Ottoman sphere; the applied language is, as demonstrated, characterized by tropes of kinship and the belief system. Not only in the public opinion on the Bosnian street — „they get factories, we get mosques“, is a frequent commonplace in the Bosnian street — this cultural-religious overlap in the Turkish investments are perceived as rather „declarative“. This is how Zijad Bećirović, the director of the Ljubljana based International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, commented on Turkey’s relatively higher investments in Serbia and other countries – as compared to Bosnia-Herzegovina (Halimović 2016). Yet, that doesn’t mean that the Turkish investments in BiH are nominal: the difficulty in appreciating the „real value“ of these investments derives from the fact that they are not directly measurable or convertible into the real figures of fiat money.
Two main items of trade are at stake on the market between the unequal trading partners: the prestige or renommiergeld (Mauss 1966), as a rent from the Turkish investments, and the security promise by a supposedly strong Turkish state for Bosnian Muslims, who fell the main victim group of the Bosnian war in the 1990s. Since the investments in the building sector are „hard“ monetary investments of fiat money, whereas the rent – the renommiergeld – is of „soft“, symbolic nature, this means that there is a general, but indirect convertibility of the hard and soft currencies at work.
The rent for the (Turkish) investors is mainly achieved through the production of tradeable pictures, videos, public opinions and political support. One primary example of these symbolical-cultural investments was the Turkish decision to donate 13 million Convertible Marks (KM; 6,5 million Euros) to Bosnia-Herzegovina in order to complete the construction of the Islamic Community’s new headquarters in Sarajevo – whose previous main donor was Libya’s former autocrat Muammar Gaddafi (Turska donira 13 miliona KM, 2017). This is only one amongst countless of other activities with a cultural-religious shape conveyed by Turkish actors, as a glance at the homepage of TİKA reveals: a five volume edition entitled „Oeuvres of Prestige/Islam in the Balkans“ (Prestij Eserler/Balkanlardaİslam) can be downloaded and approve of the value that official Turkish public diplomats pay to these symbolic investments (Kafkasyalı 2016). Interestingly, the word ‚prestige‘ (prestij) is used here not as an implicit, tacit category, ascribed by the recipients of the benefactor to the latter: here, the donors (or renovators) themselves — TİKA — certificate to themselves the prestige and Renommiergeld.
Most of these activities partly follow a logic which Damir Rudnyckyj has called a „spiritual intelligence“ (Rudnyckyj 2010): there are certain goods labled by Islamic trade marks that simply cannot be traded by non-Muslim traders. Unlike European actors – who neither have a rooted interest in trading goods with an Islamic label, nor would they even have the needed credibility to do so – Turkey and its Islamic competitors (mostly hailing from the Arabian peninsula and Iran) can and do use Islamic labels, as two of the subsequent pictures will show. Turkey’s unique selling point amongst these „Islamic traders“ therein is the Ottoman label (Porter 1998). In reverse, Turkey is perceived as an Islamic and post-Ottoman actor in the Bosnian street. The above-mentioned donation for the finalization of the halted construction of BiH’s Islamic Community’s headquarters can be seen as an epitome of this trading rationale.
Turkish actors, upon completion of numerous renovations and restaurations, can perceive of themselves as of the tenants of the great Ottoman-Islamic civilization. Moreover, they see themselves in the role of the protector and quasi-sovereign of Bosnia’s Muslims as part of the „Ottoman heritage“, as reflected in the words of Hüseyin Aydın, the general director of Turkey’s investment bank Ziraat and president of the Union of Turkish Banks (Türkiye Bankalar Birliği): when Ziraat chose Sarajevo as its main seat for its Balkan investments in 2012, the Turkish newspaper Milliyet quoted him:
„We appreciate the old Ottoman geography a lot. We plan to become permanent, competitive and proactive here“.(„Ziraat’ten Bosna’da büyük atılım“, 2012)
The emotional and religious bond, the personal ties to the partner party SDA, and the administrative conditions of Bosnia offered a fertile ground and an ideal landscape for the goal of Turkey’s positive nation branding (cf. Tecmen 2018), as the Ziraat bank’s general director heralded:
„But here, also given that it is part of Turkey’s capital, this will be a bank which will demonstrate its independent, own proactive power.“(„Ziraat’ten Bosna’da büyük atılım“, 2012)
Bosnia and its Muslim population’s sometimes ridculing, but oftentimes positive feedback offer Turkey the opportunity to perceive itself as a grand global player with a positive image. Besides the vast amount of „good news“ from Bosnia in the media, this self-perception is also reflected in the urban landscape of Sarajevo: No visitor, on their way from the airport to downtown Sarajevo, can miss the Ziraat bank’s building at the radial highway Zmaja od Bosne. However, not far from it, the visitor will perceive Turkey’s Islamic competitors‘ monuments of renommiergeld (pictures below).
An explicite example of Turkish spiritual intelligence is the so-called „convoy of divine abundance“ (Bereket konvoyu): a convoy of lorries, sent by the AKP-governed city district of Istanbul-Bayrampaşa throughout the past years (starting from 2005) during the fasting month of Ramadan to the Balkans („Bereket konvoyu“, 2015). Fasting – contradictorily enough – was above all staged as open-air mass eating events on public squares: between Greece and Croatia, the Turkish benefactors would stop in numerous small towns and big cities to offer free iftar (fast breaking) meals to the local population. The leading, very literally cross-border slogan on the lorries (as the abundant Turkish media coverage shows), was „siblinghood doesn’t know borders“ (kardeşlik sınır tanımaz). The coverage on the homepage of the Bayrampaşa municipality reveals that the Turkish convoy comprised three lorries, three minibuses, two buses, one car, a crew of 75 volunteers, and an additional outside broadcast van. This composition clearly points to the convoy’s purpose of producing pictures and film footage as Renommiergeld – to be re-invested, both on the domestic (Turkish) media market of public opinions („Bereket konvoyu“, 2015; Homepage of Türk Dünyası Belediyeler Birliği), as well as abroad.
Bosniaks, in contrary, are rarely in the position to proactively donate or even sell their gifts or goods on the Turkish market, since their poor economic situation wouldn’t allow for that: in a Maussian sense, the Bosniak „siblings“ nearly always figure as the recipients of the gift (i.e., of the divine abundance/bereket), or the helped muhacir – and never in the position of the donors or the helping ensar (cf. Mauss 1966). Congruent with this asymmetric relationship between the donor (the helper) and the gifted (the helped) is the inherent, yet mostly implicit distinction between „elder brother“ (ağabey) and „younger brother“ (kardeş) under the Turkish umbrella word kardeş(-lik): while in itself, it is unspecific about gender and age, Turkish speakers differentiate between ağabey (elder brother), abla (elder sister) and kardeş (younger sibling) when the relationship is specified and personalized (Delaney 1991). Bosniaks in Turkey, when asked about their own perception of Turkey’s new role in the Balkans, sometimes were very critical about the „hijacking“ of their cause by the ruling party, which they oppose and reject. Other interlocutors, however, have told me that „of course, Turkey is their elder brother“ (Interview in Bayrampaşa, 2015).
Whether free iftar meals, collective circumcision ceremonies for Balkan boys by Turkish circumcisers (sünnet şölenleri) (cf. „Bosna Hersek’te toplu sünnet düğünü“, 2015), renovations and constructions of mosques, hammams, fountains, public squares, bridges or similar activities (Schad 2018, 2019): Turkish public diplomats‘ activities are disproportionally often religiously embellished. These activities are not pursued solely for altruistic reasons or for „their ‘magical value’, which Mauss saw was ’still present in sadaqa’“, as other authors have interpreted other forms of gift exchange under Islamic auspices (Henig 2019; Mittermaier 2013; 2019, Maurer 2001). The gift, as Mauss had it, involves and demands reciprocity. In the case of Turkish-Bosnian cross-border neo-populism, a „mixed economy“ is at play between AKP-governed, Turkish municipalities and their Bosnian counterparts: spiritual categories are distinctively present – while they are blended and traded together with the „hard currencies“ of the capitalist market of public opinions. This means that the gifted („the invested“, „the helped ones“) are expected to deliver, in return, to their donor with consent and supportive public opinions. This shall be elaborated in the next chapter.
Read in the next blog post (Part 8/8) of this series: Tribute to the sultan: the disinvitation of Orhan Pamuk by Sarajevo.
Recommended form of citation
Schad, Thomas. (2021) ‚The role of ‘Renommiergeld’ in a culturally annotated economy‘ ( = Part 7 of the series Can networks of local governments challenge the rise of cross-border neo-populism?), Inkubator Metamorph, 24 June. Available at: https://thomasschad.wordpress.com/2021/06/24/public-diplomacy-a-culturally-annotated-economy-part-7-8/ (Accessed: Date of access).
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 A number of other, more specific words are in use, like kız kardeş (sister), bacı (sister/elder sister), hemşire (sister like in nurse), erkek kardeş (brother / younger brother), birader (brother like in „buddy“ or „bro“), etc.
Find all the referencese in the first blog post of this series (click here)