Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The Perception of Russia in Poland and Turkey: A Comparative Analysis

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The Perception of Russia in Poland and Turkey: A Comparative Analysis

Article excerpt


The hypothesis for this paper is that the perspectives of decision-makers, including politicians, and public opinion towards Russia in both Turkey and Poland can be evaluated as more negative than positive. Also, this negative perception is grounded in experience with conflict, geopolitics and wars rather than in cooperation between the parties throughout history. The identities and differences between the political regimes in all three countries are also factors that can be examined but they have not been as important as conflict within this context. Conflict is thus the primary factor and the reason for the negative perception. The differences in the political regimes and identities can explain the negative perceptions in some aspects, but not completely. It is much more appropriate to analyse the countries' relations and the perceptions through geopolitical positions, balance of power understanding, and the conflict factors. When we look at the picture in terms of conflict-cooperation, both Turkish-Russian and Polish-Russian relations can better be analysed. First, the following will address the identity dynamics in these perceptions and then the differences and similarities in the political systems and regimes of Turkey, Poland and Russia. Predominantly, the area of conflict will be evaluated from a realist perspective within this context.

Identity: How Important of a Factor Is It in Analysing Perceptions of Russia in Poland and Turkey?

Identity, or the way in which a people view themselves as a country, has been increasingly cited in international relations literature since the end of the Cold War and in parallel to the development of a "constructivist approach." Criticising the positivist approach and realism, constructivism emphasises as one of its main points the identity issue in international relations. According to the constructivist viewpoint, in analysing international politics and the foreign policies of states, "identity" is much more significant than national interest and should be considered a key concept. This is because actors in the international system identify themselves and their positions first, then they define the interests they need to follow according to their determined identity roles.

As one of the core social constructivist scholars,1 Alexander Wendt, criticises the neorealist approach and Kenneth Waltz's analysis as depending on "structure" and determining the effect of anarchy on the behaviour of international actors.2 According to him, hostilities or friendships between two different countries and their positions in the international system as either revisionist or status quo countries cannot be explained with either of Waltz's concepts. Therefore, the relationship between identity and interest needs to be included in the analysis as well. Wendt sees hostilities and friendships between countries as a cultural issue.3

Another scholar with a constructivist approach is Peter Katzenstein. Similar to Wendt, Katzenstein also argues that the identity of a state is constructed in both the international and domestic political arenas, and it is identity that defines a state's preferences and activities.4

When it comes to the identity issue in perceptions, first common values, common history and cultural backgrounds or competitive and confrontational behaviour in the foreign policies of the states should be noted. Poland and Russia share the same ethnic background, as both are Slavic. Even though both are majority Christian countries, Russia is Orthodox and Poland is Catholic. For Turkey and Russia, the situation is more different. Turkey is a Muslim country, and neither Russia nor Turkey share common ethnic or religious origins. These religious differences or roots of national identity (that is, being Russian, Turkish or Polish) in these three countries do not cause much difference and are not crucial in threat perceptions at the societal and political levels. …

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