July 2, 2014

Erdogan’s aggressive policies

Mustafa Göktepe*

“What is happening in Turkey, everything was going so well, it was an example of democracy in a region marked by conflicts?” This is what many of my Brazilian friends ask me.

Trying to explain the change in course that Turkey has taken - from reforms to improve democracy and join the EU to the old authoritarian system (this time civil instead of military) - and the recent change in attitude of the Turkish government is a very sad and hard task for a Turkish citizen in a short text like this.

Prime Minister Erdogan started his aggressive policies for two reasons: firstly, the disclosure of enormous corruption schemes involving his ministers, his family and his allies, all of the revelations backed by wiretaps conducted by the police. Secondly, his ambition to win three elections this year; local (occurred in March 30th), presidential (to be held in August 10th) and general. His strategy favors, socially and financially, his supporters and intimidates his opposition by using the public resources at his disposal. The media outlets that do not support him are not hired to broadcast state advertisements, in addition, they suffer persecution. Companies that do not support the government openly, do not win public tenders, they are also subject to frequent tax inspections.

Let us take the Soma example: the owner of the mine is a great supporter of Erdogan, because of that he has been “winning” tenders for big public works. On the other hand, he donates part of the coal extracted from the mine to the AKP (Erdogan’s party) that distributes it, on the eve of elections, to the poor population. Due to this relation, the accident that killed 301 miners in the Soma mine was not deeply investigated.

Erdogan invented concepts to justify his aggressiveness: “foreign enemies” use “local pawns” to bring him down. In his visit to the mine accident site, Erdogan hit a citizen, who had lost his relatives in the tragedy and was critical about the government, with a blow. Afterwards Erdogan justified the blow by calling the citizen a “pawn of Israel in Turkey.”

Erdogan can easily create or change laws, as his party is majority in Parliament. Therefore, he can adapt the country to his way of government. Erdogan’s “new Turkey” is a kind of one-man democracy, a famous and ironic expression. The last big change made by the Turkish government was the National Intelligence law (MIT), which allows the spying and wiretapping of anyone without any court decision. Erdogan is already using it to blame the Hizmet – an apolitical movement that has social and educational activities in Turkey as well as in 150 countries in the world, including Brazil – without any evidence.

It is ironic that the AKP emerged claiming commitment to ending the military authoritarianism and establishing justice, they even bring this premise in the name, “AKP-Justice and Development Party”. At first, it seemed they were really extinguishing authoritarianism but now it is clear that they are only swapping it from military to civil authoritarianism.

I am afraid the tension caused by the polarization of the people in Turkey, result of Erdogan’s aggressive ways, might become a social conflict even worse than the one witnessed during the Soma mine accident. In the moment that the country’s rulers should have showed compassion towards the relatives of the 301 deceased, they hit them with blows.

Mustafa Goktepe is professor of Turkish language and culture at Sao Paulo University (USP) and Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo (PUC-SP). He is also founder and president of the Turkish-Brazilian Cultural Center.

Published [in Portuguese] on Gazeta do Povo, 14 June 2014,