The Journalists and Writers Foundation's (GYV) Academic Thought Platform (ADP) came up with a remarkable program amid the ongoing heated debate over the use of the state authority and the relationship between the state and the civil society in our country.
The first instance of the Capital Gatherings, organized by the GYV in cooperation with the Law and Life Association (HHD) and the Human Rights Agenda Association (İHG), was held at Bilkent Hotel in Ankara.
GYV Ankara Representative Hüseyin Mercan underlined that they have organized the program with the belief that Turkey's problems can be settled with respect for diversity and pluralism and their intention is to create a cultural and intellectual climate for bringing together diverse social groups. "Pain and despair are instructive," Mercan said, adding that the ongoing process offers good opportunities for learning lessons.
The authority, power and limits of the state
Professor Rıdvan Karluk chaired the first session titled "The Authority, Power and Limits of the State." Karluk underlined that the state should rely on principles of justice and fairness. "If laws are built upon justice and fairness, the legal system will be sound and permanent. Arbitrariness in governance is unacceptable," he said.
Placing emphasis on the principles of legality, separation of powers, equality before the law, impartiality of the state, and independence of judges, Karluk explained that Article 39 of Magna Carta of 1215 identified the ideal framework for the relations between the state and individuals:
"No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land."
Professor Mustafa Erdoğan
Professor Mustafa Erdoğan, a leading expert in the constitutional law, indicated that the state must pay respect for laws and refrain from arbitrariness in administration in order to put rule of law into practice.
Erdoğan said that we need to make a distinction between the concepts rule of law and state of law. Defining state of law as a state which complies with laws and acts within the legal framework, Erdoğan maintained that rule of law requires the state authority to take action only within scope of the powers levied on them by laws.
Erdoğan argued that the notion of "raison d’état" (raison of the state) is major threat to rule of law. He explained that proponents of this notion tend to twist or bend laws according to their wishes. "They try to subjugate law to the state in violation of the principle of rule of law," he said. Erdoğan stressed that this mentality portrays the state as 'unerring.'
Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat
Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, the former Deputy Chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), said that people with the public authority tended to develop instruments or devices to control individuals and the society and permeate their grip on power. Fırat complained that deputies in Turkey no longer represent the people, but their leaders.
While he was a senior executive at the AKP, Fırat maintained, he had argued that the Political Parties Law should be amended because deputies represented their leaders, not the nation. He indicated that his proposal was declined by the party's management and he had to abide by the party's disciplinary principles.
"A significant proportion of the public do not care about fundamental rights and freedoms and they sacrifice their fundamental freedoms for the sake of individual benefits," Fırat said, adding that there is a price for democracy and freedoms and Turkish people have not yet paid this price.
Stressing that the balance in the relations between the state and individuals cannot be attained only by preparing a sound basis for the state and laws, Fırat indicated that the society should internalize the matter and show sensitivity as well.
He stated those who control the state and power do not pay respect to the limits imposed on them, but seek to expand those limits.
Sedat Bozkurt, the Ankara representative for Fox TV channel, analyzed the relations between the media and the government. Bozkurt expressed that the state was always willing to control the media in Turkey. When stripped of their freedom to criticize the government and inform their readers of developments, media outlets become more and more tabloid. Bozkurt said:
"The post-modern coup of February 28, 1997 failed to eradicate political Islam, but managed to domesticate it. Thus, the AKP, as the domesticated form of political Islam, came to power in 2002... The AKP used the state power for the first time to destroy the Uzan Group, which harshly criticized it. This move signaled how the AKP would use the power available to it. Today, many media outlets are either owned or controlled by the government or pro-government figures.
The task of the media is to supervise the state. But "state secrecy" is the major obstacle to this task. You cannot hold a journalist responsible for a leaked document. The official who leaks it should be held responsible instead. The journalists who published the Wikileaks documents all around the world were decorated with Pulitzer, the most prestigious award."
Touching on the currently distorted nature of the relations between the state and individuals or the civil society, Bozkurt commented that certain people who were perceived as threats in previous periods are now describing others as threats after attaining the state power. He indicated that we face a state which opts for solving the problems with violence.
The state, individuals and the civil society
The afternoon session of the 'Capital Gatherings' was chaired by İpek University Rector Professor Ali Fuat Bilkan. Referring to Kutadgu Bilig, Bilkan stressed that administrators have responsibilities to fulfill, not blessings to make. He drew attention to the fact that intellectuals are responsible for bringing moral issues to the agenda.
Professor Sacit Adalı
"The world history is in a sense an account of power struggles," said Sacit Adalı, the dean of the Law Faculty of Turgut Özal University, at the beginning of his speech. Adalı, a former member of the Constitutional Court, noted that power struggles end only when the parties to the struggle die.
"The will to power is a primary human drive. The passion to dominate governs everything. But what matters is to come to power through legitimate/legal means and use it for the satisfaction of people's needs and to give it up through legitimate means. In dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, power struggles run deep. The ambition to become one man and control everything is essentially a weakness," he said.
Noting that democracy is a system which can be built upon mature people who have internalized it, Adalı maintained that without such people, democracy will be deficient. He indicated that the main responsibility in this regard falls on those who are at the helm of the country. "Good and bad rulers are like good drivers and bad drivers, respectively. If there is a problem, the administration is to be held responsible. Personalization of struggles of leaders will harm the country. Presence and functionality of civil society organizations (CSOs) is proportional to soundness of the administration," he said.
Professor Muhittin Acar
Acar, a lecturer at the Hacettepe University, explained that civil society organizations (CSOs) are defined as "non-profit" and "non-governmental" organizations and this implies that they should keep distance from the state and the fiscal affairs. "CSOs can inspire hope because they are not tainted with the will to power or passion to earn profits," he said.
In Turkey, however, Acar maintained, public authorities refer to the civil society as the civil 'spider' to accuse it of working for foreign intelligence services and as civil 'politics' to accuse it of trying to take over the state, which is great injustice to the civil society as a whole.
Acar said: "Working closely with the media, CSOs should eliminate the deficiencies of political parties and close the gap of political participation. Politicians are apparently unable to understand why the civil society is involved in political matters. They ineptly call on certain CSOs to establish a political party and enter the political arena if they are willing to voice their criticisms."
Acar indicated that in the part, public authorities would say, "It is us who will introduce democracy to this country if it is to be introduced," and they now say, "It is us who will introduce the civil society to this country if it is to be introduced. He noted that the ruling party is building its own civil society.
Lawyer Mehmet Cemal Acar
Lawyer Mehmet Cemal Acar, the head of Siirt Bar Association, argued that negative connotations linked with the concepts "organizations" and "act" have discouraged the Turkish society from getting involved in the civil society and that the state's policy to raise stereotyped people is to be blamed for this.
"The closure of pro-Kurdish associations which were established in full compliance with laws has urged the pro-Kurdish political movement to be represented by illegal entities. The practice and high number of party closures is proof of the approach of our state and public authorities to the civil society," he said.
Pointing out that out of 160,000 associations in Turkey, 100,000 are fellowship associations, Acar asserted that the number of CSOs or associations roughly corresponds to one-tenth of that in the European Union.
He further remarked that the growth of the civil society is further curbed with their being treated like commercial companies in taxation, the practice of designating certain CSOs as operating in the "public interests" and the Cabinet's deciding which CSOs should be given this status. Noting that the Counterterrorism Law is another major impediment to the flourishing of the civil society in the country, Acar maintained that the current law allows many CSOs to be treated as terrorist organizations for their peaceful acts and activities.
The program that offered a good platform for an in-depth discussion of a number of basic problems affecting the civil society, individuals and the state in Turkey also included a discussion session for representatives of various CSOs and media outlets and politicians. The Academic Thought Platform's Capital Gathering ended following the identification of a host of solutions proposed for Turkey's existing problems.
Published on Journalists and Writers Foundation, 6 December 2014, Sunday