May 3, 2015

Golden age of authoritarianism in Turkey

Gökhan Bacık

It is now the golden age of authoritarianism in Turkey. Many authoritarian practices have become daily routine. Let me list several of them:

Two judges were arrested because of their rulings. Last week, the two judges decided to free Hidayet Karaca, a journalist who has been in prison for months. Many judges have been fired or removed from the bench because of their recent decisions.

If a judge hands down a ruling that makes the regime unhappy, he or she is quickly reshuffled or dismissed. It is routine to read news of judges tearing up while announcing their decisions. Judges who are under state pressure cry but ironically, keep yielding to this pressure.

Hundreds of people have been arrested or detained for insulting the president. Among them are 17-year-olds. You should be very careful about criticizing the president.

Tweeting is an almost dangerous act. Journalist Sedef Kabaş is in trouble because she tweeted something wrong. There is a new generation of expert prosecutors who follow tweets daily.

Arbitrary media accreditation is another daily routine. If a journalist is believed to be a threat, he or she is not admitted to any public meeting. What is more, various nongovernmental institutions and companies also practice this media segregation because these institutions fear the government.

The police assault people freely. Yesterday, on TV, I saw a police officer thrashing two journalists, saying “I will f… your mother.”

Hate speech is another routine occurrence. If you are Alevi, a member of the Hizmet movement or part of any opposition group, you are immediately called a traitor. Most recently, Kurdish politicians were declared to be “enemies” and “organized traitors.”

Non-compliance with court decisions is widespread. There are hundreds of court rulings on various issues, such as protection of the environment and the related financial penalties. No one cares about them. Government officials, including ministers, publicly declare that they will not abide by these rulings.

Any anti-government activity is defined as a coup attempt. The Turkish Institute of Language (TDK) recently updated the definition of the word coup to “any activity that challenges the government.”

Any peaceful protest is forbidden.

Many TV channels cannot broadcast opposition parties' speeches, or they keep it very short. State TV channels, legally supposed to be neutral, have long been propaganda machines of the ruling party.

One can add many other items to this list. The routine authoritarian practices are growing on a daily basis. Naturally, on the surface level, a typical political scientist would criticize the government for bringing Turkey back to an authoritarian age. However, more is needed. How is the Turkish public digesting this? A more analytical perspective is needed to explain the rise of authoritarianism in the Turkey of 2015.

A large portion of society seems to be happy with authoritarianism. In a society of 75 million where only 3.5 million read newspapers, it is not surprising that people do not care about the arrest of journalists. People who do not read newspapers do not give a fig about media freedom. Similarly, religious Sunni people praying happily in their mosques do not care about the problems of Alevi people who do not enjoy the same opportunities.

Such cases display that democracy is somehow about social capital, and that there is something a little problematic with Turkey's social capital if it generates a democracy of this kind. The average length of education is around seven years. I am not sure that a nation can produce high technology products or democracy, when the average citizen receives only seven years of education.

Therefore, the recent authoritarianism in Turkey invites us to analyze this problem beyond the level of the political set. In the absence of the material and non-material prerequisites of democracy, any politician can easily hijack Turkey and put this country on the path of absolute authoritarianism.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 03 May 2015, Sunday