During the campaign for the constitutional referendum, I asked a friend whether he thought the proposed amendments to change the system from a parliamentary to a unitary presidential one would give Turkey a stable and prosperous future. He answered, “Look at Iraq and what happened after Saddam. It became chaos. Iraqi citizens were living happily under a Saddam’s despotic administration. We need to recognize this truth and choose our future ”.
It is true that liberal democratic governance promotes free movement, free speech, justice and rule of law, increased social welfare, technological transfer, and opportunities for higher education, so it seems counter-intuitive that authoritarian type leaders are increasingly distorting democracy and using it as an instrument to gain popularity for short-term self-interest.
What is the fine line between illiberal democracy and authoritarian government? Both can be populist and have non-egalitarian leanings. In the case of illiberal democracies, we can still talk about democratic institutions and weak to non-existent checks and balances, so they can go hand in hand with authoritarian governances. However, authoritarian leaders tend not to share their power. Should these styles of leadership be defined according to their institutions and governance style, or social values, levels of corruption, and the role of tradition?
Today’s populist politics are the consequences of corporate capitalism, the fallacy of the dogma of the trickle-down effect, proxy interventions in national affairs, and the mass migration of refugees and migrants escaping from wars and poverty that have caused a wave of discontent across nations, the common denominator in the populist equation.
But today, in Turkey, freedom and democracy are irrelevant for many in the new middle class and the working poor who want sustainable public services and a powerful state, and the businessmen and investors who defend autocratic governance as the best way to stabilize markets and grow investment.
The defenders of a powerful state look with envy to Russia and China as examples of strong and successful countries since as global players they balance the international world politics, while having a comparable GDP and better security. It was popularly declared by Fukuyama in the 1990’s that liberal democracy was the end of history, but now it seems, rather, that the power state is.
These days the narrative fanning public hysteria is coming from the media and some politicians: for them, so-called precious loneliness, literally meaning friendless Turkey, is facing its biggest-ever threat and it’s coming from outside the country and from all directions. They say, “There is a threat against the country and we need to distinguish between the threat to leadership and the threat to country because this time the threat is not only targeting the leader but also the country”, say many.
According to one narrative, the western world is using NATO to weaken the Turkish state, the ultimate goal being to divide it into two or more pieces. For example, ordinary people in the street have thought that the United States and Germany are scratching the sores of ethnic conflicts to weaken the economy of the country in order to divide it. Public opinion accuses American and German NGO’s of supporting PKK terrorists. Even the educated are likely to believe the narrative that the West is following its interest at the expense of the Republic of Turkey.
However, the question is that no one is asking is why? Why would the destabilization of Turkey be in the interest of the west? Turkey borders eight countries, two of them in Western Europe. If there was an upheaval in Anatolia and the urban centers that led to an exodus of millions, the question is in which direction would Turkish people go? Towards Europe or East to Iran and Iraq, North to Ukraine and Russia, or South to war-torn Syria and the greater Middle East.
İt’s undeniable that some of the conflict in our country has been the result of international power politics, but it is difficult to argue that western countries want to destabilize Turkey especially after the effect of Syrian civil war on the politics of the EU, and the flux of migrants to it.
International world politics is an arena wherein states pursue their interests mostly at the expense of other states, but this does not mean that there is no room for cooperation and coexistence. According to Turkish history books, Turkey has considered itself as part of west for the last two hundred years, and is today a candidate of the EU. It’s a geographically critical member of NATO and the Council of Europe, and an important ally of the Western world since its foundation.
Both economically and socially Turkey has preferred to move in the direction of Western democratic values. In today’s context, the anti-Americanism and public discontent that exists against the EU are the result of political populism and the disappearing borders between international and domestic affairs due to advances in information and transportation technologies.
When people feel insecure and think their country’s existence is under threat they will sacrifice some of their freedoms. I see the recent dynamics in Turkish society in light of these circumstances. Involved parties should be aware of this threat vs. freedoms dilemma and avoid fueling this hysteria that is causing cognitive dissonance and conflicted minds in Turkish society. I believe all want to live under a democratic state in the normal course of events
The next article will elaborate on this issue.