Authoritarian fantasies

Published 16.04.2014 00:57
Updated 16.04.2014 10:24

So the new fad is to call Erdoğan an authoritarian. It is so convenient:

Call Erdoğan an autocrat and then you don't need to talk about coup attempts, illegal wiretappings, parallel structures, shadowy connections, espionage, and the misuse of judicial powers. You don't need to try to understand why Erdoğan keeps winning; just call him a dictator and blame the Turkish people for voting a dictator into power over and over again. Take refuge in the never-ending neo-
Orientalism, have pity on this gullible, ignorant and corrupt nation, and put the blame on Erdoğan and you feel you have done your job as analyst, journalist, commentator, political opponent. Calling Erdoğan a dictator is an insult to Turkish democracy and the Turkish people. But nobody cares; this is the new fashion and it sells.

Who is calling Erdoğan an authoritarian, even a dictator? The very people who would trade democracy for autocracy if it ensures that Erdoğan is removed from power.

The militant secularists who would love to see the army intervene to get rid of people like Erdoğan; the neo-nationalists who would conspire with anyone - even the Assad regime - to attack Erdoğan and his government; the nationalist-leftists who cannot figure out Turkish society, fail in every single election and hate everyone who wins; the discredited neo-cons who still have dreams of world dominance and seek to manipulate Turkish politics; the Gülenists who would not allow a single critical voice in their cultish institutions, TV stations and newspapers, and would manipulate state power to go after anyone who opposes them but still talk about democracy and transparency; the white liberals who cannot stand conservative-religious voters having a say over the future of the country; the clueless European politicians who still harbor the old dream of Euro-centrism.

The list goes on. These critics never miss an opportunity to attack Erdoğan and expect him to keep quite. What is Erdoğan guilty of? Not bending to them.

He responds; he fights back and then he is labeled intolerant, authoritarian, dictatorial, et cetera.

Erdoğan is used to these sorts of attacks; there has been a long list of accusations against him since he took office in 2003.

He was first presented as an unlikely political figure not fit to rule Turkey. It was famously said of Erdoğan that he cannot even be "muhtar," a neighborhood councilor (but please note that in this particular context the term is used in a clearly derogatory manner). Alleged incompetence was his crime.

Then came the old story of Islamism and religious fundamentalism. The claim was that Erdoğan would introduce Shariah law and end democracy in Turkey.

The secularist fear of religion had a strong propaganda effect in the past, but no longer.

Having ruled Turkey for the past 11 years, Erdoğan did not change the political system of the country into a theocratic one. Instead, he expanded political and economic liberties for all. He even advised secular democracy to Egyptians after Mubarak.

Then came Erdoğan's battles with military tutelage. He had to fight against coup attempts in 2004 and 2005. The powerful generals had dominated Turkish politics for decades and eliminated and neutralized many political figures before. Menderes, Demirel, Ecevit, Turkes, Erbakan, Ozal and others were forced to accept the military's power in one way or another. It took tremendous courage and political capital for Erdoğan to put the army out of politics, and for this he was called traitor.

Then came the charge that Turkey was drifting away from the West. Expanding Turkey's foreign policy outlook from Europe and the Balkans to the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America was presented as a diplomatic crime. While the EU dealt with Turkey's membership in the most inefficient and discouraging way, the detractors continued to accuse Turkey of dragging its feet. While the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan, Europeans chose to reward the Greeks and penalize Turkey.

While Turkey worked with its Western allies in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Bosnia and other countries, it was accused of going its own way.

Solving the 30-year-old Kurdish problem? Treason! These labels have all expired now; new ones are needed. The new fad is authoritarianism.

The reality is that Erdoğan has fought against economic impoverishment, bureaucratic authoritarianism, military tutelage and judicial oligarchy. He made Turkey the 16th largest economy in the world and raised the living standards of all citizens regardless of their religion, ethnicity or class.

He has received accolades for raising issues of justice in regional and global politics, including the rights of the Palestinians, calling for reforming the U.N. Security Council, helping poor Somalis and others. Despite a malicious opposition, he has allowed thousands of Syrian refugees into Turkey, many of whom would have been dead by now if they had not made it to Turkey.

Over the last decade, Turkey became a more free, pluralistic and prosperous country. Non-Muslim religious minorities enjoy their rights today in ways that were unimaginable a decade ago. The Kurdish problem is moving toward a peaceful solution with large public support. Free and fair elections are held every four years and they are internationally recognized.

The AK Party won 50 percent of the vote in the 2011 parliamentary elections and represented all citizens. No discrimination has ever been made in terms of bringing services and investments to the country as a whole. Successive AK Party governments have implemented numerous public projects in areas where opposition parties had the majority. The same holds true for municipal elections where the AK Party won 45.5 percent of the vote on March 30.

Some legislation might be controversial but this is not any different from similar cases in other democracies such as the gun law debate in the U.S., stem cell research in the U.S. and Europe and various social security and budgetary debates in European countries. Passing legislation through a parliamentary majority does not make a government authoritarian or dictatorial.

All governments legislate on the basis of the votes they win in democratic elections.

There are no democratic orders in which a ruling party commands absolute support from the public. If it did, it wouldn't be a democracy. Every democratically elected government legislates with parts of the society supporting it and parts opposing it.

The problem is not the lack of democratic institutions or processes. The problem is the need for the "barbarians" who in Constantine Cavafy's famous poem are a "solution" when you begin to lose and you need someone to blame. The poem explains it all:

"What are we waiting for, gathered here in the agora?

The barbarians are supposed to show up today.

Why is there such indolence in the senate?

Why are the senators sitting around, making no laws?

Because the barbarians are supposed to show up today.

Why has our emperor risen so early this morning, and why is he now enthroned at the city's great gate, sitting there in state and wearing his crown?

Because the barbarians are supposed to show up today.

Why have our two consuls and praetors turned up today, resplendent in their red brocaded togas;

Because the barbarians are supposed to show up today;

And such things really dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't our illustrious speakers come out to speak as they always do, to speak what's on their minds?

Because the barbarians are supposed to show up today, and they really can't stand lofty oration and demagogy.

Why is everyone so suddenly ill at ease and confused (just look how solemn their faces are)?

Why are the streets and the squares all at once empty, as everyone heads for home, lost in their thoughts?

Because it's night now, and the barbarians haven't shown up.

And there are others, just back from the borderlands, who claim that the barbarians no longer exist.

What in the world will we do without barbarians?

Those people would have been a solution, of sorts."

The bitter truth is that there are no barbarians at the gates. It is a figment of their imagination. All the convenience of waiting for the barbarians is gone. All the ease and comfort that the existence of an imaginary enemy out there brings is simply not there. If Erdoğan is no autocrat or dictator, what do we do then?

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