Cengiz Aktar
Jul 10 2018

'Collective decay' and lessons for Turkey's opposition

Turkey elections last month completed the process of regime change in the country. I have been following the opposition media closely since then and it is a dreadful sight.

For months I have been writing about boycotting the non-elections; that Erdoğan did not have the luxury of losing any election because of his countless crimes; that the strength and loyalty of his supporters matters; that just one election cannot be the solution to Turkey's totalitarian drive; that the so-called 'democratic front' is just a pipe dream; that the opposition did not have any tangible arguments other than opposing Erdoğan and I have been warning about the dangers of spreading false hope of a political alternative.

I would like to thank those who were kind enough to call and concede my points when the inevitable happened. But reading the opposition media, it is hard to be optimistic about the diagnosis and the treatment methods for the disease that has spread to every part of Turkey.

But we must kick the tyres and hit the road once again by trying to diagnosis the disease first. Regardless of the name, title, definition of the regime, the primary determinant, quite apparently, is the enormous popular mass that is loyal to the regime - the 'mass’ dynamic that thinkers of totalitarianism take into account.

Without the support and allegiance of the masses the regime would not have been able to survive. Pretending that the support and the complicity of the masses are insignificant is the most common mistake that Turkey analysts make.

The mass did not appear out of the blue. It surfaced when the cancer cells, buried deep within Turkish society, reappeared. Totalitarian tendencies were always there.

Secondly, when Sunni Islam, the cement of the Turkish nation, was freed from the ban from the public sphere when political Islam came to power, the pious mass was further empowered.

Political Islam synergised with its mass through the rebirth of Turkish Sunnism and deeply buried totalitarian tendencies.

Even if we call this an "elected authoritarianism", there is always a mass that joyfully elects the autocrat every time. How long we can ignore its existence?

We must pay particular attention to this vast and never-to-be ignored mob that feeds itself with second-hand knowledge of Sunnism turned Salafist and that is amnesiac, revanchist, nasty, resentful and proudly parochial.

Listen to sociologist Ferhat Kentel: "There is no continuity in the mind of an average Turkish citizen. There is nothing she can remember when she returns to her neighbourhood. Not even a nostalgic memory. In a world that is perpetually changing, without any memories, people cannot find a sanctuary for their souls. When there are no sanctuaries, and no associations of a safe place, people readily accept any kind of fellowship, even a misinterpreted nationalism, that is presented to them. Nationalism, an idea that was fed to them starting with primary education becomes the only stable 'home' for people. The idea of an abstract homeland and a fictitious nation and land become the only constant."

Such a mob is not something that can be controlled by elections, sweet talk, by apologising or even trying to win their hearts as some columnists have argued recently. They will not stop supporting the regime even when the economy collapses.

This is something entirely different. And once again, on June 24, we relearned how deadly it is to ignore this crowd. We relearned that humiliating them on the social media, making fun of their actions and words, undermining their “new law and order”, announcing their “evaporation” soon and pointing at their passive and submissive status were lethal.  

Now when it comes to the cure, there are two refrains the opposition is uttering these days: The role of the parliament and a so-called Democracy Front.

They are saying that the primary place to fight the disease is parliament. Well, won't this parliament have even less power than its predecessor which never worked as a check and balance to the executive?

Let's take a closer look. The three primary functions of the parliament, namely lawmaking, budget-making and overseeing the executive are off the table.

The new parliament’s terms of reference are to consider and ratify draft laws that will be prepared by the Presidential Palace. In other words, it is a rubber stamp.

According to the new constitution, the president of the republic proposes the new budget. If the parliament rejects the budget draft, the previous year's budget remains in force.

As for auditing powers, parliamentarians do not have the authority to scrutinise the Council of Ministers. They cannot orally question the government; written questions can only be addressed to vice-presidents and ministers. They cannot address written or oral questions to the president. They can issue a proposal for a question, but the parliament has no power of censure. It cannot censure the government or even a minister.

The only power parliament has over the president is the decision to go to snap elections.

An investigation into an alleged criminal offence by the president requires the votes of the majority. Parliament must meet to discuss the proposal within a month and requires the votes of three fifths of parliamentarians through a secret ballot. Investigating the president, a vice-presidential, or a minister is even harder. It requires two-thirds of the total 600 members to send those public officials to the Supreme Court for trial.

The decision to call snap election for both parliament and the president can be passed with the signatures of three fifths of the deputies, or 360.

So the say, rather a joke.

Let's be honest with ourselves, parliament is starting a new legislature in which none of the parties except for the pro-Kurdish HDP, has any goals. It is no exaggeration to say this parliament will rather be a "notary public" rather than a legislative council.

As far as HDP is concerned, make no mistake its parliamentarians cannot form an active opposition caucus within the parliament. They will most likely move closer to their electorate.

The other address for the opposition to the palace and the mass behind it is the so-called "Democracy Front". But how will that virtual front be real? The "Nation Coalition", which was regarded as a democracy front, disintegrated immediately after the election without even a minimal agreement. They will not do anything other than worrying about their sweet salaries, trying to find new social ladders to climb and occasionally pretending to oppose government actions. Incidentally, it is about time we stop calling Turkey a democracy just because it holds elections.

So, this is the situation within parliament, but what is the Utopian "democracy front of the people" outside parliament?

A few days ago, Taner Akçam in Ahval invited every component of the future democracy front to confront reality.

On the other hand, maybe it is more meaningful to meet at the minimal common denominator like an "anti-fascist front" before trying an ambitious project like the democracy front. Either way, it is almost sure that there is a need for a mental re-adjustment since an alliance like that cannot be conceived without empathy for each other.

How about we start by asking the fictional components of the hypothetical democracy front whether they are willing to learn and tell the truth about the following issues?

The annihilation of non-Muslim citizens of the Ottoman Empire for the sake of nation building and the widespread spoliation of their properties; the massacres, persecution and segregation of the remaining ethnic and religious elements were subjected to since the formation of the Turkish Republic; degeneration of understanding of Sunni Islam and the amnesia created by the prohibition of the Arabic alphabet and language; the massacres, persecution and segregation that these elements or communities directed at each other; the anti-democratic and opaque functioning of these elements or communities, including those that claim to be democratic; the natural, agricultural and cultural destruction that started before the AKP; the aggressive foreign policy based on martyrs, conquest and xenophobia - in short, the concrete pillars of our collective decay.

Without confronting these massive issues of our past and present, any "front" against the resolute fascism we are facing will remain composed of unrelated, small, ignorant and self-serving communities.