Tales from a dystopian land
Turkey never ceases to challenge master storyteller George Orwell’s allegorical novella “Animal Farm,” with the distasteful difference that Turkish affairs are not fiction depicting a dystopian land. They are real, depicting a dystopian land. The good side of it is that Turkey had never been such fertile ground for political humor. But be careful not to confuse reality with fiction.
It has not happened in a miraculous flash; the “Turkish Animal Farm” has evolved over years of Islamists’ hard work. In 2011, Muharrem İnce, a prominent member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), angrily took the parliament’s floor with a pile of official documents in his hand and explained to the house, in plain language, what they were about. The documents told of the real-life Farm maturing fast.
In 2010, Mr. İnce had travelled to the countryside to speak to the locals and, as it is his job, campaigned for his party while, of course, blasting the government. The police made a report of this “criminal activity,” accusing Mr. İnce of “carrying out propaganda by criticizing the government.” Orwell would have felt jealous about the creativity. But there was more.
Based on the police report, a prosecutor sent Mr. İnce an indictment accusing him of “involvement in activities with the aim of assaulting the government.” In Parliament, Mr. İnce said that “he does not want to assault the government; he in fact wants to topple it!”
Meanwhile, the prosecutor requested that Parliament remove Mr. İnce’s immunity – for which the MP had already submitted a petition. In his speech, Mr. İnce reminded the government of hundreds of other court requests to remove deputies’ immunities to bring hundreds of honorable MPs to justice. “I do volunteer to stand trial, but will you?” Mr. İnce asked government MPs, and was naturally booed.
The suspended indictments against mostly government MPs included charges like fraud, corrupting government tenders, swindling public banks, embezzlement and even forging public transport tickets – allegations that look ridiculously innocent compared to the more recent wave of corruption scandals which the government fights by reassigning or suspending thousands of prosecutors and police officers.
Commenting on Mr İnce’s illegal activities on assaulting the government, I mistakenly guessed that “we can count down the days when cats will be indicted for meowing – if the prosecutors think they meow against the government.” Fortunately, not a single cat has yet been indicted for assaulting the government. But the 21st century Turkish challenge to Orwell’s “Animal Farm” knows no limits.
Most recently, the head of Turkey’s Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) sent a warning to CHP’s deputy chairman, Umut Oran, asking the lawmaker to remove a parliamentary question he published on his personal website. Mr. Oran had submitted a written parliamentary question over the phone records between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his son Bilal Erdoğan, and a number of ministers and businessmen, asking whether Erdoğan had instructed his minister Binali Yıldırım to tell a group of businessmen to buy the staunchly pro-government Sabah newspaper and the ATV television station.
TİB also sent the same warning to media outlets that published the parliamentary question on their web sites.
For the first time in Turkey’s modern political history, a government-controlled body was attempting to ban the publication of a parliamentary question which, funnily enough, remains in parliamentary records. It appeared that TIB’s letter was not even based on a court order, but on a request from a prosecutor. And in a most Orwellian way, all that is happening not in a military coup Turkey, but in European Union-candidate Turkey. Perhaps full EU member Turkey would be much less livable than it is today!
(TİB later admitted that it made a mistake in demanding that news sites remove content related to the corruption probe that has engulfed the government. But never said why such “mistakes” in bureaucracy always occur, [literally] without exception, against dissent.)
As a news story in the fabulous humor newspaper Zaytung reported a few days ago: “An opposition lawmaker was stabbed by government MPs while he was passing by government benches to submit a parliamentary question.”
In Turkey, cats are still safe from political prosecution. Opposition MPs may not be as lucky.