What is happening in Turkey nowadays reminds me of Mark Mazower’s brilliant revision of 20th century European history (“Dark Continent,” 1999), a “frightening reminder of how fragile democracy has been” according to fellow-historian Orlando Figes in The Times.
The beginning of the 20th century in Europe was a time of crises after the dissolution of the old order, but the idea of democracy was a short-lived experience that soon led to the rise of authoritarianism across the continent. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire can be viewed as a somewhat similar experience.
The history of democracy has been a long search for reconciling the idea of freedoms and political stability. Europe paid a high price to achieve this difficult combination, and Turkey is still struggling to reach a compromise between the two principles. Throughout the history of modern Turkey, every attempt to build a democratic politics is hindered by sliding back to authoritarian politics in the search for political stability. In fact, it was never the whim of the military establishment that interrupted the process of democratization, as is widely believed nowadays. Instead, the main obstacle in the path of democratization has always been the search for an easy option to overcome the uncertainties and turmoil of democratic politics, as was the case in the rise of a variety of authoritarian rules that arose in Europe between the two world wars.
The democrats of Turkey are confused by the rise of authoritarian politics through the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) only because they missed this point and simply defined the rise of civilian political power at expense of the diminishing power of the military as the necessary rise of democratic politics. The current authoritarian politics are simply about sacrificing freedoms in search of political stability and tranquility. Rises in authoritarianism have always been instances of “collective political guilt” after all, as we human beings are always inclined to opt for easy ways to avoid uncertainty.
Nevertheless, we always pay high prices for opting for the minimum prices, as well as for expecting maximum gains in political as well as in private lives. Now, in Turkey, we witness the rise of authoritarian limitations to all sorts of freedoms - from the soap operas that we choose to watch to all kinds of political freedoms. Moreover, the sacrificing of freedoms has neither provided stability nor certainty and tranquility, since we have ended up with the utmost instability resulting from social polarization and domestic tension, as well as the uncertainties of a volatile foreign policy.
The price of avoiding uncertainty and tension has only been more uncertainty and tension, minus freedoms. Turkey is a dark country now and it may pay higher prices unless we recognize the further dangers of authoritarian politics.