The failed test of humanity
Years ago, I wrote (in daily Radikal) on capital punishment that we had got rid of it without any positive debate. It was one of the conditions of EU membership and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan’s capture was somehow related to the issue. I argued that such steps on the way to Turkey’s candidacy of the EU should have been debated thoroughly in order to become a “norm” for society, otherwise progress on democracy and human rights would remain alien to wider society. At the time, there was no concern in Turkey about the inhumanity of capital punishment and why it had become unacceptable for human civilization.
Now, in an address to his party meeting in Kızılcahamam, the prime minister expresses his unease concerning the lifting of capital punishment and the fact that Öcalan escaped execution. Moreover, he reminds us of the fact that “the majority of the population would vote for the return of capital punishment if asked for their opinion.”
Recently, British thinker John Gray wrote about the contemporary regression of politics, stating that “right-thinking liberals are aghast whenever large numbers of people support authoritarian regimes … If the majority in post-communist Russia seem unconcerned with Putin’s assaults on freedom, that can only be because democracy is underdeveloped. The possibility that, with all his murky authoritarianism, Putin may be more liberal than much of the population is not considered.” (‘Hobbes, our great contemporary,’ The New Statesman, Sept. 21-27, 2012).
Indeed, the rise of authoritarian regimes is not a matter of the personality of a political leader, but it is rather the outcome of the history of democracy in such societies. This is the case in Turkey, where democrats themselves chose the “easiest” (as they thought) way to democratization. They invested their hope in a so-called “liberal” leader (namely Turgut Özal in the eighties), an external dynamic (namely the EU process in the nineties), and then an anti-status quo politics of ex-Islamists (namely Erdoğan and the AKP in the 2000s).
Finally, it is not the temper and whims of Prime Minister Erdoğan that led to today’s crisis of democracy, but rather Turkey’s crippled path of democratization and the delusions of its so-called democrats, who legitimized this troubled process with their delusions.
Let’s admit that the majority of the country do not care about the value of human life, let alone freedoms. The challenge in Turkey is that Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party are in perfect tune with their majority social support. Otherwise, people could not be jailed on arbitrary grounds, Kurds could not be demonized, and the hunger strikes of hundreds of prisoners would not be dismissed as a “political show.” Alas, Turkey seems to fail not only the test of democracy, but also the test of humanity and civility as well.