Times to forget
Another hectic year of the troubled 2000s has passed. 2017 will first and foremost be remembered as a year of global demise of democratic politics and chaotic international relations. Apart from non-Western countries, even the so-called advanced democracies witnessed political regression, as Donald Trump won the presidential elections in the U.S., the U.K. began the Brexit process, Austria ended up with a coalition government with the far-right, German center parties failed to win a majority and Spain was shaken by Catalonia’s declaration of independence. As for France, the election victory of Emmanuel Macron can hardly be viewed as a consolation as he turned out to be a rather curious moderate with Napoleonic dreams and “Jupiterian” claims on power. Although the rising star of Britain Jeremy Corbyn raised some hopes for some leftists, his brand of leftism represents a temporal nostalgia rather than a promising prospect for the global decline of left-wing politics.
It may seem rather odd for someone who lives in Turkey to worry about the democracy crisis in Western countries, but the global gloom deepens our concerns for political prospects in our own countries. The most significant event of the year in Turkey was the approval of the presidential system in the April referendum. It is a major transformation not only in politics but also in social, economic and cultural life since the so-called Turkish-type presidential system is clearly defined as a strong executive presidency with a new official ideology and without the political separation of powers. A radical transformation has already started with state of emergency decrees even before constitutional amendments have been enacted.
Turkey’s drift away from its Western allies have intensified during 2017, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s and his party’s resentment toward Western powers deepened by their skepticism that the West meddled in the July 2016 coup attempt. Turkey’s disappointment with its Western allies concerning the U.S. support to Syrian Kurds only contributed to the crisis of mutual trust and partnership more. It is how religio-nationalist worldview became the dominant political discourse, and how it does not only shape political opinion but also defines the terms of political legitimacy. As the republican opposition fails to challenge the nationalist and, even, militarist political discourse, the political space has become monopolized by “nationalist consensus,” which further diminishes Turkey’s chances of hindering the deepening of the deficit in democracy.
Everybody, including the president and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), agrees that 2018 is going to be “difficult” since it will set the terms for the upcoming decisive 2019 presidential elections. I hate to depress the readers of this column by not being able to wish them a happy new year, but it is better to be prepared for hard times ahead rather than get terribly disappointed, I think. Instead of fostering wishful thinking, I want to suggest a good reading to you.
My choice of book of the year is David Rieff’s “In Praise of Forgetting.” Rieff reminds the healing impact of “forgetting” to achieve political peace and suggest taking it as an option. He does not deny the importance of remembrance but warns us that memory may sometimes deepen wounds. I hope we will have the chance to take his advice one day, since “forgetting” becomes an option only after the end of certain historical storms.