Despondency marks ‘Republic Day’ for many
The 91st anniversary of our republic was marked this year with a sense of despondency among Turks who believe in a secular democracy based on tried and tested European values that have become the universal benchmarks of advanced societies in the contemporary world.
It was not marked with any apparent joy among supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) either. It is almost as if his being elected president has produced an anti-climax. His election was necessary for them, of course, as the ultimate victory by Islamists against the hated secularists.
That having been achieved, people are now waiting to see him work his magic. It is not clear when that will happen, though, since the country does not appear to be moving towards the happy ending that Erdoğan’s supporters no doubt wish to see.
Turkey today has fewer friends than ever in its neighborhood and the world at large. Ankara’s failed attempt to gain a seat at the U.N. Security Council was telling in this regard. Domestically the Kurdish question, Turkey’s principal challenge today, is on the verge of spinning out of control again.
Erdoğan tries hard to present himself as a friend of the Kurds who has done more for them than any previous leader. The steps he has taken, however, are seen now to be low risk ones that any previous government should have taken, had more sense and less paranoia prevailed regarding our Kurdish citizens.
Clearly, however, these steps are not enough, and Kurdish hatred for Erdoğan is increasing due to his stance on Kobane in particular. He will most likely resort to accusing Kurds of being ungrateful and aggravate matters further. It is in his nature to scratch at wounds rather than trying to heal them.
He has done little to appeal himself to the 50 percent that did not vote for him and that does not consider him as its president. He is seen instead as a person with an ethno-religious-sectarian mission that excludes others.
The economy, which Erdoğan relies on, is holding, but only just. Turkey is caught in a middle income trap and all of Erdoğan’s directives to have interest rates forcibly brought down, and his demonizing of international rating agencies will not change the precarious state of the economy.
Turkey survived the global financial crisis because of the economic measures that were inevitably forced on it after its financial collapse in 2001. Erdoğan did not invent the relative stability that followed that crises, but reaped the benefits of maintaining the rules set down by others before he and the AKP came to power.
That, however, is clearly not enough for the vibrantly growing economy that he wants to see today in order to be able to work the magic he promised his supporters. Erdoğan is learning the “Copernican lesson” the hard way. Namely that the world does not revolve around his personal desires, but has its own set of rules, which Turkey has to follow if it wants to maintain economic stability at a time of turbulence in the global economy.
One can even hear some echoes of grumblings from Erdoğan’s conservative supporters who are questioning why he built a massive presidential palace for himself that is reminiscent of the gaudy structure Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu once put up in Bucharest.
The latest mining disaster, coming so soon after the Soma disaster, is enough to show that public money could be spent on more relevant projects that enhance public safety and welfare, rather than opting for grandiose undertakings that reveal Erdoğan’s ideological inclinations, and anger Turks who revere the true “Father of the Republic.”
Put shortly, there are many reasons to be despondent on this 91st anniversary of the Republic about the future of Turkey as a progressive and secular democracy which takes its inspiration from contemporary values, not from religious ones that belong to the private - not the public - domain in the modern world.