Police Force 1 – Turkish Democracy 0
There have been symbolic moments reflecting the fundamental changes in the evolution of Turkey’s democracy which I call “revolutionary mementos”. Turkey has witnessed many revolutionary mementos so far, the Gezi protests being the latest one. The protests are another critical juncture in Turkey’s democratic development and how the government will respond will set the direction of Turkey’s democracy in the foreseeable future.
At the very beginning of the protests, the government reacted with the longstanding and well-established state mechanisms and instincts: Massive police force and disregard for the citizens’ demands. However last week we witnessed a quick and radical transformation. Following President Abdullah Gül’s admission that there had been wrongdoings by the police, Prime Minister Erdoğan met with the non-governmental organizations orchestrating the resistance. In the aftermath of his meetings, he pledged to respect the outcome of the ongoing court case filed to stop the redevelopment of Gezi Park and to hold a plebiscite on the Gezi plans. Separately, Istanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu discussed their demands with demonstrators that he had invited through his official Twitter account after having shared his mobile number in a live TV show. He also tweeted an apology message for the mistakes made during the protests.
These developments gave us hope that Turkish democracy is evolving by embracing elements of transparency, accountability, pluralism, dialogue, openness and representation, each of which is an absolute must for a healthy democracy and which should have been practiced at the very beginning of the protests. However on Saturday, following the declaration of the Taksim Solidarity Platform that they would not end their resistance, the traditional state mechanisms came back. Depressingly, the police entered the stage as harshly as they could.
The Gezi protests revealed that citizens want a new contract to be drafted between the state and themselves. They want to shift from a state-centric state to a human-centric one. Since the very foundation of the nation-state, new mechanisms have emerged which individuals can employ to challenge the state and express their demands and complaints. The AKP government has to realize the fact that citizens want to become active participants in the decision-making processes. It has to develop a healthy dialogue and a cooperative relationship with the citizens that reminds us of the concept of “negotiated revolution” coined by George Lawson. Lawson describes this type of revolution as a dynamic process which seeks to build a new order without resorting to violence and coercive control. This is a huge opportunity for Turkey to actualize a “negotiated revolution” and advance its democracy by adjusting itself to this new kind of governance.
Revolutions are processes first of “creative destruction” and secondly of “destructive creation” as Schumpeter says. We are certainly in the first phase and the emphasis is on destruction rather than creation these days. Yet, a new kind of citizenship is out there, which can be embraced only with negotiation. Otherwise we’ll all be losers, as in the title.