Is it authoritarianism step by step?
AHMET İNSELLast Saturday the Equality and Democracy Party and the Green Party organized a joint conference. The theme was democracy. “Authoritarianism step by step” was discussed in the first session. In fact, it is possible to define the current political process in Turkey as progressive authoritarianism.
This is a process where, as steps toward authoritarianism are accumulated, authoritarian reflexes emerge more. The number of those who are filling jails because of their opposing views and actions and those who are agonized by legal proceedings is increasing. Opponent voices in the media are losing their jobs. Number of arrested university students is increasing and except a few weak voices, academia is silent. Internet filters, red neighborhoods, television censures transform into social isolation tools under the disguise of “protection with good will.” Turning the urban architecture upside down without consulting the residents is continuing indifferently. Also, there is the transformation of valleys into basins for power dams. The fact that political power has centered in one position, and in one person, completes and reinforces this authoritarian scene.
While considering all these as facets of authoritarianism, another question should not be ignored: We are becoming authoritarian step by step, but what was it before this? Is there a Turkey that is becoming authoritarian, or is it a Turkey where the authoritarian structure and mentality are continuous? Our current situation is better explained with the question, “Why can’t we exit authoritarianism?” Why does the political regime in Turkey continuously excrete authoritarianism? Not only the political regime; why do the educational institutions, cultural institutions, media and family continue to exist as institutions where authoritarian values and reflexes are acquired and transferred into daily life? What are the sources of authoritarianism in Turkey?
In one dimension of this authoritarian world lies militarism. However, the source of authoritarian values and principles is not limited to militarism. What can be defined as the authoritarian excretion from above is produced not only in the military and the National Security Council (MGK), but also at Higher Education Board (YÖK), Board of Education and Discipline (Talim Terbiye), in ministries, several official cultural institutions and in the media.
Besides this top down authoritarianism, there is also authoritarianism from the bottom up. This fosters in the traditional family structure and feeds on patriarch and male dominated culture. But there is also a strong authoritarian tradition in Turkey that is not limited to the conservative world.
It is more precise to refer to the continuity of authoritarianism in Turkey. Yes, but some people who have experienced the Feb. 28 era as victims say, “The atmosphere we are inhaling today, the situation that is surrounding us today is more suffocating than Feb. 28.” While they are saying that, are they in an illusion? Of course not. The suffocating and bloody authoritarian state practices of the 1990s were in fact forms of pressure coming from above. The society’s general authoritarian reflexes and traditions did not add up to that.
The authoritarianism that the AKP nourishes and excretes today, from that point of view, gives the impression that it is more widespread and stronger than Feb. 28. The authoritarianism coming from above is joined to the authoritarianism coming from below. They feed each other much better now than compared to the past. This situation is complemented by the fact that the AKP has seized the primary hegemonic power position. Today the AKP is a power that has won half of the voters; and that has added to electoral legitimacy to the state of republic of Turkey’s old authoritarian values and traditions, as well as the authoritarian institutional opportunities of the Sept. 12 regime. It is verifying the authoritarian power consolidation.
Ahmet İnsel is a columnist for daily Radikal in which this piece appeared on Jan. 24. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.