Authoritarian rulers under democracy’s sheep clothing

Authoritarian rulers under democracy’s sheep clothing

It would have been a huge surprise had Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan abstained from attending the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympic games. After all, the Turkish construction sector was very happy to see Sochi win the Olympic bid, and it would not be a wild speculation to guess that Erdoğan probably asked Putin in person to include Turkish businessmen in the remaking of Sochi.

And, naturally, Erdoğan has turned a deaf ear to the Circassians, who have been waging a campaign against Sochi as a reaction to the Games coinciding with the 150th year of their deportation from their homeland, where the Olympic Games will take place.

U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders have declined to attend Sochi, not really out of sympathy for Circassians (gays seem to have proven a stronger lobby), but mostly for general human rights reasons, ranging from Russia’s anti-gay law to the oppression of political dissent.

Erdoğan had every credible alibi not to go; it is election time and he is waging a war with “enemies” inside and out. But why should he join the boycott of the Western camp for what he considers as “non-issues”?

He’ll be standing side by side with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Following his trips to Brussels and Berlin, where he reiterated Turkey’s bid for the European Union, will he still seize the opportunity to renew his request to join the Shanghai Organization? That remains to be seen. What’s sure is that he is going to feel at home standing next to some of the world’s “authoritarian rulers disguised in democratic sheep’s clothing.”

The above identification is not mine. I first heard it from an academic. Modern authoritarian rulers use democracy as a mechanism to create a fog that makes it difficult for the international community to detect and eliminate their anti-democratic practices, said Ozan Varol from the Lewis and Clark Law School.

Authoritarian rulers have adopted the same constitutional laws and legal institutions, yet they either ignore them or use them to conceal their repressive ways, he added, speaking at a conference in Istanbul. They employ legal methods against dissidents, such as using non-political crimes to prosecute opponents, as has occurred in Russia, where opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky was prosecuted for tax evasion and embezzlement. He was recently released from prison ahead of the Games.

For years, foreign colleagues, diplomats and observers have been inquiring about the problems with the freedom of the press in Turkey. “Have you been targeted directly by the government?” was one of the first questions. I, of course, never started the answer by saying, “No, because I have been very careful,” which actually would speak volumes about the current situation.

Foreign observers would rather focus on jailed journalists or the high-profile famous journalists who have lost their jobs without finding a new outlet to express their views. Yes, there is a record number of journalists in jail and hundreds of veteran professional journalists have lost their jobs, and I am not only talking about high-profile names. But there are also lesser known names who are not columnists, but editors and reporters, fired to be replaced by unskilled so-called journalists known to be close to the government or the Gülen community.

We tried to explain that the issue went far beyond journalists landing in prison or unemployment.

There was something much more institutionalized. The government not only exerted pressure on traditional media outlets via a very legal, yet abusive mechanism of tax control, but it also wanted to turn some of the existing media outlets into loyal allies.

It has been difficult to explain it. Now it is all in the open. The telephone recordings of the two businessmen who were awarded huge bids lamenting about how they need to throw millions into a pool to save a newspaper, speaks volumes.