Turkey a good and a bad example of democratic culture

Turkey a good and a bad example of democratic culture

Azerbaijan allocates a significant portion of its budget to boosting its image in the international arena. It’s much wiser to do so rather than dedicating its budget to military spending. No matter how much Baku spends on its army, it cannot match that of Russia, which it would face in the event of an armed conflict with Armenia to get back its territories under Armenian occupation. 

The first European Games in Baku are part of a public relations campaign. Human rights circles are usually against choosing anti-democratic administrations as hosts for prestigious international events. I beg to differ.
The international focus that comes with such events puts the spotlight more on the undemocratic practices of the government in question which otherwise might not attract the attention of the international public. 

It is, for instance, thanks to the European Games that I have become aware of the plight of opposition activist Emin Huseynov. 

Switzerland flew Huseynov out of Azerbaijan right at the beginning of the games after sheltering him for 10 months at its embassy in Baku.

A fierce critic of President İlham Aliyev, Huseynov, who sought shelter at the Swiss Embassy last August, left his country on the plane of Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, who was in Baku to attend the opening of the European Games, according to Radio Free Europe.

For me, the most interesting information came in the details of the reason why Huseynov had sought shelter at the Swiss Embassy. 

Huseynov heads the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, a group that has repeatedly accused Aliyev’s government of restricting free speech. In 2008, he claimed that he was beaten by police officers in Baku who threatened to kill him and that he was hospitalized due to injuries sustained in the incident. 

But we are now in 2014; instead of using physical violence, Azerbaijani authorities charged him with “illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion.” That’s the new way modern-day authoritarian regimes use to intimidate dissidents. When faced with criticism, they say “He is not in jail because of his views [or criticism of the regime], he is in jail because he is guilty of tax evasion.”

When I read this news, I immediately thought that Azerbaijan had learned fast, especially from its brotherly nation to the west.

But the fact that Turkey under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has become a model to other developing countries in its authoritarian practices is only one side of the coin.

The other side is that Turkey can indeed be a model, an example, or inspiration of democratic experience, especially for the Muslim world. It at least proves to the Western world that Islam is compatible with democracy – provided that a democratic understanding of secularism is endorsed.

There is no doubt that there has been tremendous backpedalling on certain issues in Turkey. Yet the elections and the outcome give us a lot of reason to be optimistic, too.

Despite the “unconstitutional” campaign of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and despite the fact that the AKP used all the state’s resources in its favor, the Turkish electorate basically said no to the “one-man rule,” desired by Erdoğan. This most certainly reflects a degree of democratic maturity at the citizen level.  The fact that Kurds consolidated their position as legitimate actors in the political system is yet another symbol of that democratic maturity. Turkish citizens now want this democratic maturity reflected at the government level. Will the politicians live up to that challenge? If political parties succeed in forming a coalition government and even ensure that it lasts for at least a year or two, that will mean another brick in the wall for consolidating Turkish democracy. 

Compromise is an indispensable tenant of democratic culture. The AKP succeeded to the degree it was ready to compromise with the rest of the society which did not vote for it and started losing ground when it became uncompromising. I don’t think Turkish politicians will act with the consciousness that the world’s eye will be upon them. Yet whether they like it or not, both the East and the West will be watching how Turkey emerges from this challenge in its democratic journey.