Sunday under cloudy skies… (II)
Turkey is like a piano partition composed by Philip Glass: It finds beauty in itself by repeating itself.
“Sunday under cloudy skies” was the title of this column on June 15, 2011, just after Election Day 2011.
It is a passionate song (“Synnefiasmeni kyriaki” in Greek) written by the legendary Vassilis Tsitsanis – a sorrowful tribute to the times of despair during the German occupation of Thessaloniki.
“Sixty-three years after the song was written, on another cloudy Sunday, half of Turkey was lamenting the ‘Turkish occupation of Turkey by the other half,’ but laughing all the same,” I wrote. Sixty-seven years after the song was written, on another cloudy Sunday, slightly more than half of Turkey was lamenting the same “Turkish occupation” by slightly less than the other half, but still laughing.
“We’ve just landed in Istanbul from Andalucia,” a friend was on the phone as the early results of the local polls hit TV screens. “We gather it may be safer for us not to unpack and take the first plane back.”
“Should I start looking for an apartment for you now or wait for another week?” the cheerful email from Rome read as I came home on the night of Election Day 2011. Four years later, another email from the same sender read: “The offer is still valid. But I fear you may not have a chance to take it when I shall repeat it next year.”
I repeat what I wrote in 2011: “We are not going anywhere. This is our country, with or without the other half. We must respect the other half and curse the Greeks for inventing ballot-box democracy!”
“Sorry about the ancient Greek virtues that are now your curse,” the email from an Aegean island read after Election Day 2011. We smiled. The message from across the sea said: “Enjoy the democratic license to be strangled!” The message after Election Day 2014 read: “Now you may be lucky to be strangled only.” We smiled at that one as well. On Sunday, a majority of Turks gave Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a de jure carte blanche to steal, loot, cheat, intimidate or kill “the other.”
Why did they do so? The cliché explanation is that the Turks chose welfare and stability over the unknown. Welfare? That’s $10,000 per capita income. Did the Turks choose development? Physical development, yes. According to the UNDP’s Human Development Report, a comparative measure of life expectancy, education, standards of living and quality of life that demonstrates whether a country is developed, developing or underdeveloped, Turkey ranks 90th.
In his famous “balcony speech” after Election Day 2011, Mr. Erdoğan said his victory meant that the winners were “Turkey… [as well as] Beirut, Tripoli, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Jenin, Gaza, Sarajevo, the Middle East and Europe.” On Sunday, Mr. Erdoğan’s election victory was celebrated, along with Turkey, in Bosnia, Macedonia and Gaza. That makes a thinner list than Mr. Erdoğan’s 2011 neo-Ottoman wish list, but the prime minister was kind enough to thank “our Palestinian brothers… those who fight for democracy in Egypt… and our oppressed brothers in Syria.” The West? Sure. Mr. Erdoğan said Turkey had the democratic standards the West could only envy.
“What will happen now?” I asked in “Sunday under cloudy skies” four years ago. “Whatever has happened between July 2007 [elections] and June 2011,” I answered. The same answer may not be too unrealistic to guess what will happen now – until parliamentary elections in 2015.
Mr. Erdoğan’s victory is a genuine victory. But it may not be as good as he would wish it were. He failed to “raise devout generations” with 50 percent of the nationwide vote (and about 325 seats in Parliament). With 43 percent (based on city council votes cast for parties on Sunday) which would earn him about 290 seats, that holy ideal may be even more difficult, especially when the young, urban Turks now know better how smartly to engage in dissent.
In 2011, the two (non-Kurdish) opposition parties’ combined vote was 11 percentage points less than Mr. Erdoğan’s. In 2014, they are the same. And 290 is just too small a number to amend the Constitution to seal one-man rule in the shape of an executive presidency.