Why reform is a six-letter word
The good news is that we all are programmed to cheer every little or big step the government takes to reform our always-reform-thirsty country, and we do cheer. The bad news is that our cheers will most probably change little. Past experiences show that pre- and post-reform Turkey has hardly meant a less or more democratic Turkey.
Turkish politics very rarely deprives one of bitter ironies. On the same day as newspapers announced the new reform package and our “yellow” colleagues commented, as if in an intellectual lackey race, on the future merits of “courageous reforms,” an almost invisibly small piece of news reported that a government critic had been given a suspended prison sentence for calling, in a tweet, Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek “shameless.”
Another news story, on the same day, said the governor of Eskişehir - and one of the darlings of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) - had admitted that he, in an e-mail message, called a courageous journalist from the daily Radikal “despicable and dishonored,” after reminding him of “six feet under,” an apparent threat. I am open to invitations to bet that the governor will not be given any prison sentence for insult or threat.
Naturally, I invite anyone who claim that Turkey is a democracy where all citizens, including journalists and governors, are equal before law to challenge my guess - I am anxiously awaiting betting offers that could include even giving up our columns. I repeat: In Turkey, calling a government mayor “shameless” earns an opponent a prison term, but calling a dissident journalist “despicable and dishonest” will not earn a governor any sentence.
All the same one of the great democratic leaps in the new reform package is that Kurdish civil servants will now be allowed to wear the Islamic headscarf during office hours. The same, fortunately, is true for Turkey’s Christian and Jewish minorities: Freedom for the headscarf! It remains intriguing, though, why in a country of 76 million there is not a single lawmaker, high-ranking officer, judge, governor or undersecretary of non-Muslim origin.
Turkey is and will remain after the legislation of the latest reform package an outstanding example perfectly illustrating why constitutions and laws are practically gratis manuals that politicians use in order to advance their political agendas - in the case of the AKP, increasingly less stealthy Islamism.
If constitutional articles, democratic principles and laws are not respected by the ruling elite and not supported by a solid judicial system, they are no more than important-looking books of no importance. No doubt, the new reforms will morph into fancily worded legislation that will only be enforced wherever the government deems politically appropriate. Mind you, there is no article in Turkish law that allows the government to lobby for the sacking of critical journalists.
I have often argued that constitutions (and laws) are human-made (like software). And there are endless human-made means to “hack” constitutions (like viruses). Mankind has always been more than prepared and willing to bypass, twist and corrupt even holy scriptures. In comparison, laws are a piece of cake.
Legislation does not work unless people make it work. And countries do not become decent places because their constitutions promise all possible elegance.
For example, Article 28 of the Turkish Constitution claims “the press is free, and shall not be censored.” I do not wish to imagine where, without this constitutional guarantee, Turkey, presently 176th, would stand on the international press freedom index.
Article 10 is one of my favorites. “All individuals are equal before the law without any discrimination irrespective of language, race, color, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect or any such consideration.” You see, the governor of Eskişehir will not be punished by law because the Constitution says important men can insult unimportant men.
Article 24 is a proof that constitutional articles may look like the best jokes of the century: “No one shall be allowed to exploit or abuse religion or religious feelings … for the purpose of personal or political influence, or for even partially basing the fundamental, social, economic, political and legal order of the state on religious tenets.” God forbid, without this article some political parties may have attempted to abuse the faithful!