First as a tragedy, second as farce
Twitter was on when I went to bed Thursday night (March 20). There was no twitter when I woke up Friday morning (March 21). So started the eradication campaign the prime minister promised. We can only guess what is next. This is all bad news for our national pastime of following the new episodes of our leaders’ wiretappings; bad for Wikileaks a la Turca, for a while, at least. I now understand that old saying by Ismet Inönü, “You just cannot predict what the bandits can do at night/Eşkiyanın gece ne yapacağı belli olmaz” Nobody expects to be surprised by politics with 50 years behind them, but events these days are unlike anything we have seen before. We are truly in the “interesting times” Chinese sages cursed their opponents with.
Recall that just a few years back, Turkey was the world’s second-fastest growing country. With our 9 percent growth rate, we would have been like China, if not for a small difference: China was growing at Chinese rates with around 8 percent current account surplus and a 30 percent domestic savings rate.
Turkey was growing at Chinese rates with a 10 percent current account deficit and less than a 10 percent domestic savings rate. Rapid growth with weak fundamentals only made Turkey more vulnerable. A short glance under the hub would have told anyone that Turkey was no China. What happened then? Growth dwindled to around 2 percent and the current account deficit stayed high, at around 7.5 percent. Turkey, one of the Fragile Five countries, is now drying up as the U.S. Federal Reserve is ending the era of easy liquidity. Pride always comes before the fall. Turkey’s story is as classic a tragedy as can be.
As of Thursday however, Turkey is again second to China. This time we trail the Chinese in banning Twitter. Not the most respectable field of competition, I have to confess. But let’s look at the details.
First of all, what happened last night is devoid of meaning. It merely goes to show the scope of the discretionary power enjoyed by our ruling elite. Good for them, bad for the country. But I have to note the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is not as ingenious and strategic as the Chinese Communist Party. As opposed to the former, the latter knows how to handle dissent through inclusiveness.
Secondly, Turkey’s transformation is far beyond the Chinese one in terms of the rule of law, freedom of expression and democratic government. Thirdly, the ban is not enforceable. Will it actually stop people from using Twitter? Will the prime minister actually “finish Twitter,” as he proclaimed? The thought is ridiculous. We are all still using Twitter. There are web sites already showing all of us how to bypass the government’s ham-handed efforts.
Did the Luddites of the late 19th century succeed when they destroyed factory machines to save their jobs during the Industrial Revolution? They had lost before picking up their hammers. Banning Twitter is no different. Will 12 million Twitter users in Turkey just stop what they have been doing? We are already far too accustomed to the new technology. We are too used to communicating with each other at breakneck speed. There is Facebook, Whatsapp and many more such systems that will connect us to one another. But in this new age of interconnectedness, the prime minister is Don Quixote. Remember that the problem in that story is not windmills actually turning into giants. The problem is in poor Don Quixote’s mind. He is surrounded by illusions, pretending to be the hero of the old while people look at him with pity. Unlike the story however, Our Don Quixote is imbued with great power and responsibility.
Remember the 18th Brumaire of Louis-Napoleon? It was an essay by Karl Marx discussing the French coup of 1851 in which Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte assumed dictatorial powers and became Napoleon III.
Louis-Napoleon was the president of France then and he was incidentally the nephew of the first Bonaparte. Marx’s famous phrase, “history repeats itself; first as a tragedy, second as farce” describes that event. So too, Turkey is again second to China. The first time was a tragedy, now a farce.