Depressing news from Turkey

Depressing news from Turkey

SARAJEVO – I have been in Europe in the past week, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Heidelberg, Germany, for public talks on freedom. Organized by the brilliant group “Students for Liberty,” these were events that brought together liberals and libertarians in this part of the world to discuss threats against free speech, or freedom of religion, or the freedom of markets.

Thanks to these events, I had a better chance to hear more about what I call “first world freedom problems.” Examples include the limitations on free speech based on concerns with “hate speech,” or controversies about the circumcision of males, or heavy taxation and regulation that infringe with private property and disrupt the rules of the market. 

I certainly am not dismissing these issues. They are all important matters that have to be discussed and fought for in order to protect individuals from “nanny states” and over-organizing bureaucracies of our day and age. But I would still really love to only have nothing worse than these issues in the part of the world where I am from. 

I mean Turkey, of course, which has rapidly moved away from “first world freedom problems,” putting itself in a completely different league over the past few years. For the past week, every time I opened my Twitter account I saw yet another line of breaking news showing me that we Turks really are heading to a very concerning future.

The raid on daily Cumhuriyet, of course, was the most striking example among all that breaking news. Cumhuriyet is Turkey’s oldest newspaper, a citadel of the secular-Kemalist-leftist tradition, which I am not a big fan of but which certainly has an important place in our society and which absolutely must be free. 

Fourteen Cumhuriyet journalists are now in custody for supposedly “helping terrorist organizations without being a member.” The accusations against them amount to nothing but the headlines, articles or even cartoons they have produced as journalists and commentators. Prosecutors somehow suspected that the political messages given by these works help encourage terrorism or the coup-plotters. The scariest thing is that according to this logic there is probably no anti-government journalist who cannot be accused of the same thought crimes. 

Another breaking news item from Turkey was the arrest of the Diyarbakır co-mayors, Gülten Kışanak and Fırat Anlı. Again, I am no fan of their political line, which is sympathetic to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist group. But just like the case with the IRA and Sinn Féin, the “political wing” of a movement that also has a violent side is something you should keep in the system, so that you can always keep chances for peace. When you curb that “political wing,” you opt for total war, which Turkey has already tried for decades. Our current rulers, however, seem to believe they can try better. 

Then there is also the news of the recent state of emergency “executive order” that abolished elections in Turkey’s universities and gave the president the power to appoint all university rectors (presidents) at will. This is just the latest example of an increasingly centralized state waging permanent war against the “enemies within.”

It is inevitable that liberty will only suffer more in such a political setting. The only remaining question is: How far will we go down the rabbit hole? And exactly when will we reach the bottom?