Failed democracy and the Soma tragedy

Failed democracy and the Soma tragedy

The politically correct term of “developing countries” has long turned out to be a euphemism, as the post-Cold War eulogy about the global rise of liberal democracies has ended up a sham. The bitter truth is that the so-called “developing countries” enforced economic growth policies not only at expense of more social-economic inequality and worsening working conditions, but also at the expense of a deficit in democracy. Some of the most shining examples of post-Cold War “economic miracles” are also examples of “social misery” and “political malady,” from major China to minor Singapore. The most recent election victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India is another bad omen for the global retreat from democracy, another promise for an economic miracle at the expense of social misery.

The story of Turkey is neither “peculiar” nor “surprising,” as many claim. Turkey is another “banal” case of rising “illiberal democracies.” In the case of Turkey, it is the combination of conservative political authoritarianism, economic liberalism and a “temporary” alliance with Western political interests. Besides, Turkey has proven to be one of the most compelling cases to review the delusion about a “Muslim democracy” - a peculiar democracy model for Muslim countries. In fact, it was the idea of “non-Western modernities” that paved the way for “rethinking democracy” in terms of different cultures. The rising economies of Southeast Asia were presented as a success story of the combination of liberal economics with “Asian values” in the 1990s, before the talk of combining Muslim culture and liberal economics started to be presented as the best solution for Islamic countries. The politics of multiculturalism empowers the experience of democracy only as long as it enforces more cultural freedoms; otherwise it turns to be an intellectual excuse for curbing individual rights and hindering political criticism. This is the case for countries like ours.

It is only after the cruel suppression of the Gezi protests, the suppression of judicial inquires into graft investigations, and now the tragedy in the Soma mines, that the standards of democracy, political freedoms, judicial independence and working conditions in Turkey are starting to be questioned by the Western world. The most disturbing aspect of this awakening is the pretense of “surprise.” Not only Western observers of Turkish politics, but also some in Turkey seem to be wondering, “Why has it turned out to be so disastrous?” “Why has the process of democratization regressed?” and “What happened to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?” One must look back to find answers; it is easy to observe the footprints of rising authoritarian politics, especially after the 2011 election.  

I am one of those who was always skeptical about the democratic credentials of the conservatives and Erdoğan, or the prospects of democracy in Turkey. Besides, I have no intention of putting all of the blame of the democratic retreat in Turkey on the conservative government or on Erdoğan’s personality. In fact, the basic reason for the deficit of democracy in Turkey is deeper; and it should be debated at length elsewhere. In short, in the end Turkey has not been able to adjust itself to the post-Cold War times and, as a result, has slid first toward political instability and then toward a new authoritarian politics, like in many other countries since the 1990s. It seemed that there was a chance for Turkey to transform, but it failed, and the fatal blow came with the delusion of democratization at the hands of conservatives, who were already drifting away from democratic politics. The final excuse for many is to turn a blind eye to this naked truth has been the Kurdish peace process led by Erdoğan. Indeed, this could have been justified, if only it was possible to consider “peace” and “democracy” to be totally separate issues.

After all, not only the Kurdish peace process, but such issues as the working conditions in mines or elsewhere cannot be separated from the major issue of the retreat of democracy in Turkey. The bitter truth should not have to be reminded by tragedies such as the losing of more than 300 lives in Soma. At this point, we should also think about the dangers of falling into the trap of the government’s politics of separating the Kurdish peace process from democracy, as this may cost many more lives.