Civil society in Erdoğan’s world: Modern bandits

Civil society in Erdoğan’s world: Modern bandits

Good news came from Luxembourg on the morning of Oct. 22, as the EU agreed to revive membership talks with Turkey and hold an intergovernmental conference on Nov. 5 for the opening of Chapter 22 (regional development) after a three year break.

Turkey’s chief negotiator Egemen Bağış said Nov. 5 would be a turning point in Turkey’s accession process, which will likely be followed by a high-profile visit from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Brussels in December or January. 

The government is asking for the opening of Chapters 23 and 24, (the judiciary and fundamental rights; and justice, freedom and security), which are believed to be the key chapters in advancing Turkey’s accession process. These chapters are under Greek Cypriot blockage, although the EU Commission has made clear that it supports the opening of these two chapters. It’s good to see the EU has reentered the Turkish government’s agenda. 

But if these chapters can be opened, this is thanks to some EU countries who strongly believe Turkey should be kept on track, as its alienation from Europe would be to the disadvantage of the union. 

The government ignores that its violations of fundamental rights, its crackdowns on peaceful activists, its interventions in lifestyles and its efforts to silence critical journalists and to demonize them are regarded as fundamental problem areas in Turkey’s democratization process. The opening of a chapter and some praise mentioned at the annual progress report does not, however, reverse this picture. 

Although the government wanted to highlight the positive parts of the report, its general outlook explains Turkey is still far from meeting the Copenhagen political criteria, as there are serious and continued breaches of some very fundamental human rights, particularly in the wake of the Gezi demonstrations and their follow-ups throughout the country. 

For example, for the first time, the report has a separate section under the title “Civil society.” Part of it reads as follows: “There is a growing and active civil society in Turkey. The Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and related protests across Turkey from May-June reflect the emergence of vibrant, active citizenry.”

What the EU described as a “vibrant, active citizenry” is, however, seen by the Turkish government members as being made up of “marauders” and even in some cases “terrorists.” The report recalls that civil society is still not widely considered “by those traditionally involved in politics” as a legitimate stakeholder in democracy. It calls on the government to respect and consult more systematically at every level of decision making, irrespective of who holds the majority at Parliament. 

Of course, for Erdoğan, who questions the EU’s right to evaluate Turkey’s performance with regard to the democratization process, the aforementioned universal values are useless, as proven in the latest row over the construction of a road bypassing Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ). 

Attacking a forest in the middle of the night, cutting down trees without waiting for court decisions and without consulting the university management or the neighborhood through which this road will pass, are unable to be explained. 

“Everything can be sacrificed for roads, because roads are civilization. But those who are not civilized do not know the roads’ values. In our values, roads do not recognize any obstacle,” Erdoğan told his lawmakers yesterday. 

He further introduced to the slang dictionary yet another definition of protester-activists, calling them “modern bandits.” Of course, it is not surprising in a village where Erdoğan is the Sheriff that we are all bandits.