The problem of a regressive mentality

The problem of a regressive mentality

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said “developments in Turkey are alarming.” Was it strange to hear such words from her or from any other European leader? If such a sentence was to come out from the mouth of Vladimir Putin, right, then it would have been totally awkward.

The raid on Cumhuriyet and the subsequent arrest of the editor and scores of writers and executives of the newspaper was not, of course, something surprising. In private discussions on the sidelines of the Turkish-German journalists’ symposium held last week in Antalya by the Turkish Journalists Association and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the possibility of the government moving on Cumhuriyet was among the top three subjects. Orhan Erinç, the chairman of the Cumhuriyet Foundation who apparently escaped detention because of his advanced age, appeared very worried during the discussions. He was proven correct. 

Kadri Gürsel, one of the Cumhuriyet writers taken in, was particularly concerned about criticisms and accusations directed at his paper in the pro-government media. “This period will be remembered not only with the incredible, massive violation of media freedom by the government but also with the ‘colleagues’ serving at pro-government media attacking journalists critical of the government,” he said and lamented: “These are not journalists. They are propagandists.”

Unfortunately, this is particularly true of journalist deputies sitting in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) benches in parliament. Indeed, can anyone still consider a journalist any of those scribes who have apparently developed such a degree of allegiance with the government to declare “there are no journalists in prison; they are all terrorists?”

Obviously, this period will also come to an end. Where are those all-powerful pashas of the 1980 coup period? Where are those worshipping those pashas? Does anyone remember who they were? Super president, ultra-super president, whatever, this period will come to an end as well. That day, when some sort of normalcy is restored in the country, don’t be surprised if all those officious power-worshippers of today are still able to find a source of power to worship. Perhaps hypocrisy is an art in which some people manage to develop excellence.

What is sad is not what happens to Cumhuriyet or to journalists. Turkey’s free media will continue to exist this way or the other. Journalists might suffer in dungeons. They might be subjected to inhumane treatment. Present-day political Islamist government members love saying they entered politics with their shroud in their bag, meaning they were ready to die for the country. No one, of course, should test their sincerity as perhaps no one should sacrifice his/her life for anything. But it has always been the first advice received by young journalists from their elders when they start journalism: “Always keep your suitcase ready.”

The suitcase of a journalist must always be ready not just because s/he might be posted somewhere else and s/he might hurriedly move but more so for the inconvenient situation that a knock on the door in the dark hours of the night is not likely to be the milkman, but rather an affectionate policemen. Yet, irrespective of how many of them are taken in for a four-star all-inclusive prison-palace, or how many of them were subjected to lengthy sessions in the palace of justice, Turkish journalists have developed sufficient skills to continue to be critical under all circumstances.

What will happen to Cumhuriyet? What will happen to the journalists taken in? Will Cumhuriyet be placed first under a court-appointed trustee and then closed down? What will the government achieve by closing down Cumhuriyet?

Did anyone notice, among those detained journalists, Musa Kart, the cartoonist of that famous cartoon of a cat and a ball of wool that enraged the all-powerful, unmerciful, vengeful, sole decision-maker? Was it retrospective justice to send Musa Kart to the dungeon now?

Justice cannot be retrospective. Nowadays, perhaps to shock Merkel more, Turkey is gearing up to reintroduce the death penalty for crimes against the state, pedophilia crimes and of course for those who attempt to stage a coup. If outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) chieftain Abdullah Öcalan was long sentenced to an enforced life term and the death penalty cannot be applied retroactively against Fetullah Gülen, accused of masterminding the failed July coup, why would the government reintroduce it?

Such a development would not help any cause. It would also block any possibility of the extradition of Gülen or anyone from any Western country. Furthermore, by reintroducing it, Turkey would crush the Human Rights Charter, torpedo the already problematic EU accession talk process and shift Turkey’s direction from the West to the autocratic East…

Thus, the problem is neither Cumhuriyet nor the death penalty… It is not the demand for retrospective justice either. It is perhaps a problem of regressive mentality.