Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Course: Politics, Instructor: Youth

Alternate Title - Confessions of a Liberal Democrat

The Gezi protests that have spread like wildfire around the entire country within a week led me into some self-questioning and soul-searching. I had endured some friendly (and some unfriendly) taunting and criticisms from family, friends and colleagues over the past few years about my political stance, i.e. giving indirect support to the Erdoğan government. The accusations were factually correct - that was my political stance. As a response, I had defended myself with certain arguments that I will mention later on this post. However, with the Gezi protests and the police brutalities that followed, I was anti-Tayyip in no time. Hence the soul-searching: Am I just unprincipled? Or, was I just wrong and came to see the inevitable truth? Bear with me on this post until I make up my mind!

I have never voted for AKP. On the contrary, for more than a decade, I have been voting for the Kurdish BDP (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi - Peace and Democracy Party) candidates (who could only run for the parliament as independent candidates because of the high 10% national election barrier). I was really proud when my vote was represented in the parliament, for the first time in my life, when Sebahat Tuncel was elected in 2011. So, how could I give indirect support to Erdoğan and his party, when I had been consistently voting for the Kurdish party? (Please cross out donations, as I have spent the last decade of my life as a graduate student...)

As I mentioned in previous posts, AKP had been adamant about battling against the hitherto unquestioned authority of the bureuacratic (military and judicial) elites in Turkish politics. Within a decade, AKP was able to undermine these traditional and structural sources of power. It was not an easy struggle. Like boxers in a prolonged match, both the bureaucratic elite and the AKP government gave each other nasty bruises. A particularly important moment in that struggle was on April 27, 2007, when the Office of the Chief of General Staff issued a memorandum, which blatantly threatened the government. This sort of an intervention was reminiscent of previous such military coups and memorandums (in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997), which had significantly altered the political equilibrium. Unlike previous military interventions into parliamentary politics, the government did not step back and publicly questioned the legitimacy of the memorandum. It is fair to say that the bureaucratic elite's downfall hastened from that point on, and the voters kept supporting AKP in subsequent elections with increasing numbers.

AKP also had played an important role in Turkey's bid to become a part of the European Union (EU). Turkey became a candidate country in 2005 and accession talks ensued immediately afterwards. The talks lost steam over the years due to problems on both sides, however AKP's advocacy of the cause led not only to significant pro-human rights legal reforms in Turkey, but also increased public sympathy towards membership in the EU.

Fast forward the really problematic recent AKP years into 2013, and we end up with the detente with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), which had been in military combat with the Turkish state since the 1980s. This internal war between the state and the PKK had cost more than 40,000 lives. Despite AKP's complete unreliability in pursuing a stable relationship with the Kurdish resistance, the spring of 2013 brought a warm surprise to all of us, when the government and the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, had clearly reached some sort of an understanding. As a result of that understanding, Kurdish guerrillas have been leaving Turkey for Northern Iraq for the past two weeks. There has not been any incidents between the guerillas and the military during this retreat (except for a small skirmish two days ago).

To cut to the chase, these are the main reasons why I gave "indirect support" to AKP. Having experienced the "guardianship" of the military that restricted the political arena throughout all my life, and having lived through the horrors of the 1980 coup (with its completely depoliticized aftermath), and the lost years of 1990s' coalitions, where simply nothing (but nothing) politically significant happened; AKP's strong government and its aforementioned achievements and promises were akin to a few droplets of rain in the desert. I voted "yes" for the controversial constitutional changes in 2010, that reduced military and judicial oversight in exchange for increased governmental control. The motto then, through which the like of my own are mocked ever since, was "not sufficient, but, yes." The constitutional changes were approved by 57.9% of the electorate. These results paved the way for AKP's slamdunk victory in 2011 with approximately 50% of the votes. That 50% brings us to today, i.e. Erdoğan's arrogant and majoritarian/ authoritarian ruling style that precipitated the Gezi protests.

Were there no signs of AKP's, or (more appropriately) Erdoğan's (rather pathological) corruption with power? Yes, there were. Was I not disturbed with AKP's, or (more appropriately) Erdoğan's neoliberal policies that idolized construction, consumption, and credit? Yes, I was. Mind you, I was aware of Erdoğan's increased authoritarian tendencies;  AKP's neoliberal policies that emphazised increased privatization; and AKP's rationalization of more and more parts of the Turkish economy to make them available for international investments. However, my politics was a pragmatic politics of keeping a ledger book, based on who I am and where I stand. Not seeing any practical political alternatives to AKP, being grateful for its achievements in undermining the military, the vague promise of the accession into EU, and the impending Kurdish peace, I was simply an "indirect" supporter of the AKP.

The Gezi protests were a slap on my face too.  The courageous youth, on average about 15-20 years younger than me, just showed that there is an alternative - that there was always an alternative. I thought the current political arena could not accommodate an actor that could meaningfully challenge AKP. However, these young people did not only carve out a huge space for themselves, they also filled that space with a very strong coalition of unlikely partners: Socialists, Kemalists and Kurds.

My political imagination failed me. The youth, who spent half their lives (and their entire adult lives) under the AKP regime, offered us the possibility of a new future. My conclusion? I feel old.

No comments:

Post a Comment