Those who sought to downplay the coronavirus upon its outbreak in China, and even after it began to spread to other countries, have now become the target of highly justified reactions. Many of those who made baseless and supposedly “scientific” evaluations to discard the threat carried the title of “expert.” Some were involved in public administrations. With no data to support their claims, these people insisted nothing would happen to us and that we were stronger than the virus.
This in turn led to the far-fetched thesis that the crisis would be “light” and would even lead to opportunities for the country. Since China would leave the supply chain, Turkey could become a new production base, they claimed. This was all quickly disproved by China’s unexpected and rapid recovery.
Before they unable to counter clear data, political administrators always attempt to provide optimistic estimates of the threat. “Panic will do more harm than good” goes one of their slogans. The public will naturally tends to listen to those who downplay the impending threat. And while it is reluctant to pay heed to the authorities in normal times, the public is also more likely to listen to them in such troubled circumstances. This is because people would like to believe that their administrators are in control and manage the disconcerting situation.
Yet the optimism of Turkey’s officials since the onset of this crisis was simply overdone. Instead of taking measures to protect its people, the government made calculations based on its impact on economic, social, political and cultural of the current order.
Recourse to the state of emergency is anything but new in this country. It is almost a Turkish reflex to treat every challenging issue that comes as a case of national survival. Coupled with that is a, approach that has spread not only in Turkey, but across the world, which confers individual rather than collective responsibility on everything. This paradigm has triumphed under the governance of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Each time the country faces an issue, we are told the rulers bear no responsibility and that, in any case, those problems are brought from the outside world and are nothing more than attempts to undermine their leadership. Those who dare criticize this are immediately castigated as “traitors.” For each issue, the government comes up with a PR strategy.
Despite that, it is clear to everyone that the government has no strategy to deal with the coronavirus crisis. It is also clear that scientific evidence and models are not being followed. Those patterns of behavior already prevailed with regards to Turkey’s economic crises, to the Syrian fiasco, the refugee crisis and to the its failing presidential system.
Yet the government’s predictable recourse to PR strategy does little to convince the public. Its haplessness in dealing with the outbreak and its economic consequences is striking. Some of the government’s moves are simply embarrassing. As an example, only a few days after a public tender was held for the crazy “Kanal Istanbul” project, President Erdoğan launched a ‘national solidarity’ campaign to raise funds to help combat the pandemic. And while the authorities banned entry to all places of worship, it was revealed that VIP Friday prayers were being held in the presidential palace. Erdoğan claimed he had no idea this was the case.
The government’s communication strategy even fails to convince some amongst the AKP party’s grassroot supporters. Feeling threatened, the government quickly blocked aid campaigns launched by opposition-held municipalities, including Istanbul and Ankara.
Pro-government figures have even accused the Gezi Park protesters of 2013 for the country’s current woes. Government circles are now providing a great deal of effort to lambaste those who dare make pessimistic predictions for the country. Members of the newly founded Corona Science Council themselves are forced to participate in these efforts.
As the world collapses before our eyes, some countries do manage to remain strong. That irritated by this in Turkey react by attacking the opposition. The authorities have vigorously re-launched their crusade against critical voices. Those accused, the police officers who conduct the arrests and the prosecutors that take the statements thereby violate the advised “social distancing” measures.