The world has been living under the pressure of a dazzling rush for a long time. No matter whether it was essential or not, everything had to be done very quickly; it was a ride in a scary haste. It was the product of the joint effort of globalization, neoliberalism and post-modern reasoning. It was treated as the inevitable and indisputable reality with the help of technological support. Whoever was slow or wanted it to be slow had to endure the accusations of failure or being a burden. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, we are going through days when this passion for speed is not praised; on the contrary, it feels like a threat. A virus coming out of a city in China, a place many people did not know of, spread to the entire world with extraordinary speed. Now, because the threat is bigger and nearer, everybody is starting to say, “why are we moving this fast” or “why are we moving at all.” The belief that the world has transformed into a big village was not enough to cover the deep loneliness felt by everyone. The dilemma of, “Let the aid come but don’t let the virus pass” suddenly collapsed. Of course, if a remedy is found for this disease, it will also be distributed to the world with the same speed. Even though Trump wants everything for America, and although perhaps certain countries will indeed have priority, the treatment will nevertheless be distributed faster than it used to be. Maybe then globalization and speed will be viewed with a completely different attitude.
Elevated traumas, the immediate arrival of data that changes equally quickly, circumstances that require continuous re-evaluation, and increasing uncertainty make it very hard to think coherently and healthily. At certain moments some good sense seems to emerge slightly, but then immediately a new wave comes and sweeps it away. Momentary reactions force the limits of law, politics, ethics and conscience. For instance, it was only a week ago when we applauded health workers from balconies, but now we hear stories that they are being harassed in the apartment buildings they live in. We hear of those who see healthcare workers as threats, although they are the same ones maybe one day they will resort to desperately for help.
Apparently, the instruction that “everybody should practice their own state of emergency” is interpreted different by some building managers. It was a similar situation to pillage supermarkets without thinking about the needs of others. To be able to say, “Let us stay at home but production should not stop” sometimes becomes a widespread rationalization. When humankind is in trouble it starts walking near bad wisdom, unfortunately. There is always a need to refresh thought of possibilities for the near future. Before the ink dries on the sentence, “It looks as if we are heading towards that direction; the consequences of which could be this,” another phase starts.
At the beginning of the crisis, the fact that Turkey did not have a coronavirus strategy was not able to be covered over by optimistic encouragements such as, “We are ready, we are stronger, we are in a good position.” I had thought this might lead to a more aggressive communication strategy. What we experienced last week made us cross the threshold of this possibility, demonstrating a kind of aggressiveness that crossed the boundaries of communication strategy. It went all the way to tensions over the aid campaigns in municipalities, the squeezing in of words hitting the opposition in the call to the nation speech, to the filing of criminal complaints. Besides the official efforts, spread all the way from administrators and prosecutors to the broadcast watchdog body RTÜK and Interior Ministry, there are also additional media and social media campaigns. New examples are the filing of criminal complaints by the lawyers of President Erdoğan against Fox TV anchor Fatih Portakal and the suspension of an economics program at HaberTürk television.
The concern over keeping the wheels turning always has been greater than that of preventing the epidemic, and the priority of the “keeping the wheels turning” has turned into a stick used to compel obedience. Even not applauding strongly enough has become a sign of betrayal, let alone criticizing the crisis management style of the government.
The claim that Turkey is in a better position compared to other countries vis-a-vis the coronavirus crisis – from a health perspective – is based on two pieces of data: First is the fact that in parallel with the increase in the number of tests, the number of cases still follows a linear trajectory. The second is that death rates are conspicuously low, and the rate of recovered persons appears relatively good.
The practice of testing in Turkey and the kinds of healthcare measures in Turkey are in harmony with this chart actually. For a long time, testing was done to confirm cases rather than determine cases without symptoms. The option of isolating those high risk groups who may increase death rates instead of the option of preventing the spread of the disease was obviously effective. I guess a program was conducted according to the “success” criteria that would be used later. Those proposals of the Corona Science Council were first and foremost passed through the filter of the data “that might be troublesome.”
Because official data announced for the entire world are taken into account, the debate on the credibility of the figures – despite several claims – is for now out of the question. However, the use of these data is not equally permitted to everyone. For instance, it is possible to say, “In a couple of weeks we will be back to normal. We will be all relieved by the holidays in May,” but to point to problematic data is banned. While comparing the epidemic and its economic after-effects with other models, any other option but appreciation, gratefulness, applause and praise is considered, “animosity to the country and the people.”
In various corners of the world we see different attitudes depending on the spirit and circumstances; we see different performances of various actors and the different reactions certain practices receive. In Turkey, despite some differences in discourse, it can be said that the government’s approach to the issue shows a continuity and consistency. There is a similarity between the steps taken to cope with the current crisis and the formulas that have been used in to manage past problems.
For instance, the “enviable country” theme is still in circulation. Official spokespeople and supporters of the government are too frequently referring to the failures of the responses of European countries and the United States. Comparison with “other selected” countries is encouraged. Turkey is truly in a “better position” from other countries in the sense that we can predict what our rulers are capable of doing. We can predict that our rulers will say only their views about an issue, without feeling the need to hide their opinions or stay completely objective. The coming days will be very hard for those who break the image of this viewpoint.