Erdoğan government’s ability to expand its repression and go further with ever more assertiveness without facing any resistance has to do with the haplessness and perhaps deficient aptitudes of those who could check it. Cynical pundits, eager to crush opposition figures, say “you’ll see what comes next,” and they are always proven right.
The same thing happened regarding the issue over Hagia Sophia and the government’s rearrangement of bar associations in Turkey. We now witness the same kind of rush with regards to the Istanbul Convention, a human rights treaty concerning violence against women signed within the framework of the Council of Europe which the Turkish government now wants to exit. We are also witnessing it with regards to the government’s moves to control social media. What usually happens nowadays is that following a brief debate and a few statements about an issue, the government immediately prepares a draft without allowing much debate to further take place. The bills are then sent to parliament at a dizzying speed and its decree is prepared.
Why might the government do this? How could it benefit from this? Before such questions can be answered or anyone is able to fathom what has happened, one realizes that arrangements have been turned into law. In the past couple of months, several arrangements were hastily passed in parliament before “parliament goes into recess.”
After the first shock brought by the pandemic and a brief period of stagnation, things quickly normalized. Yet one also quickly understood that this early normalization process would occur in parallel to ever more abnormal politics. In an article I wrote on June 27, I had written: “It appears that the government has drawn an initial conclusion from opinion polls. It is now compelled to use the available tools and means as much as they can and go as far as they can. It seems like the government has not achieved a consensus regarding the permanent solution to the chronic erosion of its electorate. Perhaps they understood this would be impossible given the poor results of the surveys. As a result, they might have opted for unrestrained assaults or hasty moves against fronts that would have once been considered as not being susceptible of displaying much resistance. This possibility is increasingly likely.”
In a column in the daily newspaper Karar, Ahmet Taşgetiren discussed the reasons for the government’s rush, referring to other writers who maintain close ties to government circles: “Hagia Sophia, why now? Such a corridor story was being told in those circles that I consider close to President Erdoğan: ‘Mr. Tayyip will do all those things he has been seeking in his political life, one by one.’ This claim meant he would be playing openly from now on. I did not write this in my columns. First of all, this would give the impression that Erdoğan had burned the boats. Second is that I did not get the impression from the governmental front that the circumstances that would set the platform to burn the boats had yet arisen. Besides, this would suggest ‘the last phase of politics is being exhausted.’ I was unable to answer the following question: “Is Erdoğan going through such a psychology?’”
The downpour and the ever-changing agenda have dumbfounded pro-government supporters as well as the opposition and pundits. This trend does not seem to be abating. In somewhat tedious manner, perhaps, I have been writing that the government has prioritized power consolidation over support consolidation for some time now. According to me, that’s how it has responded to the erosion of its support base. While the government was forced to its limits in its strategy to combat the decline its in base, its counter-attack yielded more satisfactory results than expected.
Hence, it will gain more speed. Because the “parliamentary recess” and the upcoming Islamic Eid Al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, may slow down the legislative aspects of those moves, the implementation of policies in an aggressive and fait accompli manner will not cease. As an example, even though the social media restrictions have yet to be fully enacted, initiatives to unofficially censure Netflix are already being drawn up.
The government’s ability to expand its repression and go further with ever more assertiveness without facing any resistance has to do with the haplessness and perhaps deficient aptitudes of those who could check it. Whilst dedicating our energy to understanding the government’s actions, we forget about everything else, including the opposition’s responses.
Cynical pundits, eager to crush opposition figures, can only say “you’ll see what comes next,” and they are always proven right. Examining the future and the past whilst omitting the present does little to alter the outcome.
For days, Professor Yaman Akdeniz has been warning about the upcoming social media restrictions: “According to the new regulation, if social media networks do not appoint a responsible person in Turkey, it will be possible to narrow Internet traffic networks by 50 to 95 percent and make them unusable. Censorship is standing at the door. What is really trying to be forgotten is the government’s political past, the corruption and irregularities that were revealed. If this bill passes in the parliament, the government will be able to clean up the Internet and the political landscape. Censorship will extend to the extent that it will be possible to erase all the criticism that was issued against the government the past. The addresses of these contents will also be removed from search engines.”
Perhaps Professor Akdeniz is telling us that grave developments are looming and that social media is living its last period of free communication. He’s drawing attention to the urgency of what is being carried out instead of focusing on what the government’s objective behind this may be. Akdeniz is calling for an immediate and effective objection.
With regards to the government’s intention to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention and what this may bring, women’s organizations, female writers are crying out loud with an increasing voice, telling us to “Defend our right (assurance) to live.” After each femicide, despite the diversion attempt of demanding “the death penalty,” women’s voices are louder though they cannot be heard enough amid the hectic political agenda.
A similar situation applies to trade unions that suggest the possibility that severance pay for those already under the poverty line may be the government’s next target. Assessments of the government’s authoritarian processes, such as those claiming that the bar associations and social media moves were being carried out according to “examples in the world.” No comparison or accidental results are adequate to hide the intentions – that are so obvious anyway – nor are lame excuses.