We are talking about new categories for undemocratic countries, such as populist, illiberal, authoritarian, or competitive authoritarian. I understand the differences of these new categories as compared to the classical dictatorships of the last century. However, sometimes the resemblances are too obvious to ignore.
On Aug. 21, President Erdoğan announced what he called “a big miracle.” According to Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, the miracle would lead to a change in the axis of Turkey, it was that big. The big miracle was Turkey’s gas find in the Black Sea.
Characters on Turkish media TV totally lost themselves due to this “good news.” Presenters were euphoric and commentators were comparing Turkey to Russia. The narrative was: this find is so critical and so important that Turkey will start exporting gas to Europe. Turkey would now be in the league of the big boys. Finally! As it always deserved!
It was underlined that Turkey found this gas with its own resources, without outside help, so we should have been doubly proud. The orgy of cheesy nationalism, banal hyping up of the find and cheap propaganda continued on Turkish TV for a couple of days.
There were also the ones, not more than a handful of people, who dared to question the “big miracle.” The amount of gas found was 320 billion cubic meters at the end of the day, and that was not even for sure. To determine the exact amount of gas, more wells would need to be drilled. It would be too costly to drill out the gas, because it was deep down, and it isn’t the easiest thing to do, building a pipeline from the sea to the coast. So it could be too costly to drill out the gas, and not feasible considering the declining price of natural gas on the market. The ones who dared to raise such points were quickly demonized.
The headline in the daily Yeni Şafak was “they have not been able to be happy”; daily Yeni Akit chose a headline with a pun: “the opposition is releasing gas.” In addition to the press, the spokesperson for the AKP used the same narrative. During his weekly presser, he said, “We wish the feeling of happiness for the ones who haven’t been able to be happy.” Sabah newspaper commented on Çelik’s statement, portraying it as a slap to the opposition who couldn’t digest the miracle.
Now a new flaw has been invented in Turkey: not being happy enough with the President’s announcements.
The existing political climate is shaped by antagonism in Turkey. The government finds an enemy to accuse of everything evil and bad. Turkish people are tucked into their beds every night to fairy tales about the heroic Turkish government fighting wars against the enemies of Turkey. There are outside enemies — they never specify exactly who they mean, though. They talk about some sort of an “über-mind.” Those enemies don’t want Turkey to prosper because they know if Turkey prospers it will rule the world. And then there are enemies on the inside: they are of course supported by the outside enemies and don’t want Turkey to succeed in anything. They work to achieve a weaker Turkey, they are the enemies of the nation within. Every day, this list of inside enemies gets longer, adding the ones who dare question a government policy or question the correctness of any official announcement, the ones who might have a different opinion are all enemies of the nation. This time, the ones who did not display euphoria about the gas find were picked and had fingers wagged at by the pro-government media. All were listed: them and them and them, they were not happy enough about the gas find. They are the enemies!
I remember when North Korea’s former leader Kim Jong Il died. North Koreans were crying on the streets en masse; they all had tears in their eyes. Back then it was reported that it was banned not to cry in North Korea when the beloved leader dies. The ones who didn’t cry were arrested. It is actually not dazzling at all, how a competitive authoritarian government — Turkey is now being categorized as such — can have the characteristics of a dictatorship. Sometimes not being sad enough, and sometimes not being happy enough, might have consequences in undemocracies.