Desperados and the mechanism

Apparent breakthroughs are reserved for desperados down here. It comes either in the form of turning your back to the system and leave if you can or taking on the mechanism with whichever means you have and get scalped trying it. There are no happy endings in these stories, there never had been.

In Netflix series “O Mecanismo” there is a sort of “gestalt” moment when the main character figures out that what he thought a corruption and related money-laundry scheme till then is exhaustively all the behemoth of a system that encompasses the entire country’s economics and politics. “The Mechanism” moving in ever-widening and also at the same narrowing circles was either grinding down or fueling the country depending on where you stand politically and all the more so ethically. Ergo, what was diagnosed as a cancer initially turns out in fact to be the whole of the organism itself.

I am not going to lionize myself here to pretend that I had an “eureka” moment such as Ruffo of “O Mecanismo.” Nevertheless, I may be allowed I believe to draw a parallel between both our gradual enlightenments as ex-government employees. Mine concerns the definition of the so-called “deep-state” and the way our national history works –not in a linear way as it should be but in circular movements often revisiting earlier stops.

As for the corruption bit, during my time as Consul General in Erbil, I remember discussing my observations with more than one visiting western auditors on whether “sustainable corruption” is possible and even desirable to a certain extent. The answer was that there wouldn’t be any level of corruption that can be tolerated as it would infect the entire system inevitably. Or, I was lead to believe within my limited knowledge that a certain dose corruption could perhaps be preferable to generalized poverty and to apathy dressed as virtue. My interlocutors of choice were right, I was wrong.

At the same time, as commercial relations took precedence over political relations globally for diplomats, I was eager to score points both personally as my public servant career wise vis-à-vis our headquarters and indirectly to generally relax the then tense political situation in the wake of healthy and profitable economic environment. Our model was one of mutual dependence, so to speak. I had even committed the rookie chief of mission error to boast to a visiting journalist from Turkey that I acted as a “public tender tracker” for our (mostly construction) companies.

Having left abruptly the government service right there and then after having been recalled to Ankara after three years and three months in Erbil in 2013, I had ample time to re-visit my position on these issues and had also the joys of witnessing kleptocracy taking roots locally and democracy turning into a travesty of itself globally. My current radical (!) and, at that, anachronic approach to the issue is that there should exist a watertight compartmentalization between public and private affairs. Furthermore, if there is to be any “public tender tracking” internationally to be done, that duty should fall fair and square on the shoulders of democratically elected representatives exclusively.

When it comes to deep state and history, it is like a dream within a dream. Some violent and others less violent, “coups d’état” became almost standard procedure as early as the mid-19th century in Turkey. The state of being governed by an obscure conglomerate of self-appointed personalities took hold also at around the same time. The obscurity or lack of transparency to put it timidly in government itself was also open knowledge since then. Lack and loathing of accountability became constants of governance. The distribution of wealth depended on closeness to the ones yielding the “hard” power. “Give and take” turned into a well-oiled mechanism.

Yet as compared to modern Brazilian series “The Mechanism”, the pre-modern Italian non-fiction movie “One Hundred Days in Palermo” (1984, directed by Giuseppe Ferrara, starring the immortal Lino Ventura) is more telling perhaps for the case of Turkey. It tells about the last hundred days in the life of the "Generale dei Carabinieri" and anti-mafia highest authority Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa as prefect of Palermo. The life of the straight arrow prefect and hence the movie ends with his murder, shot by the machine guns of a mafia squad (along his wife and his bodyguard) on September 3, 1982.

One talks about the fluid and seemingly motion of circles within circles. The other is about a living hell that it is impossible to break through. Apparent breakthroughs are reserved for desperados down here. It comes either in the form of turning your back to the system and leave if you can or taking on the mechanism with whichever means you have and get scalped trying it. There are no happy endings in these stories, there never had been. It’s just musical chairs but the real party is elsewhere. And the desperados? They just realize, if they happen to live long enough, that they were puppets themselves in the hands of unknown masters lurking in the shadows.

December 14, 2020 Turkey: Too big to fail?