Reality is twisted in Turkey to serve political ends
There are today hot debates in the academic circles on whether Turkey can be still considered a democracy. Some point out that although a current political regime still tries to get legitimacy through elections, it nevertheless resorts to non-democratic methods of securing its power, be it through deliberate politicization of state bureaucracy or oppression of dissent. Since elections are still regarded by a political regime in Turkey as an essential rule of the game, a ruling party is trying to influence voters’ opinion by limiting free flow of ideas and, with it, stifle any criticism that can potentially harm regime’s image in the long run. The major element of this policy is manipulation of facts and distortion of reality in the country.
Creating a suitable narrative based on a myth about foundation of a new Turkey is the primary goal behind Turkish regime’s current propagandistic efforts around judicial process on the coup attempt of July 15. Regime tries to persuade society in an idea that current political party was spearheading popular resistance against non-democratic elements, thus, presenting itself as a champion of Turkish democracy. Pro-government propaganda machine suspiciously avoids mentioning a long history of productive alliance with the would-be coup plotters between 2002–2012 with whom a current ruling party managed to suppress secular Kemalist opposition in the army and state bureaucracy using methods that are hard to consider democratic. To make a picture more surreal, political regime in Turkey accuses a main legal political opposition party of cooperation with forces behind the last year coup.
But regime’s efforts to manipulate reality are not limited exclusively to the past. Turkey’s ruling political party, having enjoyed since 2002 victories on several national elections, that are getting with each season less and less free and fair, managed to put under its influence major state institutions making them serve narrow political ends but not national interests. A glaring example of this is manipulation of statistical data on national economy’s performance: the Statistical Agency of Turkey has been demonstrating astonishing creativity in devising new methods of calculation of basic macroeconomic data, allegedly to conceal cases of malperfomance of the Turkish economy.
But is not only reality at home that gets distorted by the Turkish government. Ruling party purposely misrepresents how Turkey as a nation as treated on the international arena. Main focus of state propaganda is directed at the object of frustration in the Turkish national consciousness — Europe. When Turkish authorities arrest European human-rights advocates and get criticized for politically motivated and inappropriate application of anti-terrorism legislation — government officials don’t wait too long to portray criticism as an effort of Europe to meddle in domestic affairs of Turkey. Turkish government, however, often than not avoids mentioning the fact that Turkey is a candidate-country to the European Union and has certain obligations it has to fulfill like the ones concerning further liberalization, upholding human-rights and reviewing terrorism-related laws. In other words, besieged fortress mentality is fostered by authorities to secure own positions under heavy storm of criticism from the Western capitals.
Yet another interesting point to mention is how Turkish regime tries to create an image of a broad societal support by limiting any free space for political discussions and at the same time investing in government-friendly substitutes of opinion setters. Under emergency decrees issued by the Turkish President more than 560 foundations, 1125 associations and NGOs were closed. Existing institutions of a civil society struggle to survive and face permanent pressure from pro-government network of media.
Furthermore, many academicians critical of the current government were either suspended or fired as a result of the Turkish government’s radical policy to purge alleged pro-coup and pro-terrorist elements from academia. It is, however, difficult to say to what extent such radical measures are justified and whether they will result in producing more stability in the country since, as the July coup itself evidenced, Turkish judiciary is subjected to deep politization and loss of integrity.
The most profound effect of the post-coup policies of the Turkish regime was felt by dissent media: journalists get arrested and forced to wait to stand before the judge for many months. Though many cases take place in a framework of anti-terrorist legislation and the accused theoretically have a chance of an acquittal, the way how case are scrutinized produce a chilling effect on journalists who dare to criticize regime’s policies. Meanwhile pro-government media is gaining more relative weight in the informational environment letting the regime to control a critical flow of ideas.
Finally, there is a coordinated policy of fueling debates in the society on topics that are important, though don’t have prime importance in today’s Turkey who is facing slowing economic performance, souring relations with the West , increased political and military threats on its borders and corruption of democratic system of governance. Instead of addressing these problems, pro-government media seem to focus on an issue that has been always dividing Turkish society: a role of religion and its place in state policies, education and private lives of the Turks. No doubt, this issue needs to be discussed, but excessive attention to it seems to be provoked by the government to divert public eye from real problems.
There is no objective reality in Turkey. Facts are cherry-picked by the political regime, served and altered by pro-government media outlets and, finally, offered to broader public and potential voters. Though, it is natural and understandable that the regime is trying to manipulate reality to serve its political interests, it is however worrying that Turkey, who is living through profound changes after the coup, gets deprived a slightest chance for progress through sincere self-criticism and genuine self-reflection. Sooner or later current ruling political forces will be gone, but Turkish democracy will be still there, coping with the very same problems that it is facing today, if nothing is changed now.