We have a brand new phobia in the age of phobias: Geziphobia. Our social structure and political discourse, which have been restricted by phobic patterns, are now facing a new type of phobia, called Gezi.
It still survives in almost all political discussions in Turkey, and it seems this will remain the case for a while. Both those who praise Gezi and those who define it as a conspiracy, uprising or even coup attempt are taken hostage by the concept of Gezi.
This phobia is more visible in the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) through its defensive behavior, but it also seems that those who are ready to criticize the government have found the instrument they were looking for. It is not possible to determine whether Turkey before Gezi is different from Turkey after Gezi. But it is certain that a park whose name was unknown to most people in Turkey and the world has gained a political connotation and transcended its literal meaning.
Of course, social media played a huge role in Gezi’s conversion into a symbol. Gezi would not have become so important in the absence of social media, and it would not have been transformed into a phobia. This is not new for Turkey or the world. The grey areas in a wide spectrum, from the attitudes of environmentalists to those who chose violence in the protests, have frequently been ignored in this phobic environment. Just as the notion has evolved, the polarizing and divisive content of the notion itself has been shaped by social media. Each side tried to push the other to the edges, and everybody blamed each other. Those who tried to remain in the middle were seriously wounded, because Geziphobia was so strong that it was not possible to stay neutral.
Bush doctrine of “You are either with us or against us,” declared after 9/11, has been reinvented after Gezi. It is also a reality that the liberals who have been working for democracy, popular expression, civil society, freedom of expression and religion in Turkey for many years were badly affected by the process. Liberals were unable to recognize each other during the events. Some circles that were not willing to be considered liberals had to deal with attacks and criticism from both sides.
A report under the shadow of Geziphobia
The EU’s Turkey Progress Report 2013 was announced this year under the shadow of Geziphobia. The job of the drafters was not easy. There were concerns that the EU, which pays attention to freedom of expression and assembly, would strongly criticize the government over the Gezi incidents. But the EU has adopted a more balanced style and approach in the report this year, which offers reasonable criticisms and recommendations. The report, which takes the approach, “Gezi is a reflection of a civil society that became stronger and more active as a result of the government’s practices,” can be seen as a reasonable and cautious reading of the Gezi protests.
In the meantime, the EU did not consider EU Minister Egemen Bağış’s suggestion that the report should not be announced during Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), which is, for Muslims, as important as Christmas is to Christians. In fact, this objection can be seen as a concrete indicator of the cultural differences between Turkey and the EU. However, it is also necessary to be self-critical as well. If Štefan Füle had traveled to Turkey and witnessed that even malls are open on the first day of our holiday, would he not have had difficulty in understanding our objection? We should consider how much we respect our own religious and national days.
Let us get back to the Progress Report’s sections on Gezi. The good thing about the Progress Report is that it is a free counseling service. But the upsetting part is that the drafters do not mention their mistakes, and instead focus solely on our issues. However, the most recent report offers support for democracy, civil society, freedom, the rule of law and pluralism in Turkey. And it pays attention to every single step taken in this respect. From this perspective, it can be said that the report is actually positive. In the era of Geziphobia, this report is crucial, as it tries to reach a more reasonable standpoint. In our country, where we believe that reconciliation is something we should be ashamed of and bitter opposition is something that should be praised, there are only two colors for Gezi: black and white. Both the government and its opponents take a binary approach to the issue.
The tension has turned into an excuse to consolidate power on both sides. But this has also become the grounds for Gezi to evolve into a more serious political notion. We will have difficulty understanding what has been happening unless we move away from Geziphobia quickly. As noted by EU Harmonization Commission Chair Prof. Dr. Mehmet Tekelioğlu, it is obvious that there are Geziphobics and Geziholics in Turkey. We need to address this immediately.
In fact, it is possible to view all this as a process through which the new Turkey will define itself. The 2013 Progress Report eloquently explains this. The most important and delicate point in the report is the assessment that the Gezi Park protests are products of the long-term reform process; this actually explains the whole situation. Nobody was able to recognize each other during the process. The young people were strange; the government was unusual; the policies were frightening; the security forces were harsh. Some marginal groups were in a state of frenzy; some politicians were eager to seize a fresh opportunity to play a role.
Social media as a weapon
And most importantly, the young people who grew up during AK Party rule were standing in a fairly different place in terms of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In addition, many social media tools that were never used before were transformed into the most efficient weapons of the protests. In the process, where many consistent and contradictory features and developments were experienced at the same time, it was not easy to characterize the events.
There were many different directions in the protestor’s objections, but one common aspect was the objection raised against the way politics is run. We have a new generation which wants to be taken more seriously and rejects what they see as social engineering at a time when bureaucratic guardianship has been effectively eliminated. This generation wants the government to do its job, not to act like a “father.” This generation is moving away from homogeneity and obedience. The members of this generation also display extreme diversity among themselves.
There were groups who sought to make the government dysfunctional by causing serious damage on the street, but there were also groups who were saying that those we have elected to rule this country for a five-year term do not have the right to rule society or individuals, and that this is a misuse of their power. But objections against the attempt to associate every criticism of the government with enmity or coup-making have gained wide acceptance, attracting attention and support from diverse groups as well.
Turkey has been struggling to eliminate bureaucratic guardianship since the 1940s. The struggle the AK Party, in association with the democratic and liberal circles of the country, has made played a huge role in making progress in this respect. But despite this, because of the anti-government protests and attitudes that started in the aftermath of the Council of State assassination in 2006 and the dissolution case filed with the constitutional court based on propaganda news and reports in 2007, the AK Party interpreted these developments as attempts to stage a coup against the government. This was actually a fairly well-grounded idea and therefore, it is an understandable approach.
But Turkey has addressed these obstacles, and all the democratic forces of the world, including the EU, lent their support to the process. Now we are in a different time and a different Turkey. The “virus” of democracy is alive everywhere. To this end, we also have to deal with another reality. As people in middle age, we must submit to the technological domination of young people. Now we are learning a lot from the kids who used to learn everything from their parents. It is only natural that the loss of power associated with it is reflected not only in family relations but also in state affairs. We, mocked as people who are unable to use their cell phones, need to accept the fact that the era when kids were required to ask our opinion before doing anything is over.
The essence of democracy is to respect the choice of the people, but another element is its ability to criticize its rulers without resorting to violence. Furthermore, we need to understand the people’s attempts to gather and raise their voices, given that Turkey suffers from a serious lack of opposition and there is a 10-percent election threshold. It is not contestable that the choice of the people should be respected and that the people hold ultimate power. But the government should also note that the right to rule was lent by the people and that the politicians are only deputies of the people, not the holders of popular will.
I have no doubt that those who hold power through popular elections also assume a responsibility, and therefore, they need to perform whatever is needed to fulfill this responsibility. In this way, reconciliation is optional, but it is a requirement in a liberal democratic system. Is this not why the government takes the pulse of the people on almost every issue? It is also obvious that social engineering, one of the most characteristic aspects of the guardianship system, does not just disappear in systems where the rulers are popularly elected.
For this reason, to achieve a democratic environment focused on individuals, it is essential to restrict the power of the state through pluralism. And of course, it is possible to make these restrictions on the basis of good faith. But in today’s world where perceptions are deemed more important than realities, an authoritarian attitude that implies some sort of social engineering is even more disturbing. Concerns that emerged in the aftermath of the Sept. 12, 2010 constitutional referendum may be completely ungrounded.
But reliability and image management are some of the requirements of being in power. For this reason, the EU Progress Report’s reference to the Turkish people’s desire for consultation should be seen as a fairly important point.
It seems that the EU Progress Report has perceived the phobic nature of the Gezi issue. We have a reasonable report that is trying to say, “We see what is really going on,” instead of recklessly criticizing the government.
The EU, which views the Gezi incidents as the symbol of a vibrant civil society and an improvement of democratic standards and treats them as products of the lengthy reform process, seems to have achieved a reasonable conclusion that we needed so dearly. The door the EU has opened is not very wide because of current conditions in Europe; however, the report is really encouraging for a Turkey within EU standards. It is up to us whether we will submit to Geziphobia or improve ourselves.
Today’s Zaman, 23.10.2013