Not Safe for Democracy

yesilSome background on this weekend’s events from the new University of Illinois book Media in New Turkey: The Origins of an Authoritarian Neoliberal State, by Bilge Yesil.

While the Turkish model was drawing praise, the country was indeed experiencing serious democratic deficits, such as prosecution of activists and journalists and criminalization of dissent, and the so-called Turkish economic miracle was beginning to unravel. In 2012, the prison population had jumped to 132,000 (from 59,429 in 2002) including journalists, university students, and human rights activists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey was the world leader in jailed journalists in 2012 and 2013, outpacing Iran and China. Hundreds of Kurdish human rights activists, local politicians, and journalists were held in pretrial detention based on charges of antistate activities. Courts were busy prosecuting dozens of individuals on charges of insulting state figures and offending the sensibilities of Muslims. Tens of thousands of websites were blocked for content that allegedly violated the principle of national unity and threatened family values. Dozens of prominent journalists were fired or resigned under the AKP government’s pressures.

As a matter of fact, the AKP’s authoritarian tendencies had been in the making for some time (not only in the media but in several other arenas), and its much-acclaimed democratic achievements (e.g., limiting the role of the military in politics, undertaking EU reforms, initiating the Kurdish peace process) were riddled with contradictions while hidden behind the veneer of the Turkish model. What the AKP had done since coming to power in 2002 was less about democratization and more about the reconsolidation of Turkey’s enduring authoritarian political culture, only this time mixed with the party’s particular brand of Islamism, nationalism, and neoliberalism.