“He started it first.” “No, he did.” Apportioning blame would be pointless. Even if it was a case of the opposition trying to stir things up and steer the agenda away from reform, as government supporters claim, Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies were quick to take the bait. They need to keep their sights on their long-term goals and remain cool-headed.
While politicians behave like kindergartners in Parliament and get away with it, it is somewhat ironic -- and tragic -- that real children, the ones you would expect to get into scraps, are being tried as adults in courts around the country on terrorism charges for taking part in protests.
Stone throwers are not the only teenagers targeted by the judiciary. Three minors face jail sentences in Bursa after being charged with “insulting the prime minister” by referring to him as “lightbulb Erdoğan.” The court based its decision on a definition of the word “lightbulb” provided by Google, and deemed it insulting.
There is a link between the unedifying sight of grown-up men charging at each other, broadcast across the country, and the detention of young people. Such scenes carry consequences: they ratchet up the tension and increase polarization in society. Perhaps an R rating for bad language and the use of violence should apply to political discussions.
Is it surprising that teenagers, with the idealism and enthusiasm that characterizes the young, should express their views in ways that are sometimes extreme and misguided when confrontation is the norm in the political arena?
Does it make sense to talk of democratic openings when politicians cannot exchange views without insulting each other and coming to blows? And what progress can be achieved on the Kurdish issue when thousands of children are arrested and many sentenced to prison terms for taking part in protests? Fifteen-year-old Berivan is serving an eight-year sentence, even though she insists she did not throw stones and was not even part of the demonstration.
Legal amendments that will eventually grant better legal protection to minors are being prepared, but most experts agree that they will not be sufficient to keep youngsters out of detention. The changes have been very slow to reach Parliament, and children are still being sentenced in the meantime.
Sanctions are needed against stone throwers, but the punishment must not be disproportionate to the crime or misdemeanor and youngsters need to be handled by juvenile experts. Punishments with an educational value, such as community service, would perhaps serve society better than traumatizing and possibly radicalizing the next generation by imprisoning minors.
The government, for all its shortcomings, is trying to broaden the democratic space in this country. But amending the Constitution, redressing the balance of power between civilians and the military and amending the most repressive laws are only the first steps.
Changing a mentality that seeks to hit out and punish, and developing a culture of tolerance and consensus within the society, and especially in political circles, will be a greater challenge still. Work on that front does not have to wait until Constitutional amendments have been adopted. If politicians across the political spectrum could, from now on, adopt a more responsible behavior and become better role models for the next generation, it would already be a good start.