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May 29, 2012, Tuesday

Individuals as pillars of democracy

In countries with solid and established democratic regimes, the political struggle between the opposition and the government becomes tough only right before elections or when the country is on the verge of making a crucial decision. At other times, even if the opposition makes sometimes angry and provocative declarations, the government does not respond angrily as it knows all its actions are monitored by the people as if it were a student taking an oral exam.

Moreover, governments in democratic countries have the confidence of the people as they have been elected by the majority. They make sure that their actions are criticized and questioned freely to prove that they respect the rule of law and accountability, and that they are worthy of ruling over a democratic society.

In Turkey, things are a little bit different as it is the government who makes all the angry statements. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is aware that there are no opposition parties who can replace the current government, so it believes its real political rivals are the residues of the tutelage regime, the Kurdish political movement, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the press and some foreign countries.

We weren’t aware that in Turkey there was a social problem called the “abortion issue,” but suddenly everyone has started to talk about this. At the same time, there are people debating whether or not the May 29 celebration of Istanbul’s conquest by the Ottomans should be a substitute national holiday for that of May 19, which commemorates the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence. There are other debates about how many children married couples should have, how these children should be raised and how women must give birth to their children. Are these the most important political problems our country is facing? However, the fact that it is only the government that dictates the country’s agenda is the fault not of the government, but of the opposition.

In fact, those who attack each other on these matters are really trying to address a larger, more subtle issue: Does the government have a “conquest mentality”? There are accusations that the ruling party tries to activate people’s nationalistic, conservative and pious sensibilities in order to re-shape society’s identity.

Some segments of society, which describe themselves as secular, Kurd, Alevi, not religious, socialist or non-Muslim, are anxious. They are so anxious that even a number of foreign countries, too, have started to worry about the direction in which Turkey seems to be headed. These worried people claim that the pressure of the majority over them is growing.

Democracy is a system in which the majority governs the country but also respects the rights of everyone. This is not a system which allows the majority to do anything it wishes to. When the majority feels free to express its nationalistic and conservative ideas, the opponents, victims of a “conquered” psyche and desperate in the absence of credible opposition parties, begin to call on undemocratic players for help. Those who believe they are in a minority, and thus weak and unprotected, start to believe that those who hold weapons are their only hope to counterbalance the government. That’s why the government multiplies its angry statements and tries to make sure that the nationalist and pious segments of the population fully support the government’s actions.

The tutelage regime has been weakened, and serious democratization reforms have been implemented in the last few years. However, we still haven’t reached international democratic standards. The real test for democracy is not to have the majority to come to power, but how this majority acts while in power. Democracy is not something the government grants; it is something individuals ask for.

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