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July 17, 2012, Tuesday

Democracy, constitution and beyond

In order to become a democratic and transparent state, Turkey has to implement a number of legal reforms. That is the fundamental reason behind the efforts to elaborate a new constitution. Basic legal texts like constitutions are generally not adopted to “create” a democratic state from nothing but to preserve the already existing democracy in a given country. In countries with deep-rooted democratic traditions, constitutions describe only the general framework of the state structure, and the rest is regulated by laws.

Constitutions are documents that describe a country’s political and institutional structure. However, what is important is not the type of regime described in the constitution, as there are plenty of examples where parliamentarian, semi-presidential or presidential regimes function correctly as well as many opposite examples where these same regimes create chaos. So what is important is not the type of the regime, but how it functions.

In countries where different segments of society do not trust each other, you have bad constitutions or good constitutions that are never correctly implemented or you have no constitutions at all. As we know well that certain segments of Turkish society will never trust one another, it is not a surprise that even the mere idea of a new constitution has created turmoil.

If despite all this turmoil, Turkey successfully adopts a new constitution, how this new text will be implemented will be of crucial importance. One can write the most democratic constitution of our entire human history, but the point is to have the right mentality to apply it. I’m not talking only about political decision makers or high-ranking bureaucrats; each and every person in the country must respect the democratic mentality of the new constitution. We have to admit that in Turkey we can observe a sort of feeling of superiority that every segment of society has in looking down on the others, that’s why it is not only our current constitution’s fault that we have a deficient democracy. Democracy is not only about the functioning of the official institutions; it is also about how daily life and interactions between ordinary people are organized within families, in business life or even in a supermarket. If ordinary people do not respect the rights of others, the smart sentences you put in your constitution will become obsolete from day one.

Besides, while in Turkey the judiciary is often too sensitive about crimes committed against the state; this sensitivity is not around when it is the state that violates the citizens’ rights. That makes people forget that democracy and pluralism are, above all, about the protection of the rights and liberties of ordinary people.

In Turkey, the relationship between citizens and the state is quite problematic. The best way to start resolving the existing problems may be to put the citizens’ rights at the center. However, one can’t expect people to internalize democracy by themselves all of a sudden. One sometimes has to make people remember the rules and other people’s rights.

Let’s take a simple example: The Madrid metro is well organized and quite clean. This cannot be explained only by the fact that those who use this system are particularly clean, but through an interesting method of reprimanding people. For example, those who put their feet in the seat in front of them are filmed by security cameras and exposed. In other words, those who violate the right of the others to sit and travel on clean seats are punished by putting them to shame. People exposed like this probably think twice the next time. The system’s purpose is to make sure that the common good is preserved, but this is done by showing other people that these are their rights that the authorities try to protect.

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