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October 30, 2010, Saturday

A state that fears the public

At the exactly same time as the reception which President Abdullah Gül narrowed down to just one, an alternative celebration for Turkey’s Republic Day is occurring at the Ankara Military Officer’s Club -- a military reception.

As I write this column, I have no idea what the actual dimensions of military attendance at the reception at the Çankaya presidential palace will be. But even if the military does show up in some capacity, the meaning of two different receptions is clear: the difference between the military bureaucracy’s perception of the republic, and the perception of the republic held by the public. The military bureaucracy that has been created from Anatolian youth who have been gathered along the way in the end views the public from whom it emerged as a mass which should, like the ranks of the military itself, be gathered up into the fold.

The people of the nation, with their education levels, their beliefs and their ways of dressing, represent to them everything opposed to the West. What they understand from the phrase “contemporary civilization” is the consumption of alcohol and, in the absence of justice and democratic standards, at least appearing outwardly Western. As they see it, since the people of the nation have not been able to hold up these standards, they need to stay outside the public arena.

These days, this stance has features that are both diseased and illegal. “Diseased” because the stance is literally based on the denial of societal truths. “Illegal” because it stipulates not attending a basically mandatory reception held by the president, who himself carries the title of “commander-in-chief.” If Turkey is truly to be a state of law, the bureaucracy too must see itself as bound by law and the hierarchies spelled out by the Constitution. The debates over the Oct. 29 reception underscore the need for advances to be made on this topic.

At the same time, the very justice system which we allege has begun to change continues to support the preference of the bureaucracy to remain outside the law.

The latest example of this is the tearing away of the coup journals from the whole Ergenekon case process. Until very recently, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) applied heavy pressure to judges and prosecutors involved in this case. From today onwards, we are counting on the fact that this pressure no longer exists. But despite this, the rendering of such a decision in the Ergenekon case shows that, in fact, there are different kinds of calculations being made in Ankara. To tell the truth, the fact that the whole Ergenekon case is now run by a couple of journalists fills a person with a sense of hopelessness. The fact that 87 years after the formation of the republic the bureaucracy can still impose its own demands shows the distance that we still need to travel. But do we have to be pessimistic? No, of course not.

At the same time, though, we do need to recognize the reality of the difficulty of the road before us, and that if we don’t strengthen our various gains with legal backing, that we could lose them at any moment.

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which is headed these days towards victory in its third round of elections, is now bolstered on all sides by a democratic alliance. But it is quite clear that this will not last forever. Which is why the rewriting of all important texts for the nation -- first and foremost the Constitution -- in a way that sees that their contents are truly democratic, is a must. Even a refreshed and renewed HSYK is far from reflecting the real makeup of society. It is an absolute requirement that society demands an HSYK which Parliament, and thus society, can have a hand in selecting, and that at the same time the justice system in Turkey be changed from its current status of being an institution operating in a closed system.

In this, the 87th year of the republic, steps need to be taken in every faction of society to see that the will of the public is strengthened. And this needs to be done not in the style of the “rule of the majority,” but rather while taking into consideration the rights of the minorities. In this country, the people of the nation have always been a feared power. At the same time, the expressed preferences of the people have been dismissed and insulted, and the voices of the people have been silenced with tanks and weapons. And while those eras are really over now, the true ascendancy of the public has still not been achieved.

In another 13 years we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. The government has expressed the goals of seeing Turkey’s economy at that point amongst the world’s top 10, as well as seeing Turkey’s roads and railways achieve world standards. No question these are all important goals and ones which will contribute significantly to the living standards of the people. But we must also be realistic and add to the list of goals the achievement of a just and law-based state; a Turkey in which no one is treated differently due to their ethnic roots, beliefs, lifestyles or anything else; a Turkey where Alevis, Kurds, Sunnis and atheists all feel they belong. An entire 13 years is a long time in which to achieve this and these above-stated goals are no longer just dreams.

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