Rather, I point to the act of turning the individual and social life into a collective decision-making area, backed by higher public sanctions. A system where general or local public decisions that are of interest to everyone are made by a parliament, government or local administration, open to public review and elected to office through competitive elections is undoubtedly better than the one in which such decisions are made by unquestionable rulers who do not rely on any public support. However, such a system that gives preference to local/general democracy as a form of political administration does not rule out the shortcomings or drawbacks that may be attributable to politicization of every moment or area of life.
This extreme politicization -- which we may also depict as the nationalization of social life or expropriation of private spheres -- has many unfavorable consequences that are visible both in the political administration and social life. In the former case, the state gets bigger or more correctly, is inflated. Thus, it goes beyond the area normally and legitimately allowed for politics in social life. As it struggles to perform all sorts of work in every area, it is crushed under the weight of the excessive and exaggerated burden of these duties while becoming unable to carry out basic tasks. It sucks dry the society’s essential civilian dynamics and wealth. It undermines ethics and justice, causing them to melt away. It makes people hypocritical. It boosts corruption. In the second case, civil society becomes smaller and smaller. Individuals’ senses of morality, responsibility, solidarity and humility are weakened. The number of voluntary associations as well as voluntary activities dwindles. Charitable activities decline. The market competition that produces solidarity, equality and justice, breeds interdependence and encourages a dignified life is replaced with the politicized economic competition that impoverishes, spawns inequality and injustice, excludes, rather than includes and relies on brute force, instead of equal and general rules. Society’s will to inspect or limit political authority becomes smaller. People are becoming more inclined to see the state as a benefactor and adopt the culture of gaining advantage over other people using the state, as well as the behaviors that make this possible.
Society, not politicization, is important
Excessive politicization is a problem not only in Turkey, but exists in a varying magnitude in all countries. It manifests itself in any form of political administration. However, it is much more salient and widespread in Turkey and similar places. In our country, there is the extremely widespread assumption that the state -- or the government -- is capable of successfully undertaking all sorts of tasks and that what is good for the country and its inhabitants can only be accomplished by politicians and through political processes and mechanisms. This is the very reason the deputy candidate lists the political parties recently announced created such a heated interest and led to small-scale tremors. However, studies on social, political and economic history imply that the true dynamics that make societies civilized, rich and peaceful are to be found in society, not in politics or political activities. Even if a society that does not consist of energetic, industrious, intelligent, responsible and self-disciplined individuals is governed by angel-like politicians, it doomed to failure, poverty and chaos. In other words, countries without a strong civil society will never succeed in establishing a stable liberal democracy or ensuring the country’s enrichment or settling social problems through peaceful methods or creating a tranquil living atmosphere.
A meeting I attended in Batman last weekend reminded me of this fact once again. “Freedom, Education and Turkey” was the title of the two-day workshop organized jointly by our country’s leading think tank, the Association for Liberal Thinking (LDT), and a liberal education trade union called the Free Education Personnel Union (Özgür Eğitim-Sen). Over two days, six sessions were held under the chairmanship of LDT Executive Board Deputy Chairman Professor Tanel Demirel and Özgür Eğitim-Sen President Yusuf Tanrıverdi, executive board member Ahmet Hamdi Ayan and Batman branch head Mustafa Sevinçer. Civilization, the rule of law, a civil constitution, religious freedom, liberal democracy, democracy in Turkey, the Kurdish issue, the official ideology in education and freedom and diversity in education were discussed. Not only the rich content of the papers presented, but also the dignity, maturity and stances of the participants were admirable.
More than 60 participants from different walks of life and different professions, mainly teachers, with diverse opinions discussed these issues in a calm and respectful manner. Seeing the composition of the people in the hall and listening to their ideas, I found myself with a reinforced conviction about what Turkey urgently needs: freedoms in general and freedom of expression in particular. Although we had different backgrounds and were just meeting each other for the first time, what brought us together was our love for freedom and the quest to live in a free society. What made the meeting efficient and peaceful was the presence of an unconditional and unlimited freedom of expression, as is the case with every meeting organized by the LDT and Özgür Eğitim-Sen. No one was criticized for their ideas. Instead, counterarguments were proposed. I am sure everyone learned much from this meeting. In this respect, I think I was the one who benefited the most.
Comments and opinions voiced by the participants, who were mostly Kurds, about the Kurdish issue were particularly interesting. This confirmed what I already knew: All Kurds, regardless of their ideologies, are uneasy about the current system and the way it treats Kurds and Kurdishness. This unprompted and common attitude is the clearest and strongest proof that the policies of denial, assimilation and pressure do not work. The irrational and unethical rhetoric of “brotherhood” or the discourse on “separatism,” devised with psychological warfare in mind, are totally meaningless for the people in the region. Kurds seek an equal, open-ended process of dialogue and negotiations without red lines.
As civil society in Turkey evolves and Özgür Eğitim-Sen-like organizations mushroom and become stronger, the country will normalize. Participation in democratic politics should not be neglected, but we should not forget that everything relies on the development of civil society in the long run. Let us establish new civil society organizations (CSOs) or join or support existing ones. This is the shortest and most reliable route to a better Turkey.
*Professor Atilla Yayla is a political scientist.