May 19 and the characteristics of reforms

This year May 19 Atatürk Commemoration and Youth and Sports Day was burdened »»

This year May 19 Atatürk Commemoration and Youth and Sports Day was burdened with a special challenge.

The government issued a decision, which I think was quite proper, to abolish celebrating national festivals in stadiums, freeing them from scenes reminiscent of militarism. With this decision, national festivals were no longer to be celebrated in stadiums; and they were no longer to take place with the presence of military tanks, marching soldiers and displays of weapons. This was a very important decision in terms of the process of demilitarization. For the last decade, Turkey has been trying to get rid of the state’s militarist inclinations as well as the ensuing battle for power and polarization. However, this isn’t easy at all due to the various social groups that have resisted these efforts. They have taken such efforts as attempts of a coup staged against them. The fact that perception management isn’t carried out well makes a contribution in these terms. On the other hand, from our previous experiences we know that neo-nationalist secularists will perceive all kinds of changes led by Justice and Development Party (AK Party) as some form of harassment to which they will be opposed.

The government’s aforementioned decision was submitted to the Council of State and it was cancelled. This was a quirk of the judiciary. But as a result, the cancellation took place. Upon this, the government, in such a way that would override the Council of State’s refusal regarding the form of the regulation, made a regulation regarding how to celebrate all national festivals. The government even made a regulation about the state protocol implemented in those festivals. Commanders-in-chief of armed forces were removed from protocol list and civilian officials were prioritized. However, in the classic AK Party way, the regulation was incomplete, as it was carried out to absorb the reactions and to serve pragmatic interests. For instance, the position of military chief that is placed 18th in the protocol list in democratic countries remained third on the list.

There is more to it. The May 19 Atatürk Commemoration and Youth and Sports Day that was celebrated for only one day in stadiums is to be celebrated throughout an entire week. New rituals such as cutting a birthday cake for Atatürk, which I think is tragicomic, were invented. Now here is the problem; normally nobody minds flags, festivals and celebrations. But we are still not a normal country. Why are people like me disturbed with such military celebrations? First of all, such military celebrations are an obligatory implementation that is imposed on me just like a secular religion. In other words, it is at odds with human nature and individual rights. Secondly, such implementations weren’t invented for nothing. It is a kind of suppression. That is an ideology-production machine that imposes upon us the “citizen stereotype” designed by the state that expects us to prove our loyalty before those altars. This is one of the important standardized-people-production mechanisms that forces society to continuously obey; killing demilitarization initiations in the process and is dependent on an ideology.

This society wants to become liberal and to be demilitarized. It is sick of social engineering that has been implemented and pushed upon it for years. That is what society demands from the government. And the government is aware that it has to meet this demand and it is already late in doing so. The party knows that it was founded on the dynamic social foundation that demands these changes. However, the more the government wants to make changes without harming itself, the more deficient the implementations it comes up with will be. If you touch on taboos incompletely and hesitantly, you reproduce them and you even give them the kiss of life. What I mean is that firstly, the decision of the government was right; however, by extending the length of celebrations to a week and describing how to celebrate them, it made a serious mistake. What it should have done was to withdraw from this issue completely just as a democratic country would. What it should have done was demilitarize official governmental ceremonies. But offering forms of celebrations that were extended to a whole week for the sake of demilitarization is a more “watered down” form of engineering which is similar to what Kemalists did.

I think everybody should celebrate their own festivals freely in whatever manner they wish. Nobody should intervene with the choices of the Kemalists, either. People who want to celebrate it in a way that reminds them of the military and by imitating soldiers may celebrate it in this way. People who want to perceive it as a festivity by going to concerts, having fun and going on a vacation may do so. If some want to visit Anıtkabir (the mausoleum of Atatürk), they should visit it and if some want to visit their family on this day, they should do so. How to celebrate this festival should be up to people’s preferences. The state, regardless of how sympathetic or demilitarized it may seem, shouldn’t impose a model of celebration upon anyone. That is what demilitarization is. That is the only way to achieve normalization.

The demand of society is superior to politics. Since there isn’t an effective political opposition, the AK Party sees no harm in pursuing its own agenda. However, we can get rid of all of the old state’s out-dated foundations and habits in a short time. Society is ready for it. At this point all we are doing is wasting time.