Guardian authority and fish

Political scientists use the term “transitology” to describe the transition »»

Political scientists use the term “transitology” to describe the transition period in a country where the arenas of politics, law and economics transform from authoritarian to more democratic processes.

In Turkey, from the Özal period up till now, there has been an effort to continue these periods of transition despite breaks in the process. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) set this transformation -- which Özal had partially succeeded at -- as a goal for itself, despite the Feb. 28 coup. The party has proffered many practical contributions as well as support to varied groups of players who worked to see civil society take a part in common democratic characteristics and concerns throughout the country.

Many secret as well as open junta and deep state organizations and plans were derailed, thanks to contributions made by the civilian mentality. Some very brave and far-sighted steps towards democratization were taken by the AK Party during this period, some realized in the wake of insistence from the civil society itself. The encouragement and decisiveness of society on matters of freedom helped overcome the natural levels of slowness and hesitation that are inherent in politics.

There is little doubt that the majority “yes” votes cast in the Sept. 12 referendum shook many of the various impositions and operations in the offing, such as the 367 crisis, the presidential elections, the April 27 e-memorandums, Ergenekon, Balyoz and others.

Despite the great strides taken and the arena gained as a result of the Sept. 12 referendum, the AK Party was not successful -- for whatever reason -- in speeding up the process of democratization. And instead, we have begun to witness a period during which not only are some of the most resilient players and institutions of the deep-rooted tutelage not eliminated from the political scene, but they are being rehabilitated and allowed to carry on with their actions, albeit in a slightly veiled manner.

And as for where we stand today, we see that with the passage of the third judicial reform package in Parliament, the criminal court cases and investigations in which institutions and players from the long-standing tutelage of the establishment were being tried for their actions have been, if not completely halted, slowed down to the point of being shelved.

The very same mechanisms and institutions that had strengthened the hand of civilian players and opened the way forward for the process of democratization by finally reaching out to deal with those who had had immunity up till now have been transformed into euthanized patients of sorts. Either they can pull their own plugs and watch all of these trials while themselves being drained of power, or they can disappear over time, eliminated gradually by the very difficulty of staying on their feet. The tutelage of the establishment is over, so why are you making more work for yourselves? Look, is everyone opposed to you? Why do you not also bathe in this pool of optimism and enjoy the feel of a democratic and stable Turkey? Is this really how it is?

A past that cannot be buried

It is well known that the military council in Egypt held up as an example for itself the Sept. 12 regime in Turkey. What is wanted is a civilian government controlled by military tutelage. A recent statement made by a member of government referred to this situation but also shed light on much of the weakness inherent in the current optimism that posits the end of guardian authority in Turkey. The government minister, who noted that it would be senseless and wasteful for Egypt to embrace a future that reflected a past already buried by Turkey, said that “a civilian government under the control of the military was not a Turkish model.” One only wishes it were possible to agree with this view. It is quite true that the AK Party government and the civil-democratic public have taken great strides towards achieving freedoms.

But at the same time, the institutions connected to the May 27 junta state, the political methods and regulations connected to the Sept. 12 regime, and the ghost of the Feb. 28 coup have not been entirely eliminated. The power of military justice prevails, military organizations are not subject to supervision, and what’s more, new laws are allowing more and more civilian bureaucracy to take cover in this shield of lack of supervision.

Etched in people’s memories in Turkey are on the one hand, a photo in which a headscarved student receives her award at a graduation ceremony from a military officer and on the other, the memorable and unforgettable scene in the near past when a headscarved visitor was not allowed into the wedding of one of her own relatives because of her dress. Rather than getting rid of the laws that forbid headscarved students from attending university here, moves such as these have been left to the individual initiatives of university rectors. With the status quo firmly stuck in a mentality defined by the coup atmosphere of 1960, who could possibly now believe that a military officer could ever rise to the rank of general, despite his wife’s headscarf and because of a revised set of regulations? The act of embracing a “minimum level of stepping backwards while maintaining the basic position” rather than placing civilian will firmly over military will is called by political scientists “partial regime.”

If in answer to the question “democratization or status quo?” we reply simply “stability,” our “individual comfort and positions” remain inside the parentheses, but we leave “freedom” on the shelf. The roots of a guardian authority run so deep and so wide that it doesn’t work to just say to it all “Come on, let’s bury you in the past somewhere.”

Open enemy

The lesson learnt by those who are entrenched in the deep structures that have wielded power over Turkey’s political, sociological and economic geography for so long now is that they need to pursue deeper and more silent routes from now on.

Those circles and people are no longer the openly visible enemy. They cannot deny their own existence or power. They choose to “share their positions” with new players on the horizon only through persuasion and manipulation. And the price for this choice is paid once again by civilians’ rights and other gains. R.H. Tawney once said, “Freedom for the big fish is death for the little fish.” Gaining status and position in areas of political and economic power might be, for the powerful elite, the freedom and happiness for the big fish. But for civilian individuals, it is nothing other than a guardian authority under camouflage.