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Institutional Destruction in Turkey

Tanil Bora*

Lately, the decisions of the Turkish Constitutional Court have been treated akin to an expert report or like a report of a think tank in the legal field. Comments such as ‘This is just an opinion,’ or ‘That’s what they say too…’ are common. The decisions are not binding. Whether they are considered or ignored depends on the situation and the discretion of the administration.

The treatment of the highest court, which is supposed to protect the rights and laws of a constitution that itself guarantees rights and laws (and it is rightfully questioned for not fulfilling this duty, even contributing to the erosion of these rights), is audacious even by the standards of our country’s judiciary, to use Murat Sevinç’s words. Members of the court have been subjected to criminal complaints for decisions not approved by the ‘administration.’ Moreover, the legal personality (the “indivisible integrity”) of the high court, whose decisions are disregarded, is also ignored, and legal actions are taken against members who voted in favor of such decisions…

The gravity of the scandal is clear. There is ongoing discussion about the extreme instrumentalization of the judiciary. There are talks of a de facto constitutional void.

While underlining these points with a permanent marker, I want to look at another aspect of the scandal that is more general in nature.

That is, institutional destruction. Like genocide, femicide, cultural destruction, there is the destruction of institutions.

Isn’t this one of the characteristic features of the last twenty years in Turkey, the “AKP era”? Some institutions have been completely purged; SEKA comes to mind. Some have been stuffed into certain bags and stripped of their uniqueness; think of the Board of Financial Inspectors lost in the crowd of “tax inspectors.” Many have been rendered ineffective; the Turkish Grand National Assembly comes to mind first. Some have been shattered by attempts at capture, staff depletion, or ‘flattening’; traditional high schools and universities, faculties come to mind. Don’t just think of the institutions themselves; the dissolution of the “mainstream” media into a gaseous state is also a phase of institutional destruction.

I am referring to the destruction of institutional traditions, the liquidation of material and cultural capital in institutions, and the adulteration of institutionalized professional authorities in favor of the autocracy of the “administration” with the concept of institutional destruction.

This is a follow-up article. Nearly seven years ago, before I had coined this term, I had tried to discuss institutional destruction. I repeat that institutional destruction in Turkey is based on a synthesis of global development and the “AKP era.” Globally, the neoliberal deregulation process is underway: the liquidation of social welfare state institutions, the creation of institutions for markets in the language of the World Bank – that is, institutions that will not hinder the capital cycle, extremely ‘flexible,’ extremely precarious institutions – the precarization of institutions… And when we say institution, we essentially mean corporations. The term “corporate” has now become synonymous with corporation. For example, they say, “making a career in corporate.” Many public institutions have turned “corporate” as you know. “Corporate” is actually like an institution – pseudo-institution.

We must also mention the CIMER ‘mechanism,’ which promotes informancy and precarious judicial-executive relations, as an example of these new institutions constituting a facet of institutional destruction. The institutionalization of institutional destruction.

In our country, this global process coincides with the emotional politics of the effort to dismantle, undermine, and hollow out the institutions of the “Old Turkey.”

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Therein lies a difference between the new- or post-conservatism of the neoliberal era and old-conservatism. Old- or traditional conservatism was respectful of institutions it saw as carriers of Tradition. The post-conservatism, arrogant in inventing tradition, does not want to stumble over institutions.

And of course, the populist style of politics, the wind of the times, is also annoyed by institutions. The European Union, old-style parties, high courts, universities, expert organizations, media, in short, “institutions,” are seen in the eyes of populist morality as alien (already the product of foreign minds), arrogant, snobbish structures that do not sympathize with the troubles of the people/nation and obstruct its pure and direct will.

Old-conservatism’s fondness for institutions, institutionalism, should of course warn us. An institution inherently contains structural conservatism. With their traditions, procedures, rule-obsessions, they are rigid, stiffening. They are prone to be skeptical of innovations. They are heavy; both slow and stubborn. We should not think of institutions as eternally as they think of themselves, and we should know that institutions can become lifeless and rigid at some point. While knowing that democratic institutions are essential for the survival of democracy, we must not forget that those institutions can become rigid if they are not nourished by the energy of democratic will, democratic action, and democratic functioning. That is, we should not forget not to trust institutions too much…

There is a slogan recently adopted by those opposed to neoliberal institutional destruction. It is a slogan adapted from the “Black lives matter” slogan: “Institutions matter!” They say, “Institutions are important, institutions are valuable.”

This is undoubtedly a reactionary slogan. It expresses the reaction to the results of neoliberalism’s policy of throwing institutions to the market. Especially the frustration with the destruction of institutions that are more or less open to democratic participation, social welfare institutions, institutions that check and balance the actions of governments-administrations and corporations.

Because institutional destruction vastly expands the arbitrariness of governments, administrations, and corporations. It increases insecurity and unpredictability. In many areas, the fact that citizens do not have a responsible institutional counterpart, but instead are entrusted to the call center phone number of a “corporate,” is a familiar sign of this situation.

Institutional destruction means the erosion and dispersion of institutions as repositories of knowledge and experience. There is certainly a role in this in the devaluation of expertise and merit. The spread of anti-intellectualism, which does not recognize the authority of knowledge, insight, and experience in any specific field, certainly has a role in institutional destruction. Institutional destruction is among the culprits of the precarization of reason.

We were not enamored with many of the institutions. But beyond the value of the institutions themselves, the issue is institutional destruction. It is the menace of the politics of institutional destruction, the mentality of institutional destructors.

  • After this article was published, I learned that Cengiz Aktar used this term in an interview with Alin Ozinian in March 2022. Ahmet İnsel also used this term in his article titled “Fascism, populism, and post-fascism” in the 382-383rd issue of Birikim (February-March 2021), p. 14. *Tanıl Bora was born in 1963 in Ankara. He graduated from Istanbul Boys’ High School, then Ankara University Political Science Faculty. He was a journalist at Yeni Gündem, a weekly news journal, in between 1984-88. He has been the research / reading editor in İletişim Publishing since 1988. In between 1993 and 2014, he was the editorial director in Toplum & Bilim Journal, a social science journal published every three months. In 2012, he became the editorial coordinator of Birikim, a monthly socialist culture journal for which he was writing articles since 1989.

This article was first published in Birikim Magazine and translated into English by Politurco.

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