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The Ambiguity of Legality

Murat Belge*

In Turkey, it is not uncommon for the political power to “fall in love” with using its authority and turn “abuse” or “misuse” into “unscrupulous abuse.” I cannot think of any ruling party that hasn’t done so, and they always find a “humane” explanation for resorting to such methods. It’s not that “we are not used to such situations,” but the arbitrary behavior of the AKP government has seriously exceeded the dimensions we are accustomed to. I had touched upon this issue in my article on “pervasiveness” on T24 the other day and had given a few examples. We all know these examples, and the government doesn’t hesitate to add new ones to its “misuse” dossier every day.

This situation creates particularly challenging conditions for the opposition. How can one engage in political struggle against an authoritarian government that doesn’t recognize any rules and doesn’t bother to hide it? You write and speak, but the government ignores it. Will you take to the streets and protest? The government has been in the habit of considering any kind of demonstration as a “crime” for a long time – another form of “misuse.” Being “unscrupulous” is at the core of how the government behaves.

I believe that AKP’s arbitrary style of “maintaining power” effectively renders any opposition a political party might put forth invalid. For instance, in the presence of this government, “opposition in parliament” has lost its meaning. You submit a parliamentary question, but the person in power has no intention of taking it seriously and providing an answer. Given these circumstances, the idea of opposition within a “party structure” doesn’t seem as effective as a “movement” based on being present at the scene of events. Yes, as I stated at the beginning, the government will suppress and disperse movements by trampling on legality, and in response, the opposition movement must always strictly adhere to the legality defined in the constitution (and previous constitutions) and the laws. This is crucial because the opposition must demonstrate how the government seeks to usurp power and violates what is legal and why such behavior is harmful. Unfortunately, these actions are still not frowned upon or rejected in this society; they are accepted. Populism has successfully turned this into an advantage for itself: a political style where we believe in a leader who is “one of us” and will use his power in our favor, removing any “bureaucratic” obstacles in his way.

Since we have not passed through a stage in our “modernization” history where democracy is dominant, this populist arbitrariness doesn’t appear to the majority as a disease that needs to be fought. Therefore, when we criticize the current regime by saying “This is a ‘one-man’ regime,” we don’t elicit the reaction we expect from society. It evokes a response like “Well, so what if it is?”

As we approach the centenary of the Republic’s founding, it is evident that we, as a society, have not ascended from the lower classes to the upper classes of the “democracy school.” The factor that gave the impression to the opposition (and now leads to great disappointment) before the recent elections that “we are winning” was not the blows the government struck at democracy one after another, but the economic crisis it created. It was not the “one man” acting as the “one man” but the realization that he was “not immune to making wrong decisions.” This means our task is challenging. There are many more lessons to be learned, many more paths to be taken. It will be tough, but if we succeed, the reward will be significant, I believe. Learning democracy by experiencing it is undoubtedly a good thing. However, human history is not (as some stubbornly believe) limited to only “one path.” It should also be possible to learn by “not experiencing” – because we couldn’t experience it!

The sole responsibility for the lack of democracy may not lie solely with “Jacobin” character regimes. On the contrary, “plebiscitary” regimes, which we can say are the opposite, can create even darker conditions. If Turkey can free itself from the AKP and its leader’s regime – when it can do so – it will become a society that has gained enough experience.

“Negative” accumulation… It’s possible, yes, let’s say so.

*Murat Belge (born 16 March 1943) is a Turkish academic, translator, literary critic, columnist, civil rights activist, and occasional tour guide.

This article was originally published in Birikim Magazine on July 18, 2023 and subsequently translated into English by Politurco.

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