Turkey’s president is destroying the democracy that Turks risked their lives to defend


The Economist: Much is unknown about the attempted military coup in Turkey on the night of July 15th. Why was it botched so badly? How far up the ranks did the conspiracy reach? Were the putschists old-style secularists, as their initial communiqué suggested; or were they followers of an exiled Islamist cleric, Fethullah Gulen, as the government claims?

But two things are clear. First, the people of Turkey showed great bravery in coming out onto the streets to confront the soldiers; hundreds died (see article here and here). Opposition parties, no matter how much they may despise President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, united to denounce the assault on democracy. Better the flawed, Islamist-tinged strongman than the return of the generals for the fifth time since the 1960s.

The second, more alarming conclusion is that Mr Erdogan is fast destroying the very democracy that the people defended with their lives. He has declared a state of emergency that will last at least three months. About 6,000 soldiers have been arrested; thousands more policemen, prosecutors and judges have been sacked or suspended. So have academics, teachers and civil servants, though there is little sign they had anything to do with the coup. Secularists, Kurds and other minorities feel intimidated by Mr Erdogan’s loyalists on the streets.

The purge is so deep and so wide — affecting at least 60,000 people — that some compare it to America’s disastrous de-Baathification of Iraq. It goes far beyond the need to preserve the security of the state. Mr Erdogan conflates dissent with treachery; he is staging his own coup against Turkish pluralism. Unrestrained, he will lead his country to more conflict and chaos. And that, in turn, poses a serious danger to Turkey’s neighbours, to Europe and to the West.

The failed putsch may well become the third shock to Europe’s post-1989 order. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014 destroyed the idea that Europe’s borders were fixed and that the cold war was over. The Brexit referendum last month shattered the notion of ineluctable integration in the European Union. Now the coup attempt in Turkey, and the reaction to it, raise troubling questions about the reversibility of democracy within the Western world — which Turkey, though on its fringe, once seemed destined to join. [Continue reading…]


Erdoğan’s crackdown: ‘Free speech is being rebranded as terrorism’



The misguided logic of keeping calm in the face of terror

Emile Simpson writes: Statistically, there is a minuscule individual chance of being killed by terrorism in the West.

Commentators will delight in finding comparisons that capture the apparent absurdity of being frightened by terrorism — perhaps telling us that more people are killed by bee stings than terrorism, or that there is more chance of being killed in a car crash than having your kids crushed by a terrorist-driven truck, or such like. Be resilient, they’ll say. Statistically speaking, we’re good here. Statistically speaking, we should all calm down, keep cool heads, and celebrate peace in the West.

But the statistical approach utterly misses the point. The essence of terrorism is that it is not just any sort of crime. It is a crime against the very fabric of the state, as the timing of the attack on Bastille Day was perhaps intended to emphasize.

To view terrorism through the lens of the personal risk of death implies an impoverished, almost nonexistent, view of the state — that is, the community of citizens that is the basis of all political life. In the statistical view, the state evaporates into a collection of atomized individuals who care only about themselves. A peace that requires — even applauds — a sort of numb, cold acceptance in the face of events like Thursday’s and calls it resilience is a rather pathetic peace to celebrate.

Peace depends on the stability of the political order. That political order has an identity in its own right. There is, in other words, a nation behind the state; when the state is attacked, the nation is attacked. Responding to terror with a cold, individualized, statistical message only opens the doors to Europe’s populists, who then appear the only ones not allergic to the recognition that the nation, a body with its own history, culture, and identity, has been wounded. Their response to that is identity politics, which is the path to social disaster. But until the political mainstream stands up for the idea that the state does have certain basic values that demand the loyalty of all its citizens — not just in terms of the law but in spirit as well — they can’t expect to tame today’s populist zeitgeist. [Continue reading…]


Coup attempt in Turkey accelerates drive towards an authoritarian state

The Guardian reports: In the aftermath of the Turkish coup attempt, the country’s parliament delivered an ode to democracy that represented an extremely rare display of unity between the government and opposition parties.

“It is precious and historic that all party groups in the parliament have adopted a common attitude and rhetoric against the coup attempt,” the assembly said in a statement on Saturday. “This common attitude and rhetoric will add to the strength of our nation and national will.”

The moment of solidarity, built on shared repulsion at the prospect of another military intervention in Turkish politics, was fleeting. Once he had regained his footing, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan showed no signs of gratitude to opposition parties whose condemnation of the attempted putsch contributed to the speed of its collapse, describing the failed coup as a “gift from God” that would allow a thorough purge of his enemies.

If the abortive coup does provide Erdoğan with the momentum he needs to achieve his central goal of changing Turkey’s constitution and concentrating power in a dominant presidency, it could have long-term repercussions for the country’s political stability, and consequently for its economic prospects and its place in the world, not least as a bastion of Nato’s south-eastern flank.

“We would have liked Erdoğan to use this as an opportunity for a more open democratic society, but the rhetoric has been one of vengeance,” said Hişyar Özsoy, an MP and spokesman on foreign affairs of the leftist pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic party (HDP).

The HDP’s unexpected success in elections last year presented a significant obstacle to Erdoğan’s constitutional ambitions. Since then, the president has sought to link them to Kurdish militants, lifting their parliamentary immunity and pursuing HDP members in the courts. “We expect this coup attempt to lead to even greater repression,” Özsoy said.

For the time being, the post-coup purges ordered by Erdoğan have been focused on alleged followers of Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Islamic scholar. However, the scale of the crackdown, with more than 6,000 detentions, and the targeting of the judiciary in general and the constitutional court in particular, suggest to many observers that the aim is to use the passions raised by the abortive coup to eliminate the last vestiges of independence in Turkey’s justice system. [Continue reading…]


Erdoğan’s ‘Reichstag fire’

Matthew Karnitschnig writes: Even before the last shots were fired in the small hours of Saturday, it was clear that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wouldn’t let a coup attempt go to waste.

Whatever faint hopes there may have been in Washington and Europe that he would capitalize on the outrage over the attempted putsch among the Turkish population and the political opposition to show a commitment to democratic ideals quickly faded, however.

Within hours, the purges of the judiciary and military had begun. While it could take months to determine what this “cleansing” will mean for the future of Turkey, this much is certain: Ankara’s fraught relations with the West just got a lot more complicated.

“He had a golden opportunity to change the narrative,” said Jonathan Eyal, associate director at the Royal United Services Institute, a U.K. think tank. “Instead, he chose the path of vengeance and score-settling. That will make it far more difficult for Western allies to stand by him.” [Continue reading…]


‘No excuse’ for Turkey to abandon rule of law, says EU’s Mogherini

Reuters reports: EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned the Turkish government on Monday against taking steps that would damage the constitutional order following a failed weekend coup.

“We were the first… during that tragic night to say that the legitimate institutions needed to be protected,” she told reporters on arrival at an EU foreign ministers meeting, which was also to be attended by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“We are the ones saying today rule of law has to be protected in the country,” she said in Brussels. “There is no excuse for any steps that takes the country away from that.”

She also said: “The democratic and legitimate institutions needed to be protected. Today, we will say together with the ministers that this obviously doesn’t mean that the rule of law and the system of checks and balances does not count.”

“On the contrary, it needs to be protected for the sake of the country itself. So we will send a strong message.”

Other ministers also expressed concerns about events after the coup. Mogherini’s fellow EU commissioner, Johannes Hahn, who is dealing with Turkey’s membership request, said he had the impression that the government had prepared lists of those such as judges to be arrested even before the coup took place.

“It looks at least as if something has been prepared. The lists are available, which indicates it was prepared and to be used at a certain stage,” Hahn said. “I’m very concerned. It is exactly what we feared.” [Continue reading…]


Bernard-Henri Lévy: ‘Europe without the British spirit cannot be Europe’

Richard Williams interviews the French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy: The outcome of the Brexit vote, not surprisingly, upset him. “For me, all my life, England has been really an example, a model. In dark times, this country has so often had the good reflex. I never saw in my lifetime, and I don’t find in my memory, a circumstance in which this country has gone through such a disaster with open eyes and such a popular fervour, left and right united in the same dishonour, nobody wanting to take the responsibility of going out. This is incredible. What’s sad is that England has added a little chapter to the history of the shameful comedy of bad politics.”

The referendum, he says, should never have been called. “A referendum is really the last option. It should not be a regular form of government. There is a great mistake in taking the option of referendum for personal reasons, for domestic reasons, in order to improve a career and so on. And when the destiny of a country is at stake, the destiny of a continent, it’s such a risk to play that with a tiny majority.

“You ask the people for a reply to a question. But democracy is not only a reply to a question. Democracy is first to shape the question, number two to reply, and number three to adapt to the reply with some laws and decrees and so on. Democracy means all three: to raise, to reply and to apply. A referendum is only number two, without the raising of the question and the application. So, even in the most traditional terms of political philosophy, you cannot say that a referendum is the embodiment of democracy. Not: ‘Are you for Europe or not for Europe?’ A question in democratic terms is something more sophisticated. Which can be the product of the will of the people, but not like this” – he snaps his fingers – “on one Thursday.”

And will the consequence of the British withdrawal be to solidify Europe, or to atomise it? “I don’t know. First of all, it is atomising the United Kingdom. Mr Cameron, Mr Boris Johnson and Mr Farage made a big achievement – they took the risk of destroying a great 60-year-old institution, and the many-centuries-old political whole that is the United Kingdom. This is the situation. And Europe without the UK, without the British spirit, cannot be Europe. It will be a huge loss of being, a loss of substance.” [Continue reading…]


Venezuela’s democratic façade has completely crumbled

Moisés Naim and Francisco Toro write: Today, Venezuela is the sick man of Latin America, buckling under chronic shortages of everything from food and toilet paper to medicine and freedom. Riots and looting have become commonplace, as hungry people vent their despair while the revolutionary elite lives in luxury, pausing now and then to order recruits to fire more tear gas into crowds desperate for food.

Not long ago, the regime that Hugo Chávez founded was an object of fascination for progressives worldwide, attracting its share of another-world-is-possible solidarity activists. Today, as the country sinks deeper into the Western Hemisphere’s most intractable political and economic crisis, the time has come to ask some hard questions about how this regime — so obviously thuggish in hindsight — could have conned so many international observers for so long.

Chávez was either admired as a progressive visionary who gave voice to the poor or dismissed as just another third-world buffoon. Reality was more complex than that: Chávez pioneered a new playbook for how to bask in global admiration even as he hollowed out democratic institutions on the sly. [Continue reading…]


Why Brexit means Brexit

As regular readers here will have noticed, over the last week I have given a lot of coverage to the debate on whether Brexit can be dodged, reversed, blocked or somehow avoided by legal and/or political means. I’ve also engaged in that debate myself in several posts.

The careful examination of this issue by experts in constitutional and international law has undoubtedly contributed to a widening sense that it might just be possible that, as John Kerry put it, Brexit can be “walked back.”

Over the weekend, a European diplomat in Brussels said: “If they treat their referendum as a non-event, we will also treat their referendum as a non-event.”

With so many doubts and questions ricocheting back and forth along with the fact that no one knows when the British government will actually formally pull the trigger on Brexit by invoking Article 50, it hasn’t been difficult to get the sense that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU might never happen — that a worse disaster than the immediate one might still be avoided.

As happens all too often, when one gets engrossed in details, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture.

What seems to me to be the most salient way of clarifying this issue is to pose a different question.

Suppose last Thursday the outcome of the EU referendum had been what pollsters predicted: 52% for Remain, and 48% for Leave.

Given that outcome, if the disgruntled Leave camp had then spent the following week arguing about why there should be another referendum, why the question had not been settled, and so forth, who outside their camp would have taken these protests seriously? How many legal opinions would have been crafted? How much serious discussion would have ensued?

Virtually none.

In Westminster, Brussels and throughout the financial markets, in the media and across academia, the prevailing sentiment would be that the issue had been settled, the will of the British people determined, and it was time to move forward.

Even though the real outcome of the vote looks to so many of us as an act of self-inflicted harm of historic proportions, what actually matters more than being in or out of the EU, is democracy itself.

The evidence that democracy is working as it should comes exactly at times when the political establishment gets challenged. This isn’t because there’s some inherent virtue in rocking the system. On the contrary, it’s because it is at a time such as this that those people who insist the system is rigged are demonstrably proven wrong.

Everyone’s vote was indeed counted and we should be glad of the fact.

And in the Brexit aftermath, anyone who might be thinking democracy is overrated should pay more attention to those parts of the world where ordinary people must risk their lives if they want to be heard.

The rights we too easily take for granted are rights we risk losing.


Time to reimagine Europe

Mary Fitzgerald writes: My daughter is three and my son is nine weeks old and from time to time ­– in the evenings when I can stay awake long enough – I write a diary for them that I hope they’ll read as adults. As well as documenting their first smiles, steps, jokes and nightmares (‘the wicked witch stole my snot rag!’), I’m trying to bring to life some of what’s happening in the world outside their home. And so I’ve been asking myself how to convey the events of the last few weeks to people reading about them in 20 years time.

In the end, 16 million Britons voted to stay in the European Union. Over 17 million voted to leave. It’s complicated, but both official campaigns primarily fed off and stoked fear: fear of economic collapse on the one hand, fear of immigration on the other. Across the mass media we heard little from those trying to advance more positive arguments: the idea of European/global citizenship on one side, of what ‘more democracy’ would mean on the other.

Whether you’re angry about the troika’s treatment of Greece or you want tighter immigration controls, the bloated, unaccountable, elitist EU can be blamed…

On openDemocracy, as always, we’ve tried to give space to perspectives sidelined or ignored elsewhere. During the lead up to the vote, we brought European voices into an alarmingly parochial national conversation. We asked if another Europe is possible and what a post-xenophobic politics would look like. In the wake of the result, we’ve featured the views of readers from the north of England to Kazakhstan, and profiled different reader voices on the future of the UK Labour party. We’ve asked what happens to EU migrant workers, to Scotland and to the entire continent. And we’ve challenged the idea that Leave voters didn’t know what they were doing – a dangerous and condescending attitutude which risks learning nothing from the result. Meanwhile Anthony Barnett’s Herculean ‘Blimey it could be Brexit!’, a magnificent book written ‘live’ one chapter a week during the referendum campaign, is a precious gift to those trying to dig deeper into what it all means both now and in the future. 

I first drafted this article on the assumption that Remain would win, narrowly, and I warned against complacency and urged democratic reform of the EU. The fact that I was wrong about the result only reinforces those arguments. France chooses a new president in less than a year and the majority of opinion polls predict the Front National’s Marine Le Pen comfortably winning enough votes to be one of the final two candidates. The Brexit result is a gift for her, in a country where anti-EU sentiment is even higher than in the UK. Germans will also vote for a new government within the year, with the right-wing anti-EU Alternative for Deutschland rapidly gaining ground. The warning signals have been growing louder for years, with the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer’s narrow defeat in Austria’s presidential election yet another recent close call. On the right and the left, whether you’re angry about the troika’s treatment of Greece or you want tighter immigration controls, the bloated, unaccountable, elitist EU can be blamed.

Perhaps when the citizens of other European countries see the political and economic turmoil visited upon the UK, and watch the leaders who urged Brexit in short order failing to deliver on their promises, the idea of leaving the EU may start to look less appealing. But while many of the underlying causes of their discontent remain, such an effect is likely to be minimal.

Either way, a quick second vote or some other procedural or legal gymnastics to bypass Britain’s referendum result would be a big mistake. [Continue reading…]


Brexit: The disaster decades in the making

Gary Younge writes: On polling day the Leave campaign reminded us that we were the fifth-largest economy in the world and could look after ourselves. By the following afternoon our currency was sufficiently decimated that we had fallen to sixth, behind France.

In the ensuing panic, some politicians argued that we could simply ignore the referendum result: David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, suggested it was “advisory and non-binding”, and urged parliament to call another referendum, in order to avert economic catastrophe. A huge number of people petitioned the government to do the same – while the eminent barrister Geoffrey Robertson insisted a second referendum was not necessary to overturn the result: parliament could just vote it down. “Our democracy does not allow, much less require, decision-making by referendum,” he wrote. “Democracy has never meant the tyranny of the simple majority, much less the tyranny of the mob.”

It was argued that we could not leave the final word on such momentous decisions to ordinary voters: they didn’t know what they really wanted, or they had been tricked into wanting something that would hurt them, or they were too ignorant to make informed choices, or maybe they quite simply wanted the wrong thing. A significant portion of the country was in the mood for one big do-over – a mood enhanced by considerable class contempt and the unmistakable urge to cancel the universal franchise for “stupid people” incapable of making the right decisions.

Everything had changed – we had decided to end a more than 40-year relationship with our continental partners and the consequences were far-reaching. In Scotland independence was once again in play; in Westminster, resignations from the shadow cabinet came by the hour; in the City, billions were wiped off by the day. Indeed, one of the few things that didn’t budge was the very issue that had prompted it all: our membership of the European Union. The only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know how and when we will actually leave it. We are simultaneously in freefall and at a standstill, in a moment of intense and collective disorientation. We don’t know what is happening and it is happening very fast.

But the only thing worse than the result and its consequences is the poisonous atmosphere that made it possible. The standard of our political discourse has fallen more precipitously than the pound and cannot be revived as easily. This did not happen overnight, and the sorry conduct of the referendum campaign was only the latest indication of the decrepit state of our politics: dominated by shameless appeals to fear, as though hope were a currency barely worth trading in, the British public had no such thing as a better nature, and a brighter future held no appeal. Xenophobia – no longer closeted, parsed or packaged, but naked, bold and brazen – was given free rein. [Continue reading…]


Leading Brexiter fears outcome in which ‘we will be worse off than when we were in the EU’

The Guardian reports: The British public have voted to leave the EU in an advisory referendum – but there have been voices in business, diplomacy, politics and European polities desperately asking if the issue can be revisited. Is that feasible?

The short answer is yes, just about, but many forces would have to align.

The referendum, for instance, has thrown up big constitutional questions for Britain.

Oliver Letwin, who was appointed by David Cameron, the outgoing prime minister, to oversee the process of withdrawal, is now at the helm of an expanded European secretariat at the Cabinet Office. But it is clear that very little preparatory work has been done. One of the first questions he will face is the future role of the British parliament in Brexit.

The British government has not yet said how parliament should implement the decision to leave. It is not clear, for instance, if and what laws would have to be passed to put the referendum decision to leave the EU into effect. [Continue reading…]

Echoing this discussion, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says there are a number of ways Thursday’s vote could be “walked back.”

But in the eyes of many — on both sides of the issue — the fact that this conversation is even taking place is widely viewed as an expression of contempt for democracy. It is seen as a cynical effort to accomplish by questionable means what couldn’t be achieved through a free and fair vote. The argument for rejecting these kinds of political machinations is that the will of the people must be respected.

Setting aside the question of whether there is such a thing as the will of the British people — sacrosanct as that notion is — if we simply accept the fact that the Leave campaign won (a result that no one disputes), then respecting the will of the people in that sense would surely have to mean delivering the outcome Leave voters supported. That is to say: respecting the popular expectations built around the meaning of withdrawal — a return of sovereignty, control over immigration, and so forth.

If leaving the EU leaves the UK in a position where it retains full access to the single European market — the so-called Norway option — on condition of maintaining the “four freedoms” (the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people) then in the words of Richard North, a leading proponent of Brexit, “we will be worse off than when we were in the EU.”

Let’s repeat that: We will be worse off than when we were in the EU!

Wasn’t that the central argument for voting Remain? That Britain would be worse off outside the EU than it is inside? And now Brexiters are warning about the danger of that very outcome!

Today, North writes:

We’ve been fighting the “war” for so many decades, with so little expectation of winning, that we’ve not devoted anything like enough time to winning the “peace”.
Yesterday, I was in London at a Leave Alliance meeting and there it dawned on me how ill-prepared we are to fight the coming battle. It is absolutely true that Whitehall didn’t have a plan, and Vote Leave certainly doesn’t have one. And, of course, neither does Farage. We are, therefore, at risk of losing the battle before many of us even realise what is at stake.

So here’s the irony for Brexit voters who naively imagine they just “got their country back”:

On one side are opponents of Brexit strategizing on how to stop it in its tracks, and on the other side are opponents of Brexit strategizing on how to minimize its effects. In between, the champions of Brexit haven’t a clue what to do next.

This is what happens when you passionately advocate for a goal, but expend very little effort figuring out how it can be accomplished.


The revolt of the fragments

Kenan Malik writes: Over the past few decades, trade unions have weakened, social justice campaigns eroded, the left crumbled.

One consequence of this shift has been to lead many on the left to look to bureaucratic or managerial means of creating a more progressive society. This is one reason that the EU has become so important for many as an institution for protecting social needs and equal rights. It may also be one of the reasons for the generational division over the EU – many young people who have grown up from the 1990s onwards view the EU both as a vital component of their lives and identities and as a crucial institution for the enabling of social change.

A second consequence of the erosion of broader social movements is the creation of more fragmented, parochial, even sectarian, forms that popular disaffection increasingly takes. In an age in which there are few collective mechanisms to bind together the experiences and grievances of different groups and communities and to channel them into a common goal of social transformation, people often express their different experiences of discontent in very different ways.

It is against this background that much of the Brexit debate became polarized between, on the one hand, a liberal Europeanism that celebrated the managerial over the democratic, and ignored, or underplayed, the undemocratic character of EU institutions, and, on the other, a Euroscepticism that played on hostility to migrants, and that, in conflating democracy and national sovereignty, advanced a narrow, divisive notion of democracy. What was missing was the argument for a pan-European solidarity built from the bottom up, and which sought to break down national barriers through the extension of democratic institutions, not their emasculation. [Continue reading…]


When you dial 911 and Wall Street answers

The New York Times reports: A Tennessee woman slipped into a coma and died after an ambulance company took so long to assemble a crew that one worker had time for a cigarette break.

Paramedics in New York had to covertly swipe medical supplies from a hospital to restock their depleted ambulances after emergency runs.

A man in the suburban South watched a chimney fire burn his house to the ground as he waited for the fire department, which billed him anyway and then sued him for $15,000 when he did not pay.

In each of these cases, someone dialed 911 and Wall Street answered.

The business of driving ambulances and operating fire brigades represents just one facet of a profound shift on Wall Street and Main Street alike, a New York Times investigation has found. Since the 2008 financial crisis, private equity firms, the “corporate raiders” of an earlier era, have increasingly taken over a wide array of civic and financial services that are central to American life. [Continue reading…]


Britain’s democratic failure

Kenneth Rogoff writes: the current international standard for breaking up a country is arguably less demanding than a vote for lowering the drinking age.

With Europe now facing the risk of a slew of further breakup votes, an urgent question is whether there is a better way to make these decisions. I polled several leading political scientists to see whether there is any academic consensus; unfortunately, the short answer is no.

For one thing, the Brexit decision may have looked simple on the ballot, but in truth no one knows what comes next after a leave vote. What we do know is that, in practice, most countries require a “supermajority” for nation-defining decisions, not a mere 51 percent. There is no universal figure like 60 percent, but the general principle is that, at a bare minimum, the majority ought to be demonstrably stable. A country should not be making fundamental, irreversible changes based on a razor-thin minority that might prevail only during a brief window of emotion. Even if the UK economy does not fall into outright recession after this vote (the pound’s decline might cushion the initial blow), there is every chance that the resulting economic and political disorder will give some who voted to leave “buyer’s remorse.” [Continue reading…]

A UK petition calling for a second EU referendum has already received over two million signatures.