18 June 2007

1750) The True Meaning Of The Relationship Between Civil Society And Democracy

The fact that the Turkish Parliament was unable to carry out its duty of electing the president, . . and that the laws in reference to this from the 1982 Constitution became -- or were made -- unworkable, brought a slowdown to democracy in Turkey, in as much as there is a settled, rooted justice system here.

This is not to say that there was already a flawless liberal-democratic system in Turkey, and that it was disrupted. No, instead this is to say that an important aspect of Turkish democracy, the Parliament, was brought to the point of not being able to do its job. In situations where parliaments can not do their jobs, democracy can turn straight to the people in order to keep working or to be stopped, and forces outside of democracy begin to make their voices heard more loudly. In any case this is the point that Turkey reached during the presidential elections. But of course a certain ambiguity reigns now. And so now the process of electing the president goes to the people of the country. Elections were destined to go to the people anyway, but for the normal parliamentary elections. Now what is faced is a referendum, or perhaps a direct election. In any case though, no matter what happens at this point, the general parliamentary elections will now be like a "referendum" on the events that took place during the unsuccessful rounds of the presidential ballot.

No matter what the outcome of the upcoming elections is, Turkey, which has for a long while been on the road towards democratization in an uninterrupted fashion, will not have a fully formed, strong democracy, at least as long as the "civil societal bedrock" created by the bureaucratic guardianship -- the same bedrock that has forced the country to a crossroads of choice between democracy and an authoritarian regime -- does not change. For this reason, the following points must be clearly understood:

1- Civil society, no matter how it is interpreted, must be outside the state.

2- Civil society demands rights and freedoms for the citizenry, countered in balance to the state.

3- The demands for rights and freedoms made by civil society are shaped by and expressed for different identities and interests.

4- Differences are a result of the pluralistic nature that must be present in civil society.

5- Differences are explained with terms such as "we" and "they," or "me" and "the others."

6- In these expressions of differences, it is not to be understood that people not included in the "we" are enemies. For as long as anyone different is perceived as an enemy threatening "we," the survival of pluralism based on differences is impossible.

7- Democracies based on the differences between citizens are for the above reasons the highest levels of union achieved in human history As opposed to the state-centered "so-called and real" civil society definitions summarized previously, true civil society embodies and embraces the above examples of what civil society should be, and is thus the real guarantor of democracy. For this reason the events of "spring 2007" were opposed to democracy, not just because they included interventions debatable in terms of their legality, but because they presented support for an authoritarian regime in the guise of societal support.

Turkey is finally at the point where it can put down a real foundation for a strong civil society. At this crossroads Turkey's journey into a more democratic future depends on the continuation of EU-based reforms, and on the execution of democratic processes at home. For this reason the "so-called civil society" with its slogans of "Neither the US nor the EU," and as if that weren't enough, its creation of not only "foreign" but "domestic" enemies as well, coupled with its unwillingness to afford anyone outside of the authoritarian regime the chance to rule, makes contributions to democracy on any level an impossibility. And in a state where democracy has become impossible, it is also completely impossible for that state to be a republic.

As is known, a republic, in terms of its state and its government, has two definitions. The first, and narrower, definition of a republic is an expression of a system wherein the position of the head of state is not hereditary or passed on, and is, in this sense, the opposite of a monarchy. Just as it is implicitly understood herein that not every republic is a democracy, similarly it would thus translate that not all monarchies are necessarily in opposition to democracies. To the contrary, just as there have been in the past and continue on today to be republics that are not democratic, and which are run by military or civil authority, there are also deep-rooted, strong democracies which are not simultaneously republics.

In addition to the above definition of what a republic is, there is a definition that goes more to the root of the essence of the term.

According to this definition, a republic is a style of leadership aimed at ensuring the good of the people, or the public. Since a leadership style that aims to achieve the best for its people would not, naturally, exclude the people themselves, this definition of what a republic is then describes a style of leadership or governing wherein the people have a voice. In this sense then, this definition more approaches the definition of democracy.

So let's take a look at a variety of ideas of how it is that these two above definitions of a republic have separated from each other in the modern world, and how it is that they need to come together again. But first let me make the following clear, so that we can better understand the issues we are examining here: the republic, as many significant modern thinkers and politicians have stressed, means being against tyranny. In order to eliminate tyranny, it is enough that the state uses its power according to the law. The highest-level guarantee that the state will use its power according to the law is the idea that the law will in fact be made by the people. In this way the society itself, rather than a being simply a gathering and assortment of people, becomes a "society of citizenry," or as we were saying before, a "civil society."

In a republic the citizenry of the republic sets out the order of the society and the state through laws it creates by its own free will.

Thus it is the citizenry that limits and defines its own freedoms, but it should be remembered that they are doing it themselves. In order for citizens to be able to make up the laws to which they themselves will be subject to, they must first be equal holders of the individual and political freedoms guaranteed by law. And thus in a modern state where everyone is counted as a citizen (slave-master, male-female, worker-bourgeoisie, black-white, racist, ethnicist, sexist and other categories like these) a republic in a modern state is then in fact obliged to be a democracy.

In Turkey the same thing has been being repeated since the formation of the republic. Since the passage from the Ottoman system to the republican system, the transformation of the Turkish people from vassals into a citizenry has been talked about frequently at every level of our educational life. In addition to this it is always stressed that it was the democratic aspect of the republic that brought about the most wonderful of the changes.

"Well in that case what exactly is the problem?" The problem is rooted in the lack of understanding that the modern interpretation of the republic-democracy coupling is that it mandates a pluralistic participation by the citizens of the country. The Turkish republic can not seem to keep itself from falling into situations that prevent the unity of the republic and democracy.

This is where the meaning of the events Turkey witnessed in the spring of 2007 lies; according to this way of seeing things, democracy is actually threatening the republic, and perhaps even more so than the republic, the Turkish nation-state. What we see here is a very serious paradox. The paradox is this: according to these claims the republic, which by definition is composed of the citizenry, is actually being threatened by this same citizenry. For this reason then limitations must be put on how much authority these citizens can have in the leadership of the republic. This paradox is rooted in the "founding ideology" of the Turkish republic, Kemalism. In order to transcend this paradox it is an inescapable necessity that the republic fully and truly realize itself, and this is a quest that is only possible through the deepening and widening of democracy. In order for the Turkish republic to be able to experience such a process, a civil society which stands behind the freedom necessary to talk about differences in the public arena is an indispensable factor.

Quite in opposition to this though, what happened in Turkey during the spring of 2007 was that the guardianship bureaucracy moved into action to bring society out into the city squares, with some of the factions being set into motion by the previously mentioned "so-called civil society organizations." With this, the tableau presented was not of simply a republic under threat, but going further still, the presentation of citizens who did not see or acknowledge the "clear and present danger" as the "enemy in the form of the other." This itself turned into a presentation of these factions not seeing the threats facing Turkey as being "co-conspirators" with the "imperialist enemies."

'Neither the US nor the EU, but a completely independent Turkey': Meaning what?

So in this sense another paradox contained in all these spring events is that those wishing to take action based on the dangers and threat facing Turkey all stood up against both the US and the EU. In terms of its ties to the US, this stance is based on the political strengths gained by the Kurds in northern Iraq, and the belief that one region of Turkey now faces a threat from these relatively new Kurdish strengths. Choruses ringing out about the ineffectiveness of the US against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terror are brought constantly to the forefront in the press. As for the EU there are the constant complaints that it is both trying to divide Turkey and that it has persistently taken the side of the Greek Cypriots. These and topics like the so-called "genocide" matter with the Armenians are brought up often in the public forum as topics with the high potential of affecting and influencing public opinion. In any case, these expressions of opposition against both the US and the EU take from time to time an "anti-imperialism" tone, and at other times are couched with an emphasis on the strength of the Turkish nation-state.

When you combine the perceptions of the "domestic enemies" with the "foreign enemies" perception (which itself is based on much incorrect information and spreading of incorrect information) you get yet another paradox that sits on the daily agenda of the Kemalist republic. This is a paradox in connection with the EU. As already known, Turkey went through a series of rapid and widespread reforms after 2002, arriving in October 2005 at the point of starting up full membership talks with the EU. The basic paradox is that while Kemalism is often defined as being a modernization project for Turkey, the very EU reforms which are the most concrete expression of Kemalism's main goal, the achievement of a "modern civilization level," are opposed on the basis that they threaten the republic.

This sort of "hostility to foreigners," which is sometimes of a xenophobic character, does not make it clear in which direction it expects Turkey's international relations to develop. And since the slogan "Neither the US nor the EU, but a fully independent Turkey" became so popular during the rallies, in fact became synonymous with the expressions of opposition to the administration, it is a valid question. Yes, what is the suggestion then? If we interpret this point of view's essence as being based on opposition to a "concessionist" stance, and embracing more of a "nationalist" stance, then you could also extrapolate that what this really means is "isolationism" or "autocracy." This in turn looks to resemble the story of Kemalism in the 1930s, along with the byline of single-party rule.

The purpose of clarifying all the above is not to prophesy that Turkey is going to turn into an isolationist, autocratic and thus authoritarian and even fascist political regime. But along with that it should be noted that it is clear that there are those with inclinations for an undemocratic regime in the military and the civil bureaucracy, as well as the "civil society" and the political parties. These factions, who base the reasons for their actions on the idea that they are protecting the state, can push the need for democracy in a state back to the second, even the third plan when necessary. What's more they even have the capacity to completely ignore this need for democracy. And it was the spring of 2007 in Turkey that proved they could find support for these inclinations from civil society. This is of course a situation that increases the likelihood that Turkey can and might be swayed from its path to democratization. In order then to prevent this from happening, the citizens of the republic must make clear their support of a pluralistic and freedom-loving democracy, by putting their will and volition front and center.

By Levent Koker*
Today's Zaman, Turkey
June 14 2007
*Levent Koker is a lecturer at Gazi University


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