Populism, Majoritarianism, Democracy and Orwellian Newspeak

On Friday 10 November at 9.05 am the people of Turkey will stop what they are doing, driving to work, labouring on the factory floor, imparting knowledge to reluctant adolescents . . . whatever, and stand for a minute’s silence to mourn the death, in 1938, of their nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

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Atatürk’s mausoleum, Ankara

I was pleased to read in this morning’s newspaper that the country’s AK Party government, often accused of systematically unraveling the secular principles of the great man’s republic, is organising buses to transport people to Anıt Kabir, Atatürk’s monumental mausoleum in Ankara, for a special commemorative ceremony.

At the same time, I was a little disappointed to read that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, outspoken critic of the government, and leader of the minority Republican People’s Party, self-appointed defenders of Atatürk’s republic, is currently in Strasbourg running down his own country and people to eager listeners at a meeting of the Council of Europe.

Of course we admire Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s commitment to defending human rights, if not his attempts to enlist foreign support for overthrowing his own lawfully elected government. We do, however, sincerely hope he’ll be able to get back to Turkey to join his fellow citizens as they give thanks for Atatürk’s historic achievements.

h-is-for-hypocrisy-460x245It’s not easy to get a handle on global or even national politics these days. We  know politicians lie, or at least conceal the truth, even if sometimes they may do it with the best intentions. Unfortunately, there are many who don’t have that excuse.

Nearly 70 years ago English author George Orwell, in his novel “1984”, warned of the dangers of Newspeak and Doublethink – where a nation’s leaders manipulated the meaning of words to limit people’s ability to utter, or even to think rebellious thoughts.

We know what happened to the word “democracy”: the German Democratic Republic (former East Germany), and the Democratic Republic of Congo are two of the more blatantly perverse interpretations of the concept.

But what about “majoritarianism”? That’s a word that entered my vocabulary quite recently, for which I had not previously felt a need. I’m still not sure exactly what benefits it brings to discussions in the world of political science.

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Democracy is slavery – vote neo-liberal!

As I understand it, “majoritarianism” is a pejorative term applied to a political party that has won the right to govern in a democratically fair general election, and is getting on with the job of doing what it was elected to do. The gripe, as far as I can see, is that the “minority” who failed to get their choice of government installed, are unhappy and resentful, and feel they have been hard done by.

Well, the first point that needs to be made, it seems to me, is that the fundamental principle of democracy is: all eligible voters cast their vote and a decision is made on the basis of the majority. What’s the alternative? Minoritarianism?

Now I will admit that, in the United States, the United Kingdom and other primitive “democracies” still operating a “first-past-the-post” electoral system, you may end up with a majority government elected by a minority of voters. We New Zealanders suffered under such a system for years until it was thrown out by a referendum in 1993. More progressive countries, however, like Germany and Turkey, make use of proportional systems that allocate seats in the legislature according to votes actually cast in elections.

I have to tell you I’m a big fan of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. He may not have immediately set up a democratic electoral system, but he did inspire his people to throw off the yoke of imperialist domination and set his country on the road to self-determination.

As well as being a successful military leader, Mustafa Kemal was also very knowledgeable in political theory. He built his new republic on the foundation of six basic principles. I am using the Turkish with English equivalents and brief explanations:

  • Cumhuriyetçilik – Republicanism: replacing the hereditary monarchy with an elected head of state and legislature.
  • Milliyetçilik – Nationalism: incorporating the concepts of national sovereignty, self-determination and national pride.
  • Laiklik – Secularism: the separation of religion from the functions of government.
  • İnkilapçılık – Reformism: aiming to modernise a country that had lagged behind Western progress.
  • Devletçilik – Untranslatable. Sometimes the French word Etatism is used. Essentially an economic system aimed at combining the best features of central planning and free enterprise.
  • Halkçılık – Populism: the concept of egalitarianism, replacing the former system where social class and hereditary factors determined a person’s rights and privileges.

Not bad for starters, you may think. But there’s another word that seems to be getting a good deal of bad press these days: “Populism”. And I have to tell you, it’s another one that’s giving me problems. In current use it seems to be applied, at least in the West, to a trend where many voters are supporting right wing, conservative, anti-liberal, anti-immigrant candidates. The prime culprit, of course, is America’s President Trump, but similar trends have been observed in France (Marie le Pen), Austria (the FPO) and Germany (the AfD).

Well I wouldn’t presume to tell Europeans and Americans how to solve their social, economic and political problems. I was, however, seriously disturbed to read that Turkey’s champion of justice and self-styled reincarnation of Mahatma Gandhi, has jumped on the Newspeak bandwagon and is decrying the concept of populism.

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Just about off the scale!

Admittedly he is using an imported transliteration “Populizm” instead of the Turkish word “Halkçılık” – but I suspect his hero Mustafa Kemal would not have approved. First because the great man was very insistent on using Turkish words rather than foreign imports; and second, because an egalitarian society lay at the centre of his hopes for the future of his new republic.

Mr Kılıçdaroğlu was quoted in news sources today as saying, “Populism is dangerous and needs to be avoided at all times”. “Populism is very dangerous but we will certainly overcome this.”

The basis of this, I’m afraid, is that Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP (Republican People’s Party) has lost five consecutive general elections, two presidential elections and a referendum since 2002 – and doesn’t look like improving on that dismal record in the foreseeable future. Sour grapes?

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Just as a point of information, Turkey is currently doing its best to cope with more than three million refugees who have entered the country since civil war broke out in neighbouring Syria six years ago, so at least on the immigration score, it’s hard to fault its government.

 

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Notes from an unconscious a-s licker

speak the truthI don’t usually come out with a negative response to another blogger’s blog. We’re all in this for the fun, or the hobby, or the deep political convictions, or whatever, so I generally “LIKE” or, if possible, give some kind of positive, supportive comment to my co-word-pressers.

Somehow, though, I seem to have touched a raw nerve with one actual follower, to the extent that he took me to task on his blog – and when I responded, I thought, fairly moderately, I got this reply:

“If fear, given the current climate of repression in Turkey, is your reason for hiding behind a façade of obsequious fealty to the current President of Turkey and all that he and the AKP and the Muslim Brothers stand for, that may be excusable and perhaps even to be commended under the circumstances. After all, you live in Turkey and must go on making a living if you aren’t already retired, and if retired, don’t want to expose yourself to unnecessary harassment and bother.

“I suspect, however, that you are not God, and that like the rest of us, you are at the mercy of the education (read the “indoctrination”) that you have received and the content of media that you peruse, or the things reported directly to you by friends and acquaintances and even complete strangers.”

gandhigreatquoteWell, I’ve been accused of many things in my longish life – but never before of sycophantic adulation of authority figures. But there’s a first time for everything, I guess.

Back in NZ, in years gone by, standing as a candidate for a very anti-establishment political third party, my family was threatened and our house broken into, I assume to intimidate me.

I like to think I have retained a healthy disrespect for empty authority and political parties. At the same time, I give credit where credit is due – or how will the world ever get better?

The funny thing about this latest accusation, is most of the people I know in Istanbul are ardent haters of the AK Party Government, and outspoken critics of the president Mr Erdoğan. Interestingly, I don’t know anyone who has been imprisoned for their views, expressed verbally or via social media. I am not a paid lackey of the Turkish government, nor do I have anything much to gain by acknowledging their positive achievements. There are aspects of life in Turkey where I myself am outspoken in my criticism.

truth hurtsI am, however, here; have been for the best part of the past 22 years. I read widely, speak the language, and keep an eye on events here, and in the big world outside. If you’re interested in an alternative point-of-view on a fascinating, important and much-maligned country – WATCH THIS SPACE! 🙂

Western media’s love affair with Orhan Pamuk

“They have killed the Istanbul I loved” – a plaintive cry from Turkish Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk in an interview he gave recently to the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Apparently the poor guy can’t live there any more because his memories have been destroyed.

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Longing for the good old days

Well, I can empathise with Mr Pamuk’s problem. It’s a function of getting old, I guess, and of spending a lot of time away from the place of your birth. I haven’t lived in my hometown Auckland for 16 years. When I go back for a visit now, I hardly recognise the place I once knew so well. But there’s no use crying about it. It’s the way of the world. Some Native Americans possibly wish they could turn back the clock to a time before those Palefaces arrived – but sad to say, they can’t. There is a Turkish saying, “İt havlar kervan yürür”“The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.”

But Orhan Pamuk likes to bark, especially in the cause of selling more books – a shameless self-publicist who has no scruples about running down his own country and people to further his own “literary” career.

It’s an interesting exercise to follow interviews Pamuk has given to western journalists over the years, and to observe how his projected self-image has morphed according to his own self-seeking agenda. In the La Stampa interview he says he is “jealous of Western writers” as they are not constantly questioned about politics by interviewers. He claims he has been forced to answer politically charged questions and this has “turned him into a political writer.” This is the guy who, back in 2005, speaking to a Swiss journalist, said that “a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in this country and I’m the only one who dares to talk about it”.

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Rubbing shoulders with ordinary Turks in his school days – NOT!

Well, those are politically charged issues in Turkey, as Pamuk knew full well – and many Turks were of the opinion that he was making such statements with a view to attracting the attention of the Nobel Awards committee. It’s a well-known fact that novelists from developing countries unpopular in the West who criticise their own governments give themselves a head start in the race for Nobel honours. When Pamuk achieved his goal of Nobel literary honours in 2006, Turkey’s President at the time, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, broke with his normal practice of congratulating high achieving Turks, and refused to acknowledge his countryman’s Nobel Prize. It should also be noted that Sezer was not aligned with the current AK Party government, but held the presidency by appointment of an earlier secular republican Kemalist administration.

But to return to the Italian report, Pamuk acknowledges that he spends much of his time in New York City, so we can understand that he will be somewhat out of touch with developments back home. “The old houses I love have been destroyed,” he laments. Well, the guy grew up in the old money quarter of Nişantaşı, with parents wealthy enough to send him to the elite American Robert College, to buy carloads of books to feed his passion for reading, and to support him while he dropped in and out of university without ever troubling himself to work for a living. If he had ventured, as a young man, to other parts of his beloved Istanbul during the 1970s and 80s, he would have seen vast swathes of old wooden Ottoman houses bulldozed and replaced by slum shanties for migrant workers from the east of Turkey. But he didn’t. And one thing is definitely true about Mr Pamuk – he was no youthful revolutionary idealist activist during Turkey’s most turbulent period of political upheaval in those decades. In a New York Times interview in 2014, he further admitted that, while his friends were risking their lives facing down soldiers, he spent most days reading at home in Nişantaşı.”

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Let’s go shopping – in Nişantaşı 😉

In contrast, then, one of the images Pamuk likes to create for himself is that of a lone courageous voice calling his government to task for historical human rights abuses. He was charged, he loves to repeat, with treason for his outspoken support of Armenians and Kurds, and lived abroad in virtual exile for fear of incarceration or worse. What he omits to say is that the charges were brought by an ultra-nationalist private citizen, not the Turkish government, and were subsequently dropped.

But the Western media love him – and that’s probably another reason to be suspicious.

Balancing free speech and censorship

Twitter suspends 300,000 accounts tied to terrorism in 2017

“Twitter, under pressure from governments around the world to combat online extremism, said that improving automation tools are helping block accounts that promote terrorism and violence.

Twitter-Ban“In the first half of the year, Twitter said it suspended nearly 300,000 accounts globally linked to terrorism. Of those, roughly 95 per cent were identified by the company’s spam-fighting automation tools. Meanwhile, the social network said government data requests continued to increase, and that it provided authorities with data on roughly 3,900 accounts from January to June.

“Twitter, along with Facebook and YouTube, are instead building automation tools that quickly spot troublesome content. Facebook has roughly 7,500 people who screen for troublesome videos and posts.

“It’s also funded groups that produce anti-extremism content that’s circulated on the social network.

“American authorities made 2,111 requests from Twitter from January to June, the most of the 83 countries tracked by the company.

“Twitter supplied information on users in 77 per cent of the inquiries. Japan made 1,384 requests and the UK issued 606 requests. Turkish authorities continued a trend of aggressively policing Twitter, making 554 requests for account data and issuing court orders to remove 715 pieces of content. Other governments made only 38 total content-removal requests.”

Seems the word “aggressive” only applies to Turkey. Wonder what those other governments are doing with the information supplied by Twitter?