I am taking taxis several times a week in Istanbul. I use these as an opportunity to take pulse of the different political views in Turkey. What I came to realize today is why despite an intensive period of government scandals and anti-democratic behaviors the public’s significant portion is still voting for this government. I believe that the AKP is masterfully exploiting and intensifying a fracture in people’s mind. This fracture became clear to me during my taxi conversation today. It is a rupture between a defeatist, egotistical ‘everybody in the country is exploiting other for their personal gain’ versus a visionary, communal ‘I want to be a virtuous person and live in community’.
Today I was talking about the recent Soma mining disaster that shock Turkey. My cab driver lamented the loss of human life and the farce of safety audits. He gave an example from his time in military when one week in advance the amphibian unit in Foca was told that General Kenan Evren would come for an inspection. Everything was cleaned and tidied up; even the food was improved. Coincidentally General Evren sat across my cab driver on that inspection day over lunch and asked him how the food was? In youthful excitement my cab driver said: “It is much better today thanks to your arrival.” The attending senior officers froze; a whole week of preparation and then the ultimate embarrassment by an insignificant soldier. The general rhetorical commented: “come on it is always good.” To my cab driver this is indicative of a culture of how people in Turkey deal with inspection. He said that the general himself having risen from low ranks knew that the inspection would tidy up and improve the food; so his question and inspection were all a show. He never intended to have a serious audit which should benefit everyone. And the same theatre script is going on in Turkey for decades throughout institutions.
I got this story as a response to my comment that the responsible energy minister still had to resign. His ministry had given flying colors and top grades to the mine and he himself commented on the top condition of the mine. My cab driver was giving me the message that he didn’t see any value in the resignation. Just as his military story showed everybody is playing the system knowingly.
He also asks who we would vote in alternative to the prime minister. This exposed another weak spot. The lack of an alternative; not any alternative but one that purposefully plays to the good and communal side of people. Though I didn’t come to expect this the cab driver showed me this side of his too. He told me the story of him paying his taxes and social security contributions always on time over the past decades. He lamented how he was mocked by his friends for being so diligent following the law. Many of them he said had benefited from general tax amnesties and were able to claim retirement benefits with one payment. The same politicians granting amnesty did nothing to reward the people who were honest, e.g. giving them extra benefits. In essence the amnesty made the honest person an idiot. This hurts the taxi driver as much is hurts Turkey. And the damage goes beyond missed payments but a sustained damage to the perceived quality and justice of public institutions.
Despite the rhetoric of the AKP to make the public belief that they provide the best proposition for Turkey I think there is a ‘market’ for a better Turkey. A Turkey in which people want to trust in a state that administers their taxes well, represents the diverse views of people and acts as an non-partisans, rule-of-law based arbitrator. A Turkey in which people can nurture the virtuous side and get encouraged to make decisions that benefit them and their communities.
The current opposition parties seem to me completely absent-minded of such a vision. And without anyone holding up a vision that people like my cab driver long for these same people hide their longing away in their hearts and resort to the exploitative grill fest that the AKP is masterfully heating up.
It is our generation who is now tasked with the biggest revolution in modern Turkish history. It is a struggle analogous to the one fought by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his generation. Only that now this is a struggle with the internal demons not external ones; a fight against selfishness and exploitation and a fight for community, individual prosperity and virtuousness. If we can speak to this good side credibly the AKP’s poisonous rhetoric of ‘kopar ne kopara bilirsen’ (take with you what you can get) will find a real alternative. Turkish people love their country; let’s speak to that vision of an oasis of democracy for health, dignity, prosperity and justice.