Towards political orthodoxy in Turkey - labelling opposition aid as evil

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused opposition-run municipalities of attempting to form a "parallel state" by launching their own charity drives to help low-income households during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The Interior Ministry blocked municipal COVID-19 aid campaigns on March 31 and opened an investigation into those run by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayors of Ankara and Istanbul last week.

Erdoğan has launched his own nationwide fundraising campaign.

In fact, the insistence by Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that only its campaigns and services are legitimate predates the coronavirus, and has intensified over the last six to seven months.

This situation is not surprising in terms of the course of the authoritarianism in Turkey. If authoritarianism thrives without any obstacles, it comes to the stage of becoming political orthodoxy.

At this point, it becomes unacceptable to even to run charity campaigns independently.

As can be understood from the word, orthodoxy is a concept that political science takes from religious literature. Whether an action is good or bad is not perceived as an adequate criterion - who took the action and its purpose are also taken into account.

For example, it is an orthodox thought in many religions that an atheist cannot go to heaven, no matter how much good they do. We have transferred this approach to political science: No matter how much good you do, this does not count unless you do it for the government or the leader.

In political orthodoxy, good and evil are now about who takes an action. This was best expressed by George Orwell in “1984”, where the protagonist is tortured by the authorities into accepting their statement that "two plus two is five". 

"Distributing free bread to the poor is a crime" is a similar example. According to this understanding, it is naturally considered a crime now in Turkey for an opposition mayor to distribute bread or build a field hospital.

The CHP's strong showing in the latest local elections has triggered a response from the ruling AKP towards political orthodoxy in Turkey.

The CHP has long struggled electorally outside of its traditional strongholds. However, winning the country’s major municipalities in Istanbul and Ankara had revived the party’s political importance and standing, and it now poses more of a challenge to the AKP’s dominance.

It is not possible for the government - which is economically exhausted and whose intellectual discourse has lost its broad appeal - to take a coherent stand against Ankara's CHP Mayor Mansur Yavaş when he promises support to low-income residents during the coronavirus outbreak. But the AKP, who have become wholly absorbed in political orthodoxy, no longer believe that the opposition can perform any well-intentioned actions.

All components of the opposition bloc are now completely demonised by the government. The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has already been declared an enemy by the government, with scores of its mayors removed by government decree and many of its members being prosecuted under spurious terror allegations.

By accusing the CHP-run municipalities of Ankara and Istanbul of establishing a "parallel state", it shows that all the opposition is now being regarded in similar terms to the HDP.

It should not be forgotten that CHP mayors were selected in the last local elections by the supporters of the nationalist Good (İYİ) Party and the Islamist Felicity (Saadet) Party, as well as the HDP. So the implication that those who distribute free bread are “traitors” essentially denies the legitimacy of the entire opposition.

All of us have seen videos of the presidents of deeply authoritarian countries such as North Korea and Turkmenistan applauded by the people. This coerced “applause” is the most advanced stage of political orthodoxy.

In this way, the authorities are saying: It is treacherous to criticise the government. Being neutral is also treason. Silence is also treason. Even supporting the government may not save you. The only legitimate thing is to give huge support to the government.

Turkey is certainly not North Korea. But almost every Turkish official who speaks on television now begins by saying “in accordance with the instructions of our president…”. This conveys the message that every good action in Turkey is down to the president.

What makes the situation stranger is that many religious people are not bothered by the president being being treated like a god.

However, this habit, which is a reflection of political orthodoxy, will soon make it impossible to take any action without saying "thanks to the instructions of the president".

Naturally, this reflection of political orthodoxy in Turkey's daily life gives a strange image.