2020 year of massive, surrealistic repression under social fatigue - Prof Hamit Bozarslan / EHESS

Ahval’s Yavuz Baydar spoke with Dr Hamit Bozarslan, from Paris’s School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS), to assess Turkish domestic and foreign policy issues as 2020 draws to a close.

In 2020, Turkey continued a process of paramilitarisation and radicalisation that started in 2018, according to Bozarslan, with “kleptomaniac” cliques popping up around President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a cartel of various political and paramilitary consolidating around his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The cartels include both Turkish ultra-nationalist/racist groups, such as Erdoğan’s minor coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and pro-Russia ones that support Russian President Vladimir Putin, the professor said.

The Erdoğan regime has taken to social engineering and management through “internal and external crises in the Caucasus, of course, but also in Libya, and the eastern Mediterranean,” he said.

There is a certain social fatigue that has emerged among Turkish society, which can be explained by various factors.

The COVID-19 coronavirus crisis has revealed that the government deliberately lied to its own population, Bozarslan said. The regime is “still there, but probably a bit weaker – or at least its policy of managing society through crisis has reached a point of saturation.”

This year has been a “year of massive and surrealistic repression,” Bozarslan said, which was the government signalling that it had no limits and that it could go much further, unbound by domestic or international law.

Society’s benchmarks have been destroyed and the people’s connection to their own past and future, their relation to space and time has been destroyed – for instance, in the coronavirus crisis, society saw Turkish Medical Association (TTB) criminalised and accused of treason while the government hid the true impact of the pandemic, Bozarslan said.

The professor said that while Erdoğan spoke of reforms, and in the same breath, said prominent prisoners would never be released from detention because they were terrorists - the president has also said he wanted better relations with its allies, including with Europe, but an actual analysis of his words revealed that what he truly wanted was for Europe to “capitulate to Turkey.”

Many regimes in the Arab world have also used their own societal fatigues as a way of managing societies, so has Putin, Bozarslan said. 

Explaining that a political alternative to the Erdoğan regime would be extremely difficult to cultivate, Bozarslan said:

“Social fatigue means that while people can understand what has happened and be angry, they aren’t any more able to create a political alternative, or contest, or to create spaces for discussion, exchange or elaboration of ideas. Everybody is unhappy, but they are unhappy alone and at home, in limited circles.”