A September 2019 interview with leading Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran about her book How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship:
Today, right-wing populism, authoritarianism and neo-fascism are coming from different places. Reality TV stars, strange men, and people who otherwise would be considered national jokes. Many of today’s right-wing populist leaders are political figures that nobody really took seriously from the beginning. Nobody expected that neo-fascism could take hold with swagger, in such a laid-back manner.
To understand why these phenomena are creeping back into our world, you have to look for the roots. Neoliberalism has- since the 1970s- imposed this idea that the free-market economy is the best (and most ethical) system humanity can come up with to organise itself. Neoliberalism changed the definition of what human fundamental morals are, and what justice means – and it’s created a new kind of being. It tends to be the extreme examples of neoliberal being that disgusts, appalls and surprises us – but those are also the people who have become the leaders of our world.
The neoliberalist model has been put forward as a solution to which there is no alternative; we’ve crippled the political spectrum, cut the left away, and shifted everything to the right. Politics has become a competition, who can be further right – and who can further deliver numbing of the mind through consumerism – after all… people are only allowed to be free when they consume, and thus we are political objects, not political subjects…
Politics has become entertainment – and people feel like their opinions do not matter any more… this became clear after the Iraq invasion when millions of people took to the streets of Europe, and saw that their call for peace meant nothing. Now? people carry this sense of being a political object as a badge of honour – they want strong powerful men to be in charge… they want bold action like the suspension of parliament…. There is an incredible willingness to be shepherded and that’s only because we’ve lost faith in democracy, in politics and ourselves as political subjects.
“The de-politicisation of media has also emboldened all of this – the obsession with objectivity has become a substitute for neutrality. The vast majority of the world’s mainstream media have become obsessed with being neutral, and have done so at the cost of forgetting their main job – holding power to account, asking questions to power, and giving a voice to the voiceless. In many ways, the media have become their own class – an elite of sorts… that has cut ties with unions and politics…”
Q: Are we seeing the consequences of people not being politically educated and engaged?
[Ece Temelkuran]: The day after the UK referendum, people said, ‘…oh, we didn’t know it was actually going to be counted!’ it was horrible to see that. Those same people are going to have to learn every single detail about politics soon, they’re going to have to learn about the rules of parliaments, the departments of Westminster, how democracy works… they will have to learn to get democracy back in order.
“During the 1970s there was a war on politics in our education system – a zeitgeist was imposed such that politics was seen as dirty, boring, unnecessary. It became the norm for people to say ‘I hate politics!’ without realising that is actually one of the most political statements that can be made. If you say ‘I hate politics!’ you are removing yourself from the public sphere, and are rejecting the ability to be a political subject. You are submitting yourself to a higher order, a powerful ruler…”
We are seeing this happen extremely fast in Britain and the United States. People are losing their basic rights as citizens… We experienced this in Turkey too – it was an earthquake hit our houses and we realised we hadn’t done enough to keep the walls strong…
Democracy is a very young concept, and as humanity, we are still trying to create democracy, we are still trying to understand democracy…. We have to keep our eyes open.