It was pointed out a few days ago that a country’s unwillingness to confront its past can facilitate a process which might lead to an authoritarian state. It might, however, be interesting to look at how this process evolves. That is not always easy for as Ece Temelkuran’s rightly points out it is a “schleichender mit blößem Auge kaum wahrnehmbarer Prozess” (a creeping process that is difficult to perceive with the naked eye) (Temelkuran E.: 49).
This is something most Historians would agree on and in their book ‘Soldaten’ Harald Welzer and Sönke Neitzel hit the nail on the head when they point out that the Germany that people woke up to on the 30th of January, 1933 was no different from the Germany from the day before. Therefore, it might be useful to have a brief look at how the “creeping process” can start and to one aspect of the process of “Gleichschaltung” (coordination) that took place in Germany between 1933 and 1937, before turning our intentions to Turkey.
from the 4th of february 1933 was used to initiate a process which began with Germany’s oppositional and independent media being brought to heel and culminated with the passing, on October 4th 1933, and implementation, on the 1st of January 1934, of the “Schriftleitergesetz” (Editorial Law), which effectively put all of the press under the control of the dictatorship.
A key date in the process was the 28th of february 1933, when, the decree “zur Abwehr kommunistischer und staatsgefährdender Gewaltakte” (decree for protection against communist and other acts of violence against the state), made it clear who the first targets in the process were to be. On that day the Communist and Social Democratic presses were closed down and the National Socialist publishing houses took over their property. This, is important because, even if it was to be expected that the process would begin with the Social Democrats and Communists, many of whom ended up in exile or in a concentration camp, it should have been clear to everyone even at that stage that this was only the beginning of a process, which would end in Martin Niemoller’s, “als sie mich holten, gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte” (when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out).
The “creeping process” in Turkey can be traced back to the 2013 anti-government protests. However, with the “Gleichschaltung” of the “top-selling opposition newspaper, Zaman”, it is clear that the process has already entered a new phase, which was further emphasised with today’s “seizure of the Cihan news Agency” However, it was, no doubt, a phase that the journalists and editorial staff at both these media outlets expected after their criticism of the suspension of the İMC TV channel from the state-owned Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat) a few days ago. That is probably the most positive aspect of this. In Turkey people still are speaking out. Indeed, as one journalist said today, it isn’t about speaking out, it’s about doing your job.
These are dangerous times in a Turkey where insulting Erdogan can lead to criminal prosecution, where riot police forcibly break up a rally of “women gathering in Istanbul to mark International Women’s Day”, where journalists are being attacked on a daily basis and where, rather than confront the demons of the past, all traces of a less savory past are removed and the new sultan goes in search of his glorious “Yeni Osmanlıcılık”. Indeed, these are dangerous times for all of us as neo-ottomanism holds us all to ransom over a conflict which could be quickly resolved if European powers clamped down on Turkey bombing and sending weapons and mercenaries into Syria. Nevertheless, today it is in “Erdogan’s Reich”that the more immediate threat of Martin Niemoller’s “when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out” exists. Today, they are coming for them and we should all be speaking out.