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The RTE Effect: How Turkey Turned into an Advanced Democracy

For anyone with even a passing interest in political science, Turkey has long been a rich source of material for serious contemplation. However, the result of the Istanbul mayoralty contest in the 2019 Turkish local elections – a narrow win for the Nation Alliance candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu – may yet be recorded as one of the most remarkable global political developments of the twenty-first century to date. It potentially heralds nothing less than the emergence of an extraordinarily sophisticated voting public – an entity which has been created in no small measure by the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdoğan may seem like an unlikely author of this particular chapter of democratic evolution, but close examinations of his actions reveal an historical trajectory that – with hindsight – appears designed to make politics interesting again. This trajectory has five stages:

  1. Great Governance. It may seem unthinkable now, but not so long ago Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was a figure from near the periphery of the Turkish political scene. Essentially, he was perceived by the establishment of the 1990s as a ‘deplorable’ who possessed a dangerous gift for reaching out beyond his natural constituencies of the urban poor and various shades of neo-Islamists. Accordingly, Erdoğan’s rise to power was fiercely resisted by the system; nevertheless, he transcended their limitations, culminating in his nascent AKP political movement sweeping into office towards the end of 2002.
  2. Destroy to Build. Having shown up the propaganda of one establishment – an unthinkingly laicist one – for being fundamentally vacuous, Erdoğan then set about dismantling this establishment’s structures. In particular, his courageous neutralising of the military in the context of civilian affairs provided some much-needed breathing space; further liberalisation of the economy – a process begun in the 1980s under his loose spiritual predecessor Turgut Özal – helped imbue Turkish society with a more international orientation.
  3. Counterproductive Consolidation. With economic success and relative political stability being repeatedly rewarded at the polls, Erdoğan began to act like a statesman enamoured with his own hype; step-by-step, power was centralised, with the vast new presidential palace complex constructed in Ankara’s Beştepe neighbourhood a giant physical manifestation of a deeper malaise. Unquestioning loyalty became the supreme virtue as a new iteration of a very old form of political organisation took hold.
  4. Staring in the Mirror. Perhaps the most obvious problem with the architecture of single-man rule – at least from the perspective of the person gripping the levers of power – is that when the permanent human invariability of things going wrong rears its ugly head, there is but one prime candidate to pin the blame on. With some pathos, Erdoğan has resorted to further command-and-control-style centralisation at a time when a cooler tactician would seek to deliberately devolve power away from himself.
  5. Children of the Revolution. The great paradox is that large sections of the Turkish public – much like the Erdoğan of the turn of the millennium – have learnt to see straight through previously dominant state-authored, corporation-disseminated narratives. Political infomercials on free-to-air television channels – even when broadcast wall-to-wall – simply do not have the effect that they once did, and the election of İmamoğlu illustrates that this perspicacity traverses traditional ideological and religious lines. Ironically, through trying to superimpose the ‘solutions’ of the 1980s onto the extraordinarily complex landscape of the 2010s, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sent his nation’s political evolution into warp drive mode; unprecedentedly rerunning elections is only going to speed this process up yet further.

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Full-Spectrum Domination: Turkish Clubs Own Women’s Club Volleyball! #Vakıfbank

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Giving You Wings: Air Albania Gets Ready for Take-Off!

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Women’s Volleyball Final Result: Turks Conquer Europe – Again!

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Action Replay: Turkey Provides Volleyball’s Female European Champions Yet Again!

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Road to Nowhere: Istanbul #College ‘Faces Death By Cement’!

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Does Marmaray Represent the Ultimate in Irrational Rationality?

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 12.22.18With December well underway and the world about to be deluged in annual retrospectives, it seems as a good a time as any to reflect on what history will judge as the Really Significant Moments from this year. In the realm of public transportation, one moment stands out amongst many: the opening of Marmaray, the metro line that links the two halves of Istanbul and in so doing facilitates intercontinental rail travel between Europe and Asia.

This unique project – which has been on the agenda of Istanbul at various points since the nineteenth century – is undoubtedly of historic value, and in conjunction with other public transport initiatives being undertaken in Eurasia’s largest metropolis should do much to alleviate traffic congestion. However, we at Mediolana confess to having one serious reservation about Marmaray above and beyond those which have already been raised about its safety, timing and financing: the McDonaldization of one of the world’s most beautiful journeys.

Crossing the Bosphorus by sea is one of the most enchanting urban transportation experiences in the world. With Istanbul enjoying a climate that is sunny more often than not, the views across this body of water are sublime: the historical peninsula of the city was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985, and taking in some of the most famous architectural gems ever to be constructed over a glass of Turkish tea is, for many, the quintessential Istanbul experience. And the whole thing takes no more than around twenty minutes.

With Marmaray, one can now traverse the seaway between Asia and Europe in a mere four minutes by entering the system at either one of Ayrılıkçeşmesi (Asia) or Kazlıçeşme (Europe) and departing at the relevant counterpart. A transcendent and symbolic journey has been reduced to four minutes in a dark, noisy tunnel. This is like the public transportation equivalent of microwaved food: quick, convenient and with all the nutritional sustenance and meaning of cardboard.

Istanbul is a city that for far too long has been at the mercy of cars, property speculators and corrupt administrators. In this context, public transportation projects, particularly those that reduce the commuting times of the ordinary denizens of Istanbul, are more than welcome. But could Marmaray not have been constructed in a different way? Would it have been impossible to build it overground, near one of the two existing Bosphorus crossings so as to minimise its environmental impact, so that one of the world’s great aesthetic and ultimately spiritual accomplishments would not have been marginalised? Or is Istanbul to be just another victim of an all-smothering rationalism that has a profoundly irrational edge?

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