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29 December

Turkey and the Einstein asylum

Support for a free media is no liberal whinge but a warning not to back off the cliff

New Year’s is no less a ritual in Turkey than elsewhere in the world-- despite some shouts of “bah humbug” by conservatives who pour cold water on a celebration they see as aping the consumerist traditions of Christmas. For all these piously correct attempts to treat the first of January as just another day, the symbolism of replanting hopes and expectations in the ashes of the year just spent is simply too powerful. 
Yet there will be many in Turkey who will have trouble convincing themselves, even as they count the seconds down to midnight, that the act of clearing out the old and welcoming in the new is a futile project. The country seems caught in what Einstein defined as insanity -- expecting a better outcome by repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
Certainly the past year has witnessed a painful downward spiral with policy makers determined not just to commit new mistakes, but to undo past reforms. A decade ago the country appeared to be grooming itself for a regional role through the example it set as an emerging democracy. It is the big economy that had a stake in the peace and prosperity of its neighbourhood to which it could export goods and services. Now what influence Turkey retains is through the fear it inspires in its traditional allies of a capacity for self-harm.  
Turkey is becoming more isolated in the international arena through foreign policies that have palpably failed. There is no longer any point in mocking the prime minister’s strategy of “zero problems” with neighbours. It is not simply that Turkey faces a universe of hostility across its eastern borders but that it appears to have re-engaged in a war of attrition within its own. A government that once understood it could not solve the aspirations of its Kurdish population with a show of force now believes more force is the only answer.  There are now internal migrants, soldiers and citizens dying in the streets of southeast Turkey, and cities virtually under siege.
The economy while not in tatters is increasingly immune to good news. There is a drive and resiliency to Turkish business but this is being undermined by cronyism and disrespect for the rule of law. Many suspect the government’s commitment to a second generation of reform is mere political posturing while it relies on environmentally depleting mega projects to keep the economy abuzz. And while many of the nations of the world tried to engage in Paris with project of climate change, the whole issue appears to have passed Turkey by.
The only solution that Turkey appears to have to its problems is to leave them underreported.  There is now an entire section of the media that is well-trained in the art of looking the other way. Even a recent mortar attack on the apron of a major Istanbul airport was largely ignored. Journalists and publications willing to stick out their necks find themselves in court. Ordinary citizens who moan about politicians on Twitter can find themselves in the dock.
As P24, our analysis remains that a society incapable of introspection is destined to remain trapped by its own mistakes. A government over-confident in its ability to spin the news is unprepared to confront the stark realities it cannot control.  Our support for a free and independent media is not a liberal whinge but a warning shout to a Turkey backing over a cliff.
And if we seem reluctant to uncork the New Year’s champagne it is because we are beginning to see ourselves as candidates for the Einstein asylum. Should we keep saying the same thing over and over again in the hopes that this time someone is listening?

Tags: p24 , einstein , turkey , goverment ,


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