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“I want to dedicate this award to Turkey, my beautiful and lonely country I love with passion” said Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the Turkish film director, as he received the best director award in Cannes Film Festival of 2008. This was in May. And two days ago, on July 27 2008 to be exact, two bombs exploded in the Güngören neighborhood of İstanbul, killing, so far, 17 people, and leaving more than a hundred wounded. Since I learned the explosions, I can’t help but repeat the phrase “my beautiful and lonely country”. It keeps floating inside my head, hitting occasionally the walls of my perception but mainly remaining in that territory which is between understanding and intuition.

“my beautiful and lonely country”…

Bombs and/or terror related attacks are hardly news for Turkey anymore. Just two weeks ago some people who the police claimed were members of Al Qaida, wanted to attack the US embassy in Istanbul, leaving three cops dead. Killing and the language of war is no news either. Not a month passes without the military proudly expressing how many terrorists it killed by its super technological killing machines. Bombs, killings, terror, military operations, Islamists and seculars, the lost piece in the puzzle of mild Islam, a stage for the overdose kemalists to display and put into action their bloody plans… and amidst all these, a country who lost its soul, if it ever had one, lost that “it” that makes a country lovely, rather than lonely. Amidst all the fanfare, a country which is so lonely, yet still beautiful.  

I have been living in the US for the last 7 years and it seems I will be here for the immediate years to come. I am an in between soul who would miss turkey a lot when I’m in the US and would start to complain about it big time as soon as I land on Turkish soil. I do want to go back one day however. There is the place that feeds me, that is the place I feel I belong ultimately. Is it not sad, and in some ways weird, that the urge to go back to my homeland hits its peak in such days as July 27, 2008; on such days when the land bleeds, so to speak. On this type of days, I remember, and despise more than ever, my relatives’ and friends’ friendly “warnings” that Turkey is no good and I should stay in the US as much as I can.

There is no easy explanation for this. From the perspective of the “rational man”, this does not make any sense. Dying due to an explosion is much more likely in Turkey than in the US. I’m not even talking about more mundane stuff such as academic freedom, or the problem of scarce resources in the academia. Whatever comparison you come up with, Turkey comes short. And so it is clear that this desire to go back is not “rational”. Even though I can think of moments where it could be more rational for some people, It is about something else in my case.

It may be about guilt. The guilt that arises from the subtle innuendo placed in those friendly “warnings” urging me to stay in the US. “you saved yourself” they would say, “don’t come back, we’ll take care of ourselves here.” That guilt is nothing, of course, compared to what I feel towards myself and my loved ones. In certain ways, here I’m depriving of myself of my language, culture, codes, etc. But more than that.. The thought of death frequents my thoughts on these issues of staying or leaving. And it is in these days of “terror” that we see, most shockingly, that death is near. It’s around the corner. For myself, for my family, for my friends… It could be anytime. The relatively well protected lives of ours are in many ways an illusion. Especially in a place like Turkey, it could be anytime… That moment when you realize this is the hardest and that moment is the one that pulls you so strongly to where you call home. As cold as it sounds, you want to be next to them when that happens.

One other thing however is that the more you stay away, the more you start to look at your country from outside. You start comparing it with others. I start noticing, since I came here, that Turkey as an exception in the middle east is not quite the point. The attacks in Lebanon, which remain unsolved forever, are not in fact very much different from what has just happened in Istanbul. A game is being played, messages are being given, but there is no way to understand for the lay people to understand. Welcome to the foggy landscape of the middle east (featuring turkey!).

On the one hand, there is of course great virtue in this. What, after all, is social science if you cannot take a distance from your object of analysis? If I am a sociology student studying Turkey, I of course need that type of a distance. But you also lose something in that process. Part of me, as someone who constantly looks himself from outside, does just not want this to happen. Let’s not lose it, let’s keep it as it is. Let’s despise the country, hate from it, and love it at the same time. Let’s feel all these but not surrender to the cold blooded outsidedness of an outsider. Because what it slowly chips away from you is the passion, the desire to do something, even if you know that that something is utterly meaningless.

To be fair (to being outside), this feeling also has to do with beginning to understand politics in a multidimensional frame. It is about learning politics and gaining that vision that the discipline gives you. But it is also about understanding that that lonely country is not so lonely after all, which is also something a sincere course on the history of the middle east would tell you. So many different global powers are interfering with the people and so many different and slippery coalitions are forged and so many of them fail everyday. It’s a total mess. But Turkey is still lonely, because she is trapped in various chains, her history, her ultra nationalist vibes, the repuclic’s fear of religion and Kurds and non muslims… Is loneliness not, after all, a state of entrapment? But this is exactly the point: part of what makes this country beautiful is this feeling of loneliness.

I tried to find an ending for this essay, which indeed is more like a stream of thoughts than an essay, but I failed. There is no end in sight (anyway).

This is the final piece on elections consulting as an overly instrumentalized technology. I briefly (yes very briefly indeed!) explained in the previous two posts how I came to this issue and what I think is fascinating, yet alarming, about it. I ended my last post with Emma Goldman’s famous quote, “if elections really mattered, they’d make it illegal”, suggesting that elections consulting is a technology that makes sure that, among other things, important things are not discussed and thrown out of the mainstream discourse. Let me elaborate on this point.

My point, finally, is that election consulting or campaign management is part of a larger elections machine, which is run by experts such as campaign managers, but also, less visibly by media people, and also, not surprisingly by the people (voters) who participate in this system. Sınmazdemir is right on point in his recent intervention: election consulting, or campaign management technology cannot work without people’s active participation. In this sense, we are part of a larger system (of power). But that doesn’t mean that some people’s words are not more important than others. They are. In this sense, for instance there is a class of people, pundits, managers, etc. who are out there making money out of this endeavor. This is their market, so to speak and they have the power to run, influence, shape, or shake the market they are working in. Similarly, they have a power to set the agenda. By claiming the power to represent what people think (and by claiming that they are doing this as neutral experts) these people in fact contribute to the shaping of the very preferences they argue they are representing. The medium, so to speak, constitutes the message.

They have specific tools to do their craft. In this last primary season, for instance, they relied heavily on polling, electronic representation of the primary results. These tools, if we follow Foucault, are not just neutral tools but they do participate in the making of the power they are used in. In this sense we are faced with a fully computerized system presenting itself as cutting edge, exact and predictable. Statistics is similarly devised to further strengthen the scientificty, or scientific appeal, of the election coverage. (ABC is now ready to predict XXX as the winner of this primary, please log on to www.abcnews.com to learn about how we predict the outcome.) The whole system revolves around prediction yet an informed prediction, appearing very scientific. Calculability, and prediction appear to be the essential selling points of the system. 

Most importantly, there is no where outside of this system. There is no place to evaluate whether this system is a successful representation of the reality out there. (That place does not exist for anything, anyway).  But we can see that this is a closed system where evaluation of the system is also being done by the people who earn their living from this system. So eventually, even though there may be problems with individual campaigns, the system works well. Not to mention, of course, that this system is closely related to the dominant two party system of the country. It makes sure that debates are framed according to the logic of that system. It makes sure to downplay the importance of radical politics, makes sure to picture Ralph Nader as a grumpy old man who stole the election from Gore, etc.

The comparison between Turkey and Sebahat Tuncel’s visit was important because it showed  that election consulting machine, or basically elections machine in the United States, cannot work elsewhere if this market, or this machine is not set up as it is set up here in the US. Of course there are great many differences between nations and the first rule of comparative politics is that nothing works the same in another country. But that’s exactly the interesting thing about elections consulting people going global. Normally, they are not supposed to be masters of politics in other countries, but I assume thanks to technology, globalization and the exporting of everything American to the rest of the world, now the idea that American style elections consulting can work in other parts of the globe is being exported elsewhere. So we can say that the campaign consulting people contribute to the creation of the individual subjects and politics they are supposed to find. They are, in other words, institutional entrepreneurs who not only find the demand, but create the demand. Certainly, this is a much more complex process but we see the beginnings of process of homogenization of the language in which politics is being talked about. We will see how far this new trend will continue, but it is apparent that one of the many influences that create such homogenization is the elections consulting people.

Lastly, following Foucault, I can say that this is a system of power with no real sovereign.  Sınmazdemir is right again: none of this is a conspiracy. I’m not suggesting that, “they” are running everything. They, the ones at the commanding heights of this system, are part of the machine, too. But they are more equal, so to speak and their discourses more authoritative. But, in response to Sınmazdemir’s point, I still think that there is a “they” out there. Not in the technological sense, these pundits, journalists, etc. are not the “real power” and yes we are all in this system and we all participate in the creation of this visual democracy. But I think due to reading too much rational choice, Sınmazdemir seems to have forgotten all those great things he mentioned he had read before. 

At the very least, we know that elections have lost their meaning in the post 1980 period. (Even Fareed Zakaria, himself one of those from the “pundit class” wrote about these things –Democracy without Democrats, etc.). Except for maybe a couple of places such as Venezuela, or Bolivia, elections do not mean much anymore. In Turkey for instance the governing party got an overwhelming support from the poor and lower middle class. Yet it is the party that is following, most ruthlessly, the neoliberal agenda that further impoverished the already poor segments of the population. In the United States, it is claimed that a majority of the population is against the war and Obama started his campaign with a promise to end the war in Iraq. But recently it is becoming all too clear that his withdrawal from Iraq would not mean much because he plans to expand the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (http://www.alternet.org/story/91645/) This is yet another story in which elections do not seem to change things and things are going back to things as usual.

The point is, and I will finish with this, elections become about appearances, flagpins, etc. more than anything else. Unimportant issues, little problems… Scandals, juicy stories about politicians sell, and while they are sold by the election people that I was talking about, “real” issues are not discussed. Now you can say of course that what is real is what is manufactured by those people in the media, etc. So if there is no outside to this system, then there is no criticism of what’s being discussed on media because it is the reality. I disagree. The fact that this system does not have clear sovereigns does not mean that it is beyond criticism, and if social science is about anything, it is about changing something (next to understanding of course). Even the recent mortgage crisis is discussed in a very distant way as if it does not touch people’s lives and this is a problem, a big problem. I’m not even talking about the lack of any deliberate discussion on the problems with this whole economic system and how it drains life out of people. There is no language even for important things. Now this is the wonderfully elusive but very explanatory and strong notion of “ideology”. And election consultants as well as the elections industry (maybe this is the name) contribute to the construction of this ideological hegemony systematically.  

 

 

Who are “they”?

Just to make this whole blogging thing juicier and also to kick off the lively debate that this blog is supposed to generate, I want to ask my co-blogger Turem and also Erbal a set of deliberately nasty questions about the Emma Goldman quote that he puts at the end of his previous entry: “If voting could change anything, they would make it illegal.” Yes, my initial reaction to this quote was the same as it would have been maybe five-six years ago; I did appreciate it; I did share the intuition that Goldman was suggesting; I said, this is exactly true; things never quite change via elections; they usually don’t lead to any substantial changes in policies. But….

Yes, I have a long but…Because after a brief period of intellectual satisfaction that those of you who have read the classics of social sciences and philosophy would know very well -the “aha!” moment of discovery which happens each time you experience a beautiful correspondence between your prior understanding of something and the written text in front of you that presumably clarifies that issue for you and gives you a sense of enlightenment-, the skeptic side of mine started bugging my sense of intellectual comfort.

Let me start by elaborating on the “they”. As a social science Ph.D., I can’t help but ask who these “they” are; where their power comes from to make things illegal and what the things are that they make illegal which we would prefer to be legal. Yes, I used to have a huge confidence in the presence of “Power” (as you notice, with a capital P) in shaping all kinds of human relations; but as of now, I am more suspicious about this quite cynical stance that all these nitty gritty details of politics and any political institutional innovation such as elections are nothing more than a fake construct that at the end would not lead to any changes as long as it would be harmful to those who hold the strings of power in a society.

First, I am suspicious because it  seems to me that the “they” does not have a “we” that stands in opposition to it; i.e. if there is a change we long for and if it does not happen, then we should also look for our own share in the maintenance of the status quo. I am not trying to give a lecture on individual morality but my point is that the notion of the agent “they” -which is supposedly doing the work of maintaining the status quo benefiting the powerful here- is somewhere out there independent and outside of “us” whoever “we” are sounds quite tenuous to me. I do have the prior belief here that each and everyone of us has his/her share in the maintenance of the status quo in various ways; and I do believe that a creative, independent move of opposition would immediately receive attention and induce some changes immediately. If this is not happening, then it is probably not because of “they” but because of us. Obama would be an obvious example here; at least so far…

Second, also empirically, I am not so sure if the elections are as irrelevant as this quotation implies. There is a substantial body of evidence that tells us that suffrage extensions have brought about significant changes in social spending and income distribution meaning that elections have mattered at least in the recent history of political modernization.

And, thirdly, -and I guess this is one of the critical issues related not only to this particular quote but also to the whole discussion of the politics of expertise we started last week- it seems to me that the question of the proper understanding of democracy in today’s complex world is the underlying theme here. As Schumpeter claimed more than 60 years ago in his “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”, I share his intuition that “the average citizen expands less disciplined effort on mastering a problem than he expends on a game of bridge.” So, it is becoming increasingly true in today’s world that elections are not opportunities where citizens choose the policies that they wish to be implemented but rather, they only choose the politicians who they think should make the decisions of policy. And, then it requires only one more step to move from here to the world of elections experts, campaign advisors that tell you what to say, wear and when to cry during an election campaign. I am not sure if all these things happen because “they” want it to be so or this happens because of some structural causes or causes that follow from the logic of the ways in which modern societies function. Here, the first thing that comes to my mind is the immense amount of division of labour that so much of the modern advances in all kinds of fields depend on. I can not imagine a world where this would not be the case and given this inevitability, I don’t see how and why the idea of the politics of expertise can be rejected in toto. Which brings me to my bottom line -Oh my God, I am getting too much Americanized, bottom line?- that is, one needs to think about the proper boundaries of the politics of expertise; one needs to think of ways of “taming” it, so to speak, as it has been the case with all kinds of human innovations over the course of human history, technological or institutional.

Couple months ago, on February 29th 2008 to be exact, Sebahat Tuncel, a Kurdish deputy from the Democratic Society Party of Turkey, delivered a speech entitled “the Condition of Struggle for Democratic Rights and Liberties in Turkey” at the City University of New York. Ms. Tuncel  is one of the active names of the Democratic Society Party and its efforts to bring about a just and peaceful settlement to the Kurdish issue of Turkey and the war between Turkish army and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK as it is known with the Turkish acronym).

I was present in the well attended talk and so was my fellow blogger Sınmazdemir. After the talk, I remember exchanging with him my disappointment about the speech. My disappointment, which was shared by my neighbor blogger, was twofold: on the one hand, the big ideals that were voiced (and naturally applauded by almost all the people- including myself of course) by Tuncel seemed to be only that, grand ideals –such as peace, solidarity, women’s rights, protection of the planet, etc. How we could get to those ideals was not problematized by her (at least in the speech). This, I/we took to be the continuation of old style of politics in a new era. Turkey lived with what is now called “the grand narratives”, projects of changing the society, etc. in the pre 1980 era, and part of Tuncel’s speech seemed to take its inspiration and energy from such a rhetoric of politics. The second disappointment, on the other hand, was that her speech seemed a bit messy (and disorganized, shall I say). We could not exactly understand what the point of her giving a speech at CUNY was. Who was her target audience? Why was she giving that speech at all? What would the speech do for her party and political cause? Probably the speech was part of a larger political tour of the United States, she had programs such as visiting deputies in the Congress here in the United States and telling them about their plans as a party. I do not know what she talked with those people of course, but I had a feeling that if she talked as she talked to us that night, it would be strange, because her points did not flow from what she said. She had to be assisted by a translator and indeed this complicated things quite a bit.

Granted, of course, she cannot say “everything” because of potential legal issues she would face in Turkey for saying those things. You cannot, for instance, argue for the separation of the Kurdish region from Turkey or even talk about a possible federative system. But is it not election /campaign consulting that would help you with just that: to design your speeches and other actions so that you avoid landmines but still get your message across…  These landmines sometimes could be legal issues, and sometimes they are potential problems with parts of the electorate. Of course the two are categorically different, just like the political process in Turkey and the US is different. But if there is such a thing as expert election or campaign consulting, you would expect them to help you with all the problems on the way, including legal issues.    

This point about election consultants take me to the main issue here: Looking back, I realize how much of my perspective has been shaped by the campaigning style I internalized here in the United States. I reconsider my “disappointments” and ask myself whether those disappointments arose because of being subjected to a massive coverage of the presidential primaries by the so called political pundits in the United States. The heavy campaigning days for the 2008 elections certainly left their mark on my thinking. I saw Hillary Clinton declaring her affection for the “gun lovers” of the United States, I saw her drink beer with lower income workers. I saw Barack Obama eat Philly Cheese stakes or carefully distinguish himself from his (former) pastor in nice words. All was designed by the election campaigns of course. All these actions and speeches had, in my mind, a target audience and they were carefully crafted to reach to those parts of the electorate without alienating different parts. Every move seemed pre planned by a team of brainstormers. In turn, political pundits, every day in their columns or on the weekends on TV programs such as Meet the Press discussed whether such campaign work actually works.

I’m not going to go into details, suffice it to say that there is a whole world of politics organized around the belief that political campaigning is an expertise and my approach to Sebahat Tuncel’s talk was shaped through my exposure to such campaigning here. Whether or not such political campaigning could succeed or not in the US context, I’m not going to go into here because the question of whether or not it could succeed is the wrong question indeed. Sebahat Tuncel’s visit and reactions it triggered in me indeed point to the right question. What kind of a system is this and how is it enabled? How does it work, so to speak and what are its conditions of existence? This system, it seems, is not yet rooted in the minds of the Turkish deputies and I would argue of many people in Turkey. So what kind of an animal are we looking at?

I will continue next week with these questions. To give a hint about my position however, I could cite Emma Goldman. This is a system which makes sure that stability and status quo wins and which makes sure that voting is in fact, utterly meaningless for the masses. After all, as Goldman said, “If voting could change anything, they’d make it illegal”  

This is both a follow-up on the previous post here by my dear co-blogger turem and probably the first in a series of entries I would like to make about private military firms from U.S. and elsewhere operating in various parts of the world. This issue came to my attention for the first time when I watched the documentary Private Warriors four years ago. At that time, even though I was aware of the fact of military outsourcing in U.S., I was amazed by the extent of this phenomenon especially in the context of the invasion of Iraq. I followed up on this topic by reading Jeremy Scahill’s book “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army“. (This book helped me seeing the ways in which a small firm that has entered -I have to say- the “business of security” with the provision of military training has risen to unprecedented levels of political clout and how it has been involved in a number of military operations around the world, including but by no means limited to Iraq. Another book for those of you who can read in German would be Rolf Uesserl’s “Krieg als Dienstleistung” (which can be translated quite tellingly as ‘War as a Service Sector’) which has a more general coverage of the private military firms doing business in various parts of the world.)

In the later posts, I will talk more about these books and the scary stories in them; but today I just wanted to point out to and focus on the fact that just as elections are being considered as a matter of expertise and technique in the U.S. and that this understanding of elections is being marketed around the world, the field of security has also been under attack by the same mentality of private expertise and of business techniques. A chilling quote from one of the executives of Blackwater that immediately comes to my mind fits perfectly well here. His claim was essentially the following: “When you have to ship a package overnight, do you use USPS or Fedex? So, that is exactly what we aim in the field of security.” Another quote that I remember from one of the spokespersons of Blackwater was that just like the newspapers and doctors are making money from the sufferings of other people, it is perfectly acceptable that some military firms make money out of military operations that might cost people’s lives.

Right? It is that simple. Well, for these people, maybe; at least on the level of their public discourse. However, as turem makes this point clearly in the context of elections, one of the fundamental problems here is that the whole idea of leaving the job of security provision to the experts of the field opens the way to allowing them to decide where and when a security problem exists and in what ways that problem has to be solved. If the provision of security becomes a business matter -or to allude to the title of Uesserl’s book-, if it becomes a service sector in itself where certain clients are being served for their need of the provision of security, then this means essentially that it becomes perfectly legitimate to try to expand the markets for the provision of security which is exactly what is happening in the field of international peace keeping operations, for instance. The private military firms have been lobbying for this in various peacekeeping operations in the recent past by pointing out to the incompetencies of the NATO operations. In a sense, this is almost inevitably so, because the way these operations are decided upon is never as smooth as the analogy with FedEx would imply: If you have to ship something overnight, it is essentially your private decision to send a package somewhere as quickly as possible. FedEx is not in the capacity to lobby you or to fund you for some other purpose so that you would be more wiling to use them instead of USPS or any other private shipping company. There is essentially no interaction between you and FedEx in deciding what to send, where and why. However, in the case of the military outsourcing, it is certainly not the case the politicians as the representatives of the people, alone and in total isolation from these military firms, decide on what kinds of security needs have to be served for their country. It should suffice to remind you of Dick Cheney and Halliburton, I guess. Besides, these firms present themselves as the experts of this thorny issue called security. They advise you on the meaning, the necessity and the techniques of security. Hence, we end up with a field where the definitions, the meanings and the boundaries of private and public, economic and political, political and military, technical and ethical get totally blurred. It is exactly this blurring of vision in many issues in the field of politics today that allows one to move on with a business mentality of expertise that turns out to be totally shallow with a little bit of scratching its surface.

Yesterday, I was watching a back episode of, what for me is the best newscast in American television- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The guest for the day (June 24) was James Harding, “the Business and City Editor” of “the Times” of London and former Washington bureau chief of Financial Times. Harding was on the show to talk about his recent book, “Alpha Dogs: The Americans who Turned Political Spin into a Global Business” (Macmillan Books, May 2008). The book, says the Amazon website quoting Publishers Weekly, is about “the rise and fall of the Sawyer Miller Group, a political consultancy firm,” and this story “makes for a whirlwind look at international electioneering in this thoroughly engrossing book”. “The firm”, the Publishers Weekly continues, “grew out of a partnership among the political neophytes who essentially invented the American-style of campaigning and served as backroom strategists in every presidential contest from Nixon to George W. Bush.” These consultancy people, as Americans would well know, run the elections, literally. From cutting ads to writing speeches, from deciding about what colors a candidate should wear to what kind of soda (or beer) he or she needs to drink at a particular meeting, they micro manage political campaigns, notably the presidential ones.

The book is about the internationalization of this particular practice. The domestic political consultancy group mentioned in the book shifted gears in the 1990s and sold its art of electioneering to the rest of the world, creating a global business for election consultancy, and being a significant global political player. As Harding writes in the introduction:

“…The men from the Sawyer Miller Group helped Cory Aquino to lead the People Power revolution in the Philippines and advised democrats in Chile on the removal of General Pinochet; they led their clients to victory in Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador, as well as to defeat in Greece and Peru; they worked pro bono for Tibet’s Dalai Lama, and they got paid in sweaty bundles of hundred-dollar bills in Nigeria.”

I haven’t read the book but I was immediately attracted to the topic when I heard it on the Daily Show or when I read about it online. Is it not fascinating, and yet scary? Can you imagine a political campaign in Greece or Peru, or Turkey, run by American consultants? It is already a bit frightening that elections, arguably -or ideally- the most important of all political institutions is increasingly becoming a matter of expertise, professionalism and above all a matter of technique in the United States. But it is a whole different level to imagine a world where consultants from America could run an election campaign in Greece, or Peru. Granted, these consultants would /must have local collaborators, but that still does not diminish the strangeness of hiring an American consultancy firm in a non English speaking country, for elections or for any other political action.

It is a well established fact of course that Americans, not quite election consultants but high level CIA officials, took significant roles in preparing coups or regime changes in quite a few countries in the world. (The list is too long to mention here.) But we are now talking of a legal, legitimate and transparent action, at least in theory. This is what makes this phenomenon as fascinating and worthy of attention, if not more, as secret American missions around the world. It would thus be quite interesting to do research on the assumptions and modus operandi of these election consultants in foreign territories. What do they think? How do they see in themselves the authority to speak about other peoples and cultures? How do they see the societies they operate in?

We can add an infinite number of questions here. But it seems to me that these people believe, just like neoclassical economics does, that given the right methods and techniques, they can figure out how people behave in different circumstances. And just like economics claims to be able to lay out certain universal rules of behavior, election consultants believe that they can figure out essentials in getting people’s votes. In addition to universal patterns, I assume the bulk of their work is about finding out, through their local collaborators, what works in a country and what doesn’t. The revolutionary belief here is that these guys believe they can solve, in a short time span, the mysteries of a country, understand the people, and run a political campaign and get votes from the people.This is a very bold belief. This is a belief in method and empirical observation, and a further belief that empirical observation truly represents what is out there in the society. There is, lastly, a mechanism to reflect on the success of the machine. In the United States, for instance, the presidential candidates go through a long primary season and at the end of each primary, these post primary surveys are carried out to see how people behave. Consultants do look at these results to play with their strategies. This loop seems to provide an endless stream of new information to the system and the system advances by correcting its past mistakes.

Let’s, for a moment, leave aside the ethical problems in this scheme of things. We are so far away from Rousseau right now that speaking of a spirit of the people would make no sense. So let’s assume for a second that elections are, just like companies, after all, technical matters and images (as represented by consultants), rather than genuine political problems, make the elections. Let’s assume that just like bringing in consultants from Arthur Andersen is believed to solve a companies’ problems, a party can benefit from the advice of foreign consultants. The question, then, is “can this really work?”, “can election consulting achieve its desired ends?” Of course, this is partly an empirical question, we should look and see whether it does. But we have a big elephant in that room, which will be the main point of my next post: Whether it works or not is a question that is (most loudly) answered by those consultants themselves! In other words, we are facing a closed system here and -shall I say?- there is no outside to it. Or isn’t there? That, I will discuss in my next piece in which I’ll talk about a speech in the United States, by a Kurdish parliamentarian from Turkey. And hopefully, that will take us to the real meat, the real political question that is: is this –elections run by highly expert campaing teams- really “politics” anymore or is it something else?


Socialist International

Socialist International

Such was the overarching theme of XXIII Congress of the Socialist International (SI) that convened in Athens from June 30th to July 2nd with “close to 700 participants from 150 political parties and organisations from 120 countries.” Only one party per country is allowed membership, other parties with socialist or social democratic party lines can only be observers and not full members i.e. Democratic Society Party (DTP) of Turkey which is one of the 33 members of Party of European Socialists has only observer status in SI whereas Republican People’s Party has full membership. RPP (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal decided to boycott this year’s meeting for he was frustrated by some potential wave of criticism his party may have faced during this year’s convention. A committee of the Socialist International that convened a council meeting in Geneva this time last year had proposed an investigation into its member, Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s main opposition party, and announced in a report that it will launch a monitoring process into CHP over its commitment to the principles of democracy. Indeed this past year is full of instances in which CHP proved over and over its LACK of Commitment to any democratic process in Turkey to the extent that anybody with a sane mind would think more than twice to use democracy and CHP in the same sentence. While Germany, France and Sweden were getting ready to warn CHP about its not being socialist, a move CHP tried to counteract by sending the party’s deputy chairman and foreign policy executive Onur Oymen to Europe to lobby SI members, a Professor of International Relations, Baskin Oran, who also ran but lost as an independent in last year’s Turkish legislative elections also wrote a letter to SI to ask them to exclude CHP from SI. According to Sabah newspaper’s English edition, Oran claimed “The last two law scandals by the constitutional court started with the attempts of CHP. One of these two is making the quorum for presidential election 367 and rejection of wearing headscarf at universities. If CHP is excluded from socialist international, they may pull together and change. My aim is to get CHP excluded from the socialist international to get them make necessary changes and then regain membership.” Haluk Ozdalga, now a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), but formerly active in social democratic politics for over 25 years, also sent a letter to SI criticizing CHP’s dismal but consistently anti-reformist record in the annales of last year’s Turkish politics.

However if people think today’s CHP is an exceptional and unfortunate page in the long and “glorious” history of Turkish “national socialism” they sure are making a mistake. From a utilitarian point of view maximizing the happiness of the greatest number of people at the expense of minorities, perhaps CHP could have been the equivalent of a decent social democratic party. Notwithstanding, CHP had always that nationalist and to a certain extent xenophobic undertone, which SI now decided to be finally critical of, even when most of Turkey’s voters on the left cherished and applauded the party indiscriminately. Indeed, few “so called” social democratic parties have the honor! of forced labor camps in their track record, as a result of draconian income taxes levied on their minorities and CHP is one of them. Not only that, the Inonu Government of 1964, himself a CHP leader, was the mastermind of the last large scale Greek expulsions from Turkey in mere two days by reneging the 1930 Greco-Turkish Convention.

I hear you dear reader saying, “well, well, well, those were the times. Who was not a bit ultra nationalist those days, all of Europe was fashionably xenophobic, ain’t it? Are not you being a little too harsh?” Well, I also wish The Times They Are A-Changing dear reader, I seriously wish. However I am a bit hopeless, it looks like “plus CHP change, plus c’est la meme chose” indeed since the world is changing perhaps what remains may even be worse by any contemporary social democratic standard. Consider this dear reader before your final judgment: In February 2008 the Turkish parliament approved -by 242 to 72 votes- a long overdue and still extremely imperfect law which guarantees returning properties confiscated by the state to its non-Muslim minorities. Millions of dollars worth property were expropriated from its Armenian, Syriac and Greek foundations by the state in 1974 following a ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeals. The new law would allow the foundations some of the properties but not those already sold to the third parties by the state -something that was heavily criticized by the representatives of the Turkey’s minority communities dwindling in size. Guess which Socialist International member applied to the Constitutional Court to have the law annulled by claiming “the law is clearly imposed by the EU” on the one hand, and by arguing the law will violate the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 and its emphasis on reciprocity. Despite the fact that CHP’s leader Deniz Baykal will claim later in the year, that the state must be “ethnically blind” his party’s February record towards minorities contradicts with his own “ethnic-blind” stance. What I understand from Baykal’s rather evasive speech is as follows: The state must be ethnically blind among its Muslim citizens (so long as they operate within the boundaries of not just any but state regulated, and state branded Islam), but has to definitely see its non-Muslim citizens and their foundations as foreign. Kudos to Mr. Baykal and Kudos to Mr. George Papandreou who according to a Radikal newspiece reassured CHP of the continuation of its membership to Socialist International. So much for the “Courage to make a difference”