At long last, the democracy package has arrived, the nation breathlessly examining it in its crib and arguing about whether it resembles the AKP or whether, as the prime minister claims, it was engendered by “international human rights, the European Union acquis and the works of the Wise People” (a group of public figures nominated to advise the peace process between AKP and the PKK). Whatever the parentage, the package, which will take form through legal amendments or even simply administrative adjustments, offers some important changes.
The much-criticized 10 percent threshold for elected parties to be allowed to enter parliament (put in place after 1980 in order to counter the tendency toward fractured coalitions of small parties) will be lowered in some manner. PM Erdogan suggests to 5 percent, with some redistricting of constituencies.
Political parties now need only gain 3% of the vote, instead of 7% in order to get state financing. Since fundraising for a party is forbidden, this change will allow new parties not only to register, but also potentially to grow. (A Gezi Green Party, anyone??) Political parties can have co-chairs, possibly making the intra-party dynamic more democratic and less vulnerable to the one-man autocratic leadership that has always plagued Turkish parties and politics.
The headscarf will now be allowed in all public venues and professions except for judges, prosecutors, police officers and members of the army. If you want to run for parliament….! I can hear the rustle of many dresses girded for political battle.
And for the first time, all public servants, including judges, prosecutors, police and army officers, will be able to become members of political parties. Rustle, rustle.
Demonstrations and rallies will be allowed more time, and the decision to crack down on “unlawfulness” will be handed from a government commissioner to a regulatory authority. The right hand to the left hand?
Discrimination will be punished more severely, but the three types singled out are discrimination based on religion, nation, or ethnicity. So believers and the Kurds are armored against the foe, while others, like women, LGTB, and those who live according to non-religious principles (or non-Muslim?), are left to their own devices. Hate crimes will get you three years in prison instead of one, but does the punishment depend on who you hate? The thrust of the discrimination laws seem to indicate this. Erdogan promised to throw in prison “[t]hose who prevent people from performing their religious duties and those who intervene to [change] people’s lifestyles originating from their belief by threat or by use of force.” So discrimination and committing a hate crime mean threatening the practices and lifestyles of believers. I hope, but I doubt, that this will include the muscular protection of the rights of Christians, Jews, Armenians, Buddhists, secularists, and atheists (that too is a belief system). The rights of religious minorities were not specifically addressed.
The package will restore the land of the Mor Gabriel Monastery that was recently swiped by local communities and the state through the courts. (A process followed closely in this blog.) It will be given, according to Erdogan, to a Syriac Christian community foundation. Always alert to nuance, I wonder whether this is restoration to the monastery or a slight-of-hand.
The ban on three letters of the alphabet — q, w, and x — will be eliminated, which is a relief to me as my last name begins with one of them. Why ban the letters to begin with? They’re used in Kurdish. Education in the Kurdish language will be allowed in private institutions, although not in public ones. Legal obstacles will be removed so that original place names of villages and regions could be restored after they had been changed by the state to hide their Kurdish or Alevi origins or worse.
Tunceli would once again become Dersim, reminding everyone of the state’s massacre of Alevis that occurred there in 1937 and 1938. As a small sign of the government’s favor, the name of Nevşehir University in the Central Anatolian province of Nevşehir would be changed to Hacı Bektaş Veli University to honor a 13th-century Muslim mystic who had lived nearby and who is important to Alevis. It likely won’t take the sting out of the government’s decision to name the third Bosphorus bridge after Sultan Selim, who is notorious for having slaughtered Alevis.
A Roma culture and language institution will also be established, one to study the Roma and another to help them with their problems. Having lost their traditional livelihood and their homes due to state interference, gentrification, and — yes — hate crimes (all documented in this blog), and thus in danger of losing their cultural character to poverty, I suppose being studied is a step on the way to being helped.
An oath daily recited by schoolchildren all over Turkey will be eliminated. It begins with the innocuous “I am Turkish, righteous, and hard-working,” but soon veers off into worship of Ataturk and the state. Students read a poem about the flag that, in militaristic fashion, promises to “destroy the nest of the bird that flies without saluting you”.
Those wagging their heads over the package begin to see its shortcomings, especially after the big buildup, leaks that purported to show a holiday package with something for everyone. There is palpable disappointment in the weak, squalling thing that has fetched up on the doorstep.
Some big-ticket items didn’t show up:
As part of the peace deal, the Kurds had requested that the notorious anti-terror law and other legislation be curtailed. Gezi sympathizers and a lot of other people — journalists, Kurds, protesters in jail — were hoping for this too. No mention of it.
No mention of:
freedom of speech
state recognition and support for Alevi places of worship
opening the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary
A mealy-mouthed bureaucrat was best-situated to evaluate the new bundle of joy: Peter Stano, spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, said that the measures “hold out the prospect for progress on many important issues.”