People Protesting Against Corruption And Kleptocracy In Turkey
We have translated Dr.Haluk Özdemir’s latest article on government corruption in Turkey into English. You can read the original in Turkish here: Militokrasi, Demokrasi, Kleptokrasi ve Komplokrasi.
Though Dr. Özdemir is examining the current situation in Turkey as it relates to the ongoing scandal embroiling the regime of Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is far from alone in the world when it comes to problems of corruption and kleptocracy. The United States is probably the most corrupt country in the history of the world, in terms of scale. A major problem faced in America is that corruption has largely become legalized and integrated into the system. This can be seen in the lobby system that plagues Washington D.C. and the crony capitalism that empties government coffers into the pockets of the richest 1% in America. An obscene example of this is the war profiteering that continues in America to this day. The cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost American taxpayers 2 trillion dollars so far, and a recent Washington Post article puts the projected total cost of these wars at between 4 to 6 trillion dollars. It has been extensively documented that these wars were planned and carried out by those at the very top of the government and the contracts were given to companies directly related to or very close to Dick Cheney, Donald Rumslfeld and George W. Bush. None of these men are in jail for their criminal practices: the theft of the country’s financial resources, the mass killing of people in foreign countries, and the deaths of American soldiers. A recent CNN report puts the suicide rate of American veterans at more than 22 per day. All of this tragedy for illegal wars based on lies and corruption.
Corruption and kleptocracy in America are not limited to the petrol-military-industrial-complex. The financial system based in America (the center of the the globalized transnational capitalist elite’s world) is the very heart of corruption and kleptocracy. The difference in the financial sector is that corruption is not technically legal, but it happens every hour of every day. Insider trading on the stock market is illegal. When I worked in the business world in America I would see my customers doing insider trading right in front of me. How does it happen? It happens in private meetings and on telephones. I remember one customer, a high-ranking corporate executive in California, calling his friend, another high-ranking corporate executive in New York, and telling him (based on advanced, inside information) to buy shares in a company. When asked by his friend how many share he was going to buy, the California executive answered, “about 250,000 shares.” This is standard operating procedure for those in power. It is completely illegal. This game goes on every day, but very often it crashes and the average working people of the country have to pay for the crash. We are all familiar with the ongoing economic crisis in America caused by the crash in 2008 and the trillions of dollars in debt that the American people are responsible for because of a small number of kleptocrats at the top. The misperception that people have is that a crisis is an exception to the rule. What we need to understand is that in a corrupt and kleptocratic form of capitalism (the kind that dominates our world today) crisis is the norm, and this is because the entire system is corrupt: from the top to the bottom.
America likes to to paint itself as the beacon of democracy, freedom and global capitalism. This is ostensibly the case because it is based on the rule of law. While America may be averse to truly examining the depth of its own kleptocratic and corrupt practices, it certainly loves to point the finger at other countries that it wants to control and tell them why such practices are not the best way to conduct governmental business. The U.S. State Department released a memo in 2006 called the “National Strategy Against High-Level Corruption: Coordinating International Efforts to Combat Kleptocracy”. In that document it is stated that:
Kleptocracy Undermines Democracy and Hinders Prosperity
Corruption is a threat to both developing and developed countries where it undermines sound public financial management and accountability;
- Weakens market integrity and deters foreign investment;
- Stifles economic growth and sustainable development;
- Distorts prices;
- Undercuts democracy and the rule of law;
- Impedes reforms;
- Destroys aspirations for a better way of life and faith in freedom and democratic principles.
Wikipedia describes kleptocracy as:
Kleptocracy: (- kleptēs, thief” and - kratos, “power, rule”, hence “rule by thieves”) is a form of political and government corruption where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population, often with pretense of honest service. This type of government corruption is often achieved by the embezzlement of state funds.
The events of the corruption scandal unfolding in Turkey at the moment are exposing a classic form of kleptocracy, and it is for this reason we have decided to translate Dr. Özdemir’s article into English. It is an important issue that effects us all and needs to be addressed. The resilience of the Turkish people in their fight for democracy and their fight against social and economic injustice is inspiring to people around the world. What is perhaps most useful for all of us, as Dr. Özdemir points out, is that the Turkish people are struggling to define what democracy actually is.
Militocracy, Democracy, Kleptocracy and Conspirocracy
by Dr. Haluk Özdemir
It is commonly held that there are two types of regimes: democracy and non-democracy. However, Turkey’s adventure and other examples of democratization in the world show that there can be other systems of government. For last the few years, under a discourse of “normalization,” it was claimed that Turkey became a democratic country. Moreover, it had a more advanced democracy than the European level. Democracy would be developed more along the lines of the Ankara Criteria instead of the EU-Cophenagen Criteria. The basis of these ideas was that military custody had been abolished and civilian goverment had come into power.
“Militocracy” means a regime in which political power is held by soldiers and the military, who make the most important and final decisions for a country. There are many examples of this kind of regime, especially in the Middle East and in the non-Western world. Turkey has also passed through these stages. The fundamental character of these regimes is that either the military holds power directly, or it comes into power by means of coups whenever they deem it necessary. Civilians are allowed to remain in power as long as they behave according to the dictates of the military’s vision for the country. But there is no doubt that the military holds the ultimate reins of power.
In Turkey, the political regime was criticized for being a “militocracy” until recently. A verdict had been reached that Turkey was a civilian democracy when the effects of the military had on power were dissolved and elected civilians made the final decisions. However, the debates about what exactly democracy is have not ended. As I emphasized in the previous articles, some people in Turkey perceive democracy as a system of government where civilians who represent the majority and come to power through popular elections can do whatever they want. Whereas democracy does not only mean majority rule, it has to be based on a pluralist understanding that defends the rights of the minority. Because the essence of democracy is justice, not the domination by or mercy of the majority. Because of this, the principle of separation of powers is the most important insurance for a democratic regime.
Is this democratization or something else?
In Turkey, suspicions about the validity of democracy have become very clear in light of two series of events in recent months. One of them was the Gezi protests. The harsh response by the government to the protests has left doubts in people’s minds about the status of democracy in Turkey. Instead of hearing the voices of the people in the streets, methods of violence and marginalization were utilized. It has been claimed that these protests are conspiracies by the “foreign press”, the “interest lobby” and “foreign powers” to weaken the government. Therefore, the reasons for the protests have not been taken into consideration. The protests, that could have easily been calmed, expanded and there have been some deaths and many injured.
The second event was the revelations of high-level corruption scandals that some ministers were involved in. As it is understood, these corruption cases involve interest circles who are organized beyond what we have seen so far, and who are virtually institutionalized. Indeed, these circles reach into the Prime Minister’s cabinet.
In a scandal like this, under normal circumstances in democratic governments, it is expected, at least, that these ministers resign and that the government be removed. I will not delve into this, and only assume here that this flaw is a reflection of the level of our democracy. Because we have a political mentality which does not like resignations and taking responsibility, we prefer to accuse “international powers” of being responsible for creating our problems.
The most serious side of all of this is that the allegations of conspiracy were asserted as they were during the Gezi protests. According to this logic, the circles which do not want Turkey to grow and develop, conspired against the government. Consequently, it was more important to concentrate on solving this conspiracy problem. Instead of clamping down on corruption, police were dismissed and reassigned because it was alledged that there are secret gangs operating in all the organs of state power. Well, even if there is a conspiracy like this, had the bribes not been taken? Should it be duly dealt with, or are such occurrences now legal and ordinary? What should our priority be, not the allegations?
Simply said: Corruption and making money by exploiting positions and connections is now normal. The method, that is used to make corruptions legal, has been to scare the people with conspiracy theories. However, it is not called democracy when a country is governed by playing on the fears of the populace. Well, what can we call this?
In political science, a regime in which corruption becomes systemic is called a “kleptocracy”. This word is derived from ” kleptomania”, which is considered a disease that causes one to steal persistently. This type of regime is based on increasing the personal (financial) well-being, status and power of ruling politicians, and if it is necessary, is based on achieving personal gain from public procurement. Administrators use the national treasury as if their own personal safe, distribute the bids as personal salaries, and it is not regarded as strange. Those who do not participate in this scheme are characterized as “incompetent”, instead of “honest”, because it is expected that people adhere to the new operational norm.
In a country:
- If corruption goes up to the upper echelons of the government
- If, in corruption, a large amount of money is used at a level which affects economic data
- If those who are involved in this corrupt behavior are depicted as victims even though their participation in massive corruption is uncovered, and those who uncover the corruption are blamed as a part of a conspiracy, and if there is an attempted cover-up of the corruption that was revealed
that regime is called a “kleptocracy.”
There is corruption in almost every regime, including democratic ones, however, the level of it and the reactions to it when it is uncovered change from regime to regime. Democracies do not normally forgive corruption when they find out about it, and the political or professional lives of those who are involved in corruption are usually finished. But, kleptocracies treat corruption as if it is normal, and when it is uncovered, they try to cover it up.
In this sense, it is not an exaggeration to say that we have fallen into a kleptocracy trap, not into a journey of democratization in the process of ridding ourselves of militocracy. Yes, military guardianship has been broken off, but is our democracy strong?
During both the Gezi Protests and this corruption scandal, and even in the years before, the allegations of a coup and an international conspiracy, that the government constantly mentions, shows that the regime cannot be described as merely a ” kleptocracy”. At most, It can be called ” conspirocracy” to manage a country by constantly fabricating new fears for people and attracting attention to unproven domestic coups and shadowy international groups. At this point, “conspirocracy” seems like a strategy which guarantees the continuation of kleptocracy. If every problem that comes up and every dissident that questions the management of the country is presented to the public in conspiratorial terms, it means that country is governed by a “conspirocracy”.
“Conspirocracy” protects its own men even when they make mistakes so that they will not become victims of conspiracy. It brings them to top positions and protects them to keep them there. It uses the expression: “we will not sacrifice our men” to cover the mistakes that are made. Implying that politics is about victimizing the members of the other parties suggests that there is a conspiracy. However, What we should expect from a government is to deal with the wrong-doings not to save people from being politically sacrificed or victimized. Those who engage in corruption and use their positions for their own selfish gain should accept the consequences of their actions, and each person should be in the positions that they deserve.
We have been longing for democracy for many years after experiencing coups, corruption, terror and social conflicts, but now when we look behind us, we understand that we have not been able to make any progress at all. First, we need to get rid of the regimes of “kleptocracy” and “conspirocracy”, that keep us under control through the tactics of fear-mongering, in order to gain ground on the road to democracy. We need to have a regime in which everybody is in a position that they deserve (meritocracy) and those who use their positions and names for their own personal gain suffer the consequences for their acts. In this regard, maybe the aim is not “to protect” or “not to protect”, but it is clear that we need a major house cleaning.
-Translated by Global Perambulator and Co.