Post-Truth, Perception Wars and Freedoms
Nearly two hundred liberal activists from all parts of Turkey gathered in Istanbul in later October for the “Liberal Youth Congress” organized by 3H Movement in cooperation with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). The conference, one of the biggest ever held in Turkey, aimed to bring together liberal youngsters to discuss diverse topics ranging from economics over society to politics.
In the light of AKP’s defeat in local elections, the operation peace spring and economic fluctuations in the Turkish economy, the country has entered a critical juncture. Thus, the congress took place just at the right time to reflect the current developments in Turkish and world politics from a liberal perspective. While the panellists assessed the ongoing pressure on Turkish civil society critically, they saw hope in the fact that democratic and liberal movements do not give up – the high level of participation in the conference proved that impressively.
The day started with the welcoming of the participants by Nisa Bahçeli, the President of 3H. In her motivating speech, she reminded the audience of the powerfulness of liberal values and called for unity: “As civil society organisations, we need to cooperate and collaborate more than ever”, she said.
In the following panels, international relations experts, political analysts, economists and representatives of NGOs and civil society organizations discussed changing balances in Turkish politics. They explained why, from the liberal point of view, Turkey is now experiencing a crisis, which manifests itself in tense relations with other countries, domestic power struggles and attempts to silence the opposition. On the other hand, high levels of political and civil society activism also send positive signals. The victory of the opposition party CHP in Istanbul’s mayor elections, the efforts of some former AKP members to establish a new party, growing criticism for the treatment of the opposition by the government – the panellists debated these developments as phenomena of an increasing awareness of the need for freedom and democracy in Turkey. Against this background, Dr. Burak Özpek from TOBB University of Economics and Technology stated: “It is obvious that AKP failed to find solutions, whether they accept it or not. In that sense, the opposition should not allow AKP to use the discourse of ‘extraordinary times’ for political routine.”
Not only party politics frame the modern political discourse. At the conference, panellists discussed the new concepts of “post-truth” and “perception wars” with their increasing impact on political governance. Alluding to the divisions in society, which these phenomena tend to create, Dr. Emre Erdoğan from İstanbul Bilgi University remarked: “We have people in the same country who do not live in the same world”. Despite this situation, journalist Sezin Oney expressed hope: “While the populist leaders or groups are producing alternative channels to disseminate manipulated information, the new generation also uses these tools to correct this news. Fact-checking has become a substantial concept for the ordinary life of the new generation”. Based on this example to counter populism, the speakers called for liberals to take the populist challenge seriously. They also warned against the approach of fighting populism with disdain. Instead, liberal leaders should confront the people with convincing ideas and alternative concepts.
Economic and Political Freedoms Belong Together
From the economic point of view, Dr. Nesrin Nas from the NGO Freedom Research Association, economist Enes Özkan and Burak Durgut from Kadir Has University argued that economic liberalism and a sustainable, fair institutional order in governance mutually influence and strengthen each other. Based on this point, they discussed weaknesses in Turkish politics to overcome current institutional crises. Dr. Nesrin Nas underlinded that “all economic incentives or subsidies are temporary in their nature. With their help, the AKP government attempted to buy time for their own political interests. However, the country as a whole will pay the bill.” With this observation in mind, the speakers emphasized the inseparable nature of economic and political freedoms.
One highlight of the conference was the award ceremony of the First First Bulut Oncu Courage Awards. With the newly introduced award 3H Movement aims to reward actions that promote courage within the civil society to take up action for a free, defensive democracy. The jury honoured human rights lawyer Veysel Ok as the first award winner. Mr. Ok, who is renowned for standing up for press freedom, defended amongst others the novelist Ahmet Altan and correspondent Deniz Yücel in trials concerning freedom of speech. Despite having faced harassment, surveillance and legal prosecution himself, he stressed in his award speech: “It is a great honour for me to take this award. Bulut’s life is very inspirational. I will continue to fight as I always did to honour this award my whole life.'