Corruption in Turkey is a strange matter. The understanding of a corrupt person is very much limited to the person’s stand and rhetoric. When one manages to shout loud enough and keep repeating himself so that masses cheer him, he is considered to be a successful politician. The logic behind this perception is perhaps hidden also in the etymological roots of the word corruption as well as political culture being so corrupt, rising on the ashes of all the Byzantine games.
Historically the number of people questioning the corrupt political authority has always been very limited and for centuries no one dared to challenge this “tradition” with popular support. When any politician claimed to fight corruption, he ended up getting corrupted within the system as it is almost impossible to avoid it. So it came to be understood that any elected politician would one way or another get corrupted, the people just had to find a person who feels like drowning in money and power so he wouldn’t need any more. Until that point, the basic evaluation of the society is whether the corrupted politician is in service to the country or not.
The word corruption
“Yolsuzluk” stands for corruption in Turkish. The root of the word being “yol” (meaning road/path) and -suz being the negative suffix meaning “without a road”. In this fashion, if one is to consider prime minister Erdoğan’s rhetoric regarding corruption scandal and how he keeps answering the questions about corruption investigations saying “But we have built roads and high ways”, it is perhaps easier to understand why he can not perceive that this is wrong in the modern understanding.
Culturally, there is more explanation to this kind of understanding with several proverbs even; the strongest one of which would be “that who carries honey will lick his finger” (and have a share of the honey). Millions of people growing up getting taught such proverbs end up approving and not getting surprised with corruption. The evaluation of a politician lies in charismatic and moral sense (moral being conservative social values and not political ethics).
What constitutes a scandal?
Recently I was talking to a friend of mine who said “do you remember the scandals in Italy recent years?” upon which I thought of all the scandals Berlusconi and the Catholic Church has unsuccessfully tried to hide and was revealed with all the shame before everyone’s eyes. Actually what my friend apparently meant was the resignations upon such incidents; the perception that resigning from a post being considered as scandal and not the event that caused it.
Similarly, in the Turkish political culture, resignation is not valued highly. If any political leader is to resign, majority of the people in the country consider this as a defeat for him, and opponents note this down as a win. Unfortunately the virtue of resignation is not considered to be a high manner. For that reason when millions call for Prime Minister Erdoğan to resign, his political base takes this as a sign of coup against national will; as no matter he does they consider him to do for his nation. I even had to survive through a few people’s rationalization of corruption and violence against peaceful protests saying “but he did it for his nation”.
In this logic, anything can be justified as the opponents are never seen as equal human beings and the leadership is in crisis only when he resigns. There is no understanding of “clean politics” in Turkey as people do not expect opposition to be free of corrupt leaders either and as long as state has minimal services available for majority, they would not call for resignation.What is needed in Turkey is spread of the understanding of post-modern state values and a change in political culture. The young experts should be empowered to speak up to old traditional perceptions of corruption and scandal; and to say out loud that it is not okey to basically let a politician expand his influence and make profits out of a state duty.