If the citizens of Venezuela could advise the citizens of Turkey, it would be that they should be careful of getting what they wished for. Because while it is true that both countries are controlled by strongmen intent on spiraling downward into a vortex of totalitarianism and chaos, it is also true that the majorities of both countries wished it. As Savoyard (the predecessor state to the modern day Italy) lawyer Joseph-Marie, comte de Maistre, famously noted–“toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite”–every nation gets the government it deserves.
Venezuela’s ruling elite and merchant classes neglected, and even despised, its poor and economically under-served masses. That the lower classes became so more vastly numerous than the elite spelled eventual doom in the form of the populist leftist Hugo Chavez, who finally gained the presidency he desired through elections that he could not seize through a military coup. Chavez’s socialist ideas were underwritten for ten years by Venezuela’s oil wealth, wealth that eventually evaporated through a combination of kleptocracy and global oil oversupply. Once Venezuela’s foreign balance of payments reversed irrevocably, even Chavez’s co-opting of the majority of Venezuela’s political institutions could net stave off the meteoric decline. Chavez’s death in 2013 only made matters worse, as his sycophants took control of the government and accelerated the country’s immolation.
Successive non-secular governments in Turkey, in conjunction with a continued general rise in militancy in Middle Eastern religious circles, have led to a significant portion of the conservative populace in Turkey feeling that their values have been subsumed by the creeping Westernization of the country. This, along with the fracturing of the politics in the country, the Syrian civil war, the increasing militancy of the Kurdish population, and an ill-conceived attempted military coup in 2016, has allowed Erdogan’s religiously-oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP) to take over the country and to purge its perceived opponents from the judiciary, press, military, and security forces.
That Turkey, which possess one of the largest economies in the world in terms of GDP, is a significant European manufacturing center for vehicles, ships, and consumer electronics, and has a significant role in the European and Middle Eastern banking and construction industries, could face possible politically-fueled economic collapse through government populism and mismanagement seems impossible. But it appears that the AKP’s decade-long economic stimulus programs funded by massive government borrowing was funneled into patronage-tainted infrastructure building programs designed to reward political allies and to buy votes among the working class. The resulting economic pressure in the country has led to more repression, reprisals, and further chaos. Erdogan has even resorted to military adverturism to bolster his political position, advancing into Syria’s combat regions to strike at Kurdish positions and push back Syrian factions not allied to the Turkish government.
A recent well-publicized scrum in Washington DC between protesters and Turkish security agents that was broken up by the DC police has provided a window into the animosity that has built up between factions apposing the AKP and the Turkish government itself. Government controlled new media outlets have published a narrative of the incident branding the DC police as the aggressors, while U.S. and European news outlets have released video of Turkish agents knocking down and kicking protesters while police rush in to separate the two sides. The Turkish government demanded a public apology from the U.S. government, while the U.S. government chided Turkey for needlessly resorting to violence at the scene. The two differences in viewpoints could not be starker. The alteration of facts by the Turkish government in such a cut and dried incident on foreign soil with plenty of independent witnesses makes one wonder what they are doing in their own county. Plenty along these lines, it seems.
Erdogan’s prosecutors arrest potential threats to his regime daily. Insults are not tolerated, both domestic and foreign. The Turkish government has resorted to pursuing prosecution of perceived enemies in Germany for libel and arresting family members of professional athletes who dare to ridicule the president. No one appears to be safe–thousands of public officials and privates citizens have been arrested for alleged ties to former political ally Fethullah Gulen, now in exile in the U.S., alleged sympathies to the 2016 coup plotters, or just opposition to the AKP in general.
Only time will tell whether the demagoguery and partisanship in Turkey will devolve into the disaster we see in Venezuela. Erdogan has grandiose ideas, among them the restoration of Turkey as an Islamist-oriented Ottoman-style monarchy, a Middle Eastern variant of Chavez’s Bolivarian-themed fervor. The long dead comte de Maistre once noted that “man is insatiable for power; he is infantile in his desires and, always discontented with what he has, loves only what he has not. People complain of the despotism of princes; they ought to complain of the despotism of man. We are all born despots, from the most absolute monarch in Asia to the infant who smothers a bird with its hand for the pleasure of seeing that there exists in the world a being weaker than itself”. It is this human tendency that fuels the worst predations of politicians. Let us hope that the citizens of Turkey will eventually realize it.