Elif Şafak: Ballot-box Victory Is Not a License to Criminalize Criticism

Best-selling Turkish novelist Elif Şafak talks to Ceyda Nurtsch at Qantara.de about everything from the ill health of Turkey’s democracy to when she prefers writing in Turkish vs. in English (Lack of Democratic Culture in Turkey): 

Ceyda Nurtsch: You were one of the writers who signed a petition against the recent Twitter ban in Turkey. In the early days of the AKP’s rule, most critical voices said that the party was making changes that were good for the country. Recent developments, however, have made even hard-line supporters distance themselves from the AKP. What is your assessment of these developments? Do you still see Turkey as being on the threshold of becoming a more democratic state, as the Gezi protests made many people think and hope?

Shafak: I am very worried about the state of Turkey’s democracy. The politicians seem to think that democracy is only – or mostly – about the ballot box. They think that if you get the majority, then you are entitled to do anything. But democracy is not only about the number of votes you get. It is also a culture. It is a culture of inclusiveness, openness, empathy, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. This is why Turkey today lacks a culture of democracy.

For true democracy to exist, one needs the separation of powers, a diverse press and plurality of voices. Increasingly, however, the government sees every criticism as a “national betrayal”. If you voice criticism, they think you are acting for Western powers. I find these clichés very dangerous. Democracy needs self-criticism. Societies can only move forward if and when they allow free speech and criticism.

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