“Our generation won’t live long enough to witness democracy turning into a culture, a life style. But our generation has the responsibility and duty of spreading the seeds of a democracy culture in these ancient lands,” writes Selahattin Demirtaş, the imprisoned co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), for Artı Gerçek.
None of us are democrats in the cultural sense. Once the culture of democracy starts taking roots, it will signify a solid accomplishment and no state power will be able to take it away from society. Now is the time to start working in the kitchen. All together.
What we seek most are always the things we feel we are most deprived of. This is the reason we’ve been discussing and focusing on democracy so much in recent years, which is in fact, natural and essential. Both society and every individual are choked, cornered by what they have been living through; what they’ve been forced to live through. It robs us of the last drop of happiness, the last piece of bread left.
Democracy is not a term with a single meaning for all. Everyone has a definition of his/her own. People tend to define it in the context of depravity. Every one of us is searching for the cure of democracy that will heal our bleeding wounds. This is natural too. There’s nothing strange about it.
We can make a general definition of democracy based on universal law and charters of human rights. In fact we can easily list the basic principles of democracy concerning state administration, social relations, economy or relations between individuals. A best model of a democratic administration can be theoretically derived from a study of various practices since the ancient city states of Athens. The constitution, laws, regulations and bureaucracy can be totally shaped according to democratic principles.
These are all possible and can be implemented in Turkey, and indeed, the unprecedented gravity of the next elections lies in the fact that the desire and promise of democracy will for the first time be at the centre of all issues. This is a remarkable development. While a heavy price has been paid, the quest for democracy has finally become the primary issue in the agenda of the social and political opposition. We have to avoid underestimating this. OK then, let’s count on this, but I’m still not feeling comfortable. It feels like there’s still something missing; and in fact something really big. So let me try to explain things with my mind on my bleeding wounds.
We have a cooking culture thanks mostly to our mothers, don’t we? They in turn inherited it from older generations and brought it all the way to the present with their own contributions. Even a simple and ordinary looking cooking culture takes centuries to emerge. It neither comes into existence nor is lost so easily. This is the most basic element of culture. The cooking culture is so naturally integrated in our daily lives that we can instantly distinguish a dish sent by the neighbour. It’s always different from our mother’s either by the amount of salt or spice in it or by the amount of time it’s been cooked.
A particular action becomes a part of the culture only after it’s been repeated again and again through a long period of time. Our religious beliefs, languages, traditions and life styles could only become parts of our culture after they have been practiced for generations. And where does democracy stand within this culture? Unfortunately it has almost no place. We can even say with great regret that we do not have a culture of democracy at all. Such a culture does not even amount to one percent of our cooking culture for the reason that democracy has never been practiced by a succession of generations in the past. On the contrary, we are like the survivors of a democracy wreckage that’s been frequently ruptured and subjected to coups.
So what’s the meaning of pumping up hope that we’ll achieve a transition to democracy in the next elections. Does the replacement of an oppressive administration necessarily signify an automatic transition to democracy? Certainly not. It’s actually annoying that the issue is reduced to such a simple equation.
An impression is created that everything will be alright once we’re back in the parliamentary system. This attitude is very inadequate. I think those who believe that the issue of democracy will be resolved through a process of partial democratisation don’t have any idea about democracy. Democracy cannot be built by the state. The state does not, cannot create a culture of democracy. At the most, a state can either obstruct democracy, or support the development of a democracy culture. The latter is all what a democratic state can be about.
What is supposed to build democracy and gradually turn it into a culture is essentially society and the individuals. And they can achieve this not merely through politics, but through education (what I mean by this is obviously not official national education), arts and literature. This is because democracy is not a matter of laws or a constitution, but of a culture. The constitution and the laws can support the process only by avoiding being repressive.
You can have a professor but not a democrat at the end if you haven’t had compulsory lessons on human rights, discrimination, democracy and equality through all phases of education; the same, if you’ve neglected science lessons on the evolutionary history of the universe, earth and humanity; the same, if you’ve not been teaching the history of religions, beliefs and states in an objective manner.
What would be the meaning of being an artist or an international star if you haven’t explained in your films, tv series, ads, plays, novels, stories or paintings about justice, women’s freedom and equality, our historical sufferings and traumas, exploitation, ecocide or love of animals?
If decision making or external auditing are not made through democratic processes in NGOs, media, universities, trade unions, manufacturing houses or political parties, and if labour isn’t compensated fairly, what would be the meaning of being the president, or a boss, or a rector?
What would be the meaning of defending the parliamentary system or being a part of the opposition if you’re enjoying your own personal authority while you’re boasting about having confined a woman in a house, treating her as a slave, beating and humiliating her, and even murdering her?
What would be the meaning of getting 60 or 90 percent of the vote if you’re denying a greeting to someone who’s from another faith, another denomination, another gender or another nation; if you’re not having your picture taken with or sitting on the same table with someone who’s the member of another political group, or from another neighbourhood, or simply the fan of another soccer team?
Democracy is a matter of culture. It’s a life style, a sum of attitudes that can not fit into a ballot box. Our generation won’t live long enough to witness democracy turning into a culture, a life style. But our generation has the responsibility and duty of spreading the seeds of a democracy culture in these ancient lands. For this reason, all processes, including activities related to the elections, ought to be carried out as parts of the construction of the culture of democracy. All remarks, programs, principles, planning ought to be made and carried out in a way that will contribute to this objective. Superficial and tactical approaches do not only fall short of contributing to the institutionalisation of democracy and its transformation to a culture, but also renders the democracy struggle fruitless.
Always bear in mind that none of us are democrats in the cultural sense. We’re either theoretical democrats or fake ones. I just wanted to have a look at the situation from this perspective. I believe this is essentially the issue. The governments are temporary. They cease to exist tomorrow. Only the flourishing of a democracy culture will signify a permanent accomplishment, and no government will have the power to take it away from the society. Hence it’ll be permanent like our cooking culture. Now is the time to work in the kitchen. All together.