Will foreign media intervene in Türkiye’s upcoming municipal elections?
This question looms large, especially now that it is confirmed that Turkish voters will head to the polls once again on March 31, 2024. It is tempting to revisit the abovementioned issue, given the memories of the most recent election marathon. However, in the ever-evolving landscape of politics, where 24 hours can make a significant difference, is there a glimmer of hope for international commentators? Perhaps it is time for my colleagues to reevaluate their portrayal of modern Türkiye to their audiences, acknowledging that it may have been significantly misleading for many years, if not decades.
I have previously discussed this topic, but since change takes time, it seems appropriate to address it again through an open letter, so to speak, to our dear friends and colleagues in the international media community. In other words, would you consider visiting and experiencing Türkiye firsthand? Are you interested in meeting local people on the ground to gain a deeper understanding of modern Türkiye? Additionally, if you have a presence in this country, why not create a comprehensive list of topics your teams could cover? However, by “list of topics,” I do not mean the unfortunately common negative narratives often presented to your audiences. Instead, I suggest reporting on Türkiye’s remarkable success story, which has been evident, particularly over the past 20 years.
Crisis in international organizations
Let us begin by putting exactly this success story into the wider framework. Is it incorrect that international and transnational institutions and organizations are somewhat trapped in an extended political soul-searching process?
For instance, what is the way forward for the European Union, or how should NATO address its identity crisis? Lastly, when will the United Nations prioritize comprehensively overhauling its internal mechanisms? In this context, it’s worth recalling President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement from 2021, during the publication of his book “A Fairer World is Possible,” where he emphasized that the world extends beyond the influence of five countries.
Now, let’s delve into individual countries within Europe. Is it not accurate to say that many leading EU member states must come to terms with a drastically altered global political landscape? This goes beyond the challenges posed by a pandemic or resulting financial crises; there are broader transformations at play. Simply hoping for the best and expecting everything to return to normal in a few years is no longer sufficient.
If we then add conflict and war in far too many regions of the world, as well as considering that natural disasters keep occurring on an unprecedented scale, any nation-state will have a fully packed agenda of urgent tasks in front of their elected officeholders. This should not be misinterpreted as unfair criticism toward our European allies, friends and partners. But something else has occurred, pandemic, financial crisis, natural disaster or none: European society has changed fundamentally. On the one hand, we see increasing interest in a multicultural and diverse way of life. On the other – and in some instances well above the 25% mark at the ballot box – we witness far-right political tendencies trying to gain the upper hand. We must attest that in many European countries, an unfortunate form of populism has taken center stage, with many mainstream politicians completely lost in the dark. To make matters worse, most European mainstream media totally shy away from appropriately discussing this highly dangerous and extremely toxic development.
This is and what should worry the European electorate is that many of their elected leaders somehow seem to have forgotten what leadership in a positive sense actually means. Western Europe produced many highly successful and lauded leaders during the post-World War II decades. They hailed from the political Left or from the political Right; in some instances, and over time, liberal and ecological policies were added, including leaders from those political tendencies. In most cases, exactly that understanding of leadership was best tested during a crisis.
Leadership is tested in crises
One such notable example from the past is former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who, long before entering national politics, was involved in the politics of the State of Hamburg as a senator. His management of a catastrophic natural disaster – the big flood – eventually introduced him to the national public, who understood that someone who shows proactive leadership on a regional scale might just as well be the perfect national leader on that bigger national stage. History proved both Schmidt and the electorate right. Schmidt later managed West Germany, introducing the term “Model Germany” based on democracy, economic clout and international reputation.
Many other examples from many countries and political backgrounds could be added, which brings us to the gist of this brief analysis. It appears one of the most important misperceptions among our European and international media colleagues is that the Turkish electorate, and in particular over the past 20 years, had decided to shelve all forms of tutelage, being it from a military far too much involved in civilian politics, or being it by foreign powers telling Ankara what to do. One such leader who perfectly well embraced this public sentiment is today’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It did not happen overnight, and his own leadership skills were tested more than once: think of the global financial crisis or consider the heinous Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) orchestrated coup attempt from July 2016. We do not even have to mention the above-introduced pandemic or, more recently, the shockingly sad earthquake that occurred here in Türkiye. Besides, the electorate has understood that being Turkish is something to be proud of; you unite behind a successful leader, and at the same time, you stand together as a nation. This is the difference between populism and nationalism in many European countries and the Turkish well-balanced way forward.
However, this is just one side of the story. It’s not just the deliberate belittling of an entire nation and its elected leaders: there’s also a prevailing sentiment that many European circles are uninterested in a successful and influential Türkiye. In this regard, numerous examples illustrate this perspective.
Firstly, consider the transformation of the Turkish economy, which has evolved from state-sponsored capitalism to a dynamic nation where individual participation in the economy is not only valued but encouraged. Approximately 99% of Turkish companies are small to medium-sized, often family-run enterprises. Moreover, Türkiye has transitioned from producing cheap, assembly-line goods to manufacturing world-class, high-tech, high-end products.
Furthermore, Türkiye’s infrastructure has undergone a complete overhaul, including developing high-speed rail networks and constructing modern airports across the country. The healthcare system has seen significant improvements, with state-of-the-art hospitals that rival five-star hotels. Additionally, in the field of education, Türkiye recently achieved a position in the global top 10 for attracting international students. These are just a few examples of Türkiye’s ongoing success story, which could fill many volumes with precise details.
Coming to an end, my biggest wish would be for dear colleagues to take a plane and come over, meet as many people as you wish, visit as many institutions as you think fit, talk to local people, the so-called ordinary men and women on the street, and in particular talk to the aspiring and inspiring younger generation; then talk to elected office holders and then, last but not least, make up your own mind.
Türkiye’s remarkable success story often goes unnoticed from abroad, as highlighted in recent election coverage. While change is a gradual process, there is still time to make a difference. Let’s hope that the reporting on the local elections taking place on March 31, 2024, will be fair, critical but honest, and free from derogatory portrayals. Dear colleagues, your potential for excellent reporting is well-recognized, and I believe you can contribute to a more accurate depiction of Türkiye’s progress.