Murat Yetkin


Former Turkish President Abdullah Gül warned against authoritarian rule and populism during a panel discussion last week saying it will lead to social polarization inside and in foreign policy, as well as to conflicts and wars.
Speaking in a panel discussion in Istanbul during the 22nd Eurasian Economy Summit by the Marmara Group on Feb 7, Gül said that populism had been “in the form of fascism before the Second World War, but nowadays it took the form of authoritarianism”.
“Populist tendencies, which abuse economic and social injustice and disappointments” Gül said is “destructive and manipulative, but stays at a rhetorical level. But when populist movements come to power or when those holding the power shift to populism it is much more dangerous. Because the combination of rhetoric with implementation can lead to huge problems.”
Gül continued as follows:
“First of all populism targets the fundamental principles of democracy and corrupts them. It targets separation of powers, independent and neutral delivery of justice, transparency of state, its accountability, and free press; in those countries where populism is in advance, all of those are in regression.”
Former Turkish President said that “populist leaders give the people fish but never teach them how to fish. When there is no fish left to deliver, problems arise”. As one of the three founding fathers of President Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) back in 2001, who served as its Foreign Minister and Prime Minister before being elected as president, Gül in a way his own retrospective self-criticism for the delivery of food and basic goods to people in need especially during election campaigns.
“[Populist policies] can deliver results in the short run” Gül said; “But in the long run, populist leaders lose together with everyone else in the system. Populism is not sustainable.”
Like his comparison of populism before WWII in the form of fascism and nowadays as authoritarianism, Gül makes another comparison about its effects in domestic and foreign politics:
“Populism polarizes society inside the country. It weakens pluralism. It makes cohabitation of people of different opinions, ethnic origins or faith more difficult. In foreign policy, the history showed us that, nationalist, racist leaders first consolidated their and their party’s position in the country and then got into regional interest struggles and they always end up in fights and wars.”
It is interesting that in his entire speech Gül, who mentioned a number of countries from the U.S. to Venezuela and some regions, he did not mention the name of Turkey. Perhaps that was not to antagonize the atmosphere further. Yet again, his speech could not find a proper place in the main stream Turkish media; or perhaps it is more correct to call it the “dominant media” instead of “main stream”.


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