“Venceréis, pero no convenceréis”

Here is my column in TZ:

I am asked, by whoever I meet, whether or not we should be worried about Turkey, its people and the region. Of course, we should be. With decisive steps we are being dragged into a pit, a black hole from where it will take enormous effort to climb back.

We all know that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s fight for political survival is conditioned for him to entrench his power. With each and every step he takes, he fully engages the majority in the legislative and the absolutely loyal parts of the security bureaucracy. We will end up with a bill, which by its nature will be highly costly for the entire nation. The unknown is, whether or not the nation will be prepared to pay a price for it all.

On dealing with accountability, Erdoğan created a bizarre duality, a contradictory choice between the rule of law and the ballot box; investing fully on the scales of the latter. This approach is entirely similar, in essence, to Europe in between the two world wars.

Therefore, it is timely to recall the famous story of the exchange between Millan-Astray, a general, and De Unomuno, an intellectual — two grand figures of Spain, one remembered with contempt, the other with pride.

On the eve of the Spanish Civil War, amid intense polarization, a diverse crowd had gathered on Oct. 12, 1936, at the University of Salamanca, including Enrique Pla y Deniel, the Archbishop of Salamanca, and Carmen Polo Martínez-Valdés, the wife of Franco, and Millán-Astray himself. The affair began with an impassioned speech by the Falangist writer José María Pemán.

After this, the debate went on to condemn some parts of Spain as “cancers on the body of the nation.”

The heat in the hall escalated into shouts of “fascism, the healer of Spain, will know how to exterminate them, cutting into the live flesh, like a determined surgeon free from false sentimentalism!”

From somewhere in the auditorium, someone cried out the motto “¡Viva la Muerte!” (Long live death). As was his habit, Millán-Astray responded, “¡España!” and the crowd replied, “¡Una!” He repeated “¡España!” and the crowd then replied “¡Grande!” A third time, Millán-Astray shouted “¡España!” and the crowd responded, “¡Libre!”

This was a common Falangist cheer.

Later, a group of uniformed Falangists entered, saluting the portrait of General Franco that hung on the wall.

Unamuno, the great existentialist philosopher/author, who was presiding over the meeting, rose up slowly. “You are waiting for my words,” he began.

“You know me well, and know I cannot remain silent for long. Sometimes, to remain silent is to lie, since silence can be interpreted as assent… But now I have heard this insensible and necrophilous oath, “¡Viva la Muerte!” and I, having spent my life writing paradoxes that have provoked the ire of those who do not understand what I have written, and being an expert in this matter, find this ridiculous paradox repellent. Gen. Millán-Astray is an invalid. There is no need for us to say this with whispered tones. He is an invalid of war. So was Cervantes. But unfortunately, Spain today has too many invalids. And, if God does not help us, soon it will have very many more. It torments me to think that Gen. Millán-Astray might dictate the norms of the psychology of the masses.”

Millán-Astray responded: “¡Muera la inteligencia! ¡Viva la Muerte!” (Death to intelligence! Long live death!), provoking huge applause from the Falangists.

Pemán, to calm the crowd, exclaimed “¡No! ¡Viva la inteligencia! ¡Mueran los malos intelectuales!” (No! Long live intelligence! Death to the bad intellectuals!)

Unamuno was now in a state of trance, and he went on: “This is the temple of intelligence, and I am its high priest. You are profaning its sacred domain. You will win, because you have enough brute force. But you will not convince [Vencereis, pero no convencereis].

“In order to convince it is necessary to persuade, and to persuade you will need something that you lack: reason and right in the struggle. I see it is useless to ask you to think of Spain. I have spoken.” And, he leaves the hall, with his wife.

Lately, I think a lot about this episode. Not because of any need to compare politics then and now; it is the identical mood of the masses that concerns me.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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