What the latest report by two Turkish academic experts with their fingers on the social pulse tells us is merely a confirmation of similar findings about why Turks act the way they do — they don’t trust each other and they show the lowest trust in people among 40 countries.
Two professors from Sabancı University, Ersin Kalaycıoğlu and Ali Çarkoğlu, recently issued their extensive report “Citizenship in Turkey and the World,” which is a comparative study on citizen-state relations and perceptions of “good citizen” practices. The report is based on discussions with 1,509 people in 58 of Turkey’s provinces and cites similar reports in 40 other countries.
This is not a human map to spread optimism about aspirations for democratic rule. The term “trust” is key in this context: In the countries where people generally trust each other, the level of predictability rises, costs fall, corruption is much more easily battled, institutions function more efficiently and productivity is boosted.
“Are people trustable?” the survey asked Turks, and those who said yes made up only 14 percent of respondents. Another question was, “Do people generally use you or act fairly toward you?” To which 75 percent said, “They use me.” These findings to a great deal overlap with others — one of which recently found the “trust each other” response as low as 5 percent in Turkey. The only caveat about the Kalaycıoğlu-Çarkoğlu report is that it compares Turkey in 2014 with 40 other countries in 2004 (because the updated surveys were delayed). So, if you are slightly skeptical about the results, you may be right, but the data about Turkey is still striking enough.
If you take the Sabancı report as a single base, there is more to reflect upon. For example, respondents perceived citizenship and political participation as being limited to voting. Those who have signed petitions or taken part in other civic actions in writing was as low as 14 percent, while the average in the world is about 50 percent. Only 10 percent said they have attended a demonstration. Those who are not affiliated with any association, union, NGO or party amounted to 90 percent!
Mistrust is directed also toward the legislature. Only 21 percent believed that Parliament is “inclined to pay attention to the demands of the public.” The notion of whether or not democracy functions well or badly divided the public, which thinks in opposites, right in half. The division is the same as it was in the Sabancı report made a decade ago.
A total of 18 percent believe everybody is somewhat contaminated by corruption. “Many are…” said about 33 percent.
This data helps to explain a lot of the reasons the opposition grossly failed to unite after the June 7 election, as well as why hugely dramatic events such as the terrorist attacks in Ankara and Suruç fell short of bringing citizens together. It also clarifies things for those colleagues abroad who wonder why on earth Turkey’s journalists can never stand united.
But, more than about today, one should get concerned about tomorrow. Professor Kalaycıoğlu underlines the fact that widespread and deeply rooted mistrust is a massive stumbling block for the consolidation of civil society. Yet, Professor Çarkoğlu says despite the gloomy picture, one should keep working patiently.
But the bottom line is how the culture is to be reformed and changed. The apparent fact is the total failure of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its de facto leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to take the lead and use the massive backing of 50 percent of the vote to modernize politics and social awareness regarding trust and consensus. This failure will, sadly, cause at least another decade to be lost.