Today Andrew is talking to Turkish born author of How To Lose A Country, Ece Temelkuran.
Ece is many things to many people: democracy activist in exile, social media personality, award winning newspaper columnist, bestselling non-fiction and fiction writer. So when we spoke about How To Lose A Country, I began by asking her to tell me who Ece Temelkuran actually is.
So who, exactly, is Ece Temelkuran? She’s everything I suggested in the introduction: Above all, she’s a cosmopolitan – as much at home in Turkey, Croatia, Australia or the United States. Thus her rejection of the parochial, cul-de-sac of identity politics. She’s really a REAL person. And her new book, a spunky, sparkling polemic against the populist cult of “real people”, is all these things too, plus more. Much more. It’s one of the first authentic responses to the siren song of anti democratic populism.
How To Lose A Country is a completely serious book because it isn’t completely serious. In contrast to many of the stodgily virtuous academic books written about the global crisis of democracy, Temelkuran’s new work is simultaneously edgy, engaging and erudite. It’s the non-fiction work of a fiction writer who, like her literary heroes Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jack London, has found the real world to be as richly astonishing as the most magical fiction.
Temelkuran’s seven taxonomies of global populism are all valuable. But I’m particularly taken by her second step in the transition from democracy to dictatorship: the “terrorization” of language by the populists. She’s right to argue that you can only get what she calls “the politicization of ignorance” through the willful destruction of language. And that’s why How To Lose A Country is such a vital book: not only does it warn, in good Orwellian fashion, about the political consequences of linguistic terrorism – but, like Orwell’s best books, it’s written with both simplicity and style.
I also like her third step: the removal of shame in politics. “Immorality,” she says, “is the new black”. The fathers of populism: from Putin to Netanyahu to Trump and Erdogan – yes, they are all male – have all taken great pride in rejecting the very idea of morality in politics. Or, rather, for these shameless politicians, success IS morality. The ends, therefore, justifies the means. And what this ends up with, she says, remixing Hannah Arendt, is the evil of banality.
So how to fix populism? How to Win Our Countries back? Here Temelkuran is less prescriptive. She hints at an international alliance of “real people” like herself, united in their opposition to the dismantling of democracy around the world. And certainly HOW TO LOSE A COUNTRY, in laying out a chilling taxonomy of the global shift from democracy to dictatorship, provides the beginnings of this alliance of “real people” like Ece Temelkuran, against populist banality.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s episode with Ece, you can find out more about her here:
Find Ece’s Book here:
How to Lose a Country - The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship
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Produced by Jason Sanderson - Podcast Tech
Ece you've written a new book How to Lose a country the seven steps from democracy. To dictatorship. You're a. Turkish journalist now living in exile. And if that's the right word exile in Zagreb in Croatia. It's a very personal narrative it's not an academic book. It's a start that not all our listeners will be familiar with here you have a huge social media following in Turkey some of your fiction books have won awards. But not everyone will know who you are. Who is. Ajay. Timo Coren.
That is a very very profound question. But very briefly I was a journalist in Turkey for 20 years and meanwhile I published literary books as well. Some of my books are published already in English and European languages. And I'm quite new in the United States a novel of mine was published two years ago at the time with me in swans. And now how to lose a country will be my second book published in the United States by HarperCollins. I'm living in Zagreb. I'm not an exile. I don't like to call myself like that but obviously I am here. Due to the fact that he's going through some interesting times. Yeah that's the small version. I think he's agent or my friend. When you say you're living in exile in Croatia is that because.
You would be put in prison if you lived in Turkey. Do you fear for your personal safety. Or you're just more comfortable now living out of town. The word exile is something I read that in fact because it brings this emotional and political baggage that I am not willing to.
Carry on my shoulders. I live in several countries in Tunisia in Lebanon in Paris in Oxford. To write my books and I tried to be this period of my life as another one of those that I am writing books and I am. Away from home. My life has always been split in between two words road and home and I tried to see this period as well. As one of those times. I wouldn't say that I would be in prison automatically. But the unpredictability of the political situation in Turkey for people like me is quite. Exhausting. And it gives you no time and space to concentrate on any kind of intellectual work. And you will see this in United States as well when the political sphere is terrorized to a certain degree. The subtlety of intellectual word vanishes and you know when polarization takes over it becomes yes and no. And unfortunately intellectual work takes place in between these two words. And that is quite impossible at this point in Turkey. One of the early interviews in this series with the English writer pundit David Goodhart who divides the world now into. What he calls a anywheres in some ways people who live everywhere. Like you many different homes in many different countries and cultures. And people are very much located in one place.
In terms of your identity. Do you still consider yourself. Essentially. Turkish or Middle Eastern or. Muslim or someone from Istanbul. I think these identity politics. Wasted our time in know globally. For such a long time that I don't.
I'm not interested in them anymore. When they asked me about my identity I always assumed the same way. My name is J and that's my identity. But when it comes to anywheres and nowhere is. It's a big topic at the moment both in Europe and in the United States. People like to call me exiles for instance but when they say that. I automatically. Want to ask this question. So what makes. British people who are queuing up in front of the European him this is to get European passports before Brexit. They should be counted as exiles. Or how about those Americans who feel that they are no longer living in their country anymore after Trump's election. What would that make those people even though they didn't leave their homeland. They're a bit of exile in their own country as well. That goes for. People who have critical minds. Everywhere in the world. I don't think French people who think that Marine Le Pen is a danger or. German people who are concerned with the rising right wing populism. We are all in a little bit of an exile situation here even though we some of us are living in their own countries and. That is why I wrote the book How to Lose a country. Because it doesn't matter if you leave the country or not. The countries and the political and social sphere in those countries are changing dramatically. And that transformation is leaving out people like me or probably you. So.
In your book you have this wonderful term in inverted commas real people. I don't know if any. In your terms real people listen to this show but if they. Do they be thinking. Oh this edge is just another example of a kind of international. Intellectual elite. You know she's got a. Fancy book deal. She's a non-fiction writer. She's got a book launch in the United States. She lives in North Africa and Croatia and the United States. What does she know about the struggle to put food on the table and feed a family. How would you respond to the critique from quote unquote the real person.
Of edge. Actually last week I was in Sydney and I was telling a friend if somebody ever calls me a cosmopolitan elite once more I'm going up this economy class boarding pass on his face. So you mean.
You're not part of the elite because you still travel economy to Sydney you still go to Sydney. I mean that's pretty fancy.
Besides the joke. In fact we should be very careful about this polarisation. This divide that is imposed by right wing populists. The oppressive elite and the real people. In the beginning this elite the word elite depends on. Sort of a class issue you know financial situation or being able to travel around the world and so on. But as time goes by as the right wing populist leader sees more and more are. The parameters that define who is elite and who are real people. Changes. And then at the end of the day it comes to the word obedience. If you're obedient to the leader you are a member of the real people. If you're not obedient even if you are poor or if you are undereducated. You are still an elite. I try to explain how that transformed in Turkey that divides of elites and real people. And I am seeing the same things happening in Europe and the United States as well. So I think we should be rejecting the divide entirely. Otherwise it becomes unbeatable as the right wing populism gathers more political power.
Is the country in your title How to Lose a country. Is that country really turkey or is it everywhere.
It is that we where it is everywhere. And one of the reactions I get for the book is I'm launching the book in several languages in Europe. Is that people tell me I feel less alone. And I heard this in Netherlands in Paris in Germany. Everywhere I launched the book even in Sydney in fact. So I think people feel the same things that I felt 10 years ago in Turkey and I wrote the book for them not to waste all the time that we lost in Turkey. And get their get their shit together to defend the democracies that they are living in and they have taken for granted for such a long time. And also for them to notice the moral. Decay that they are witnessing at the moment alongside with the political insanity.
Edge. A couple of weeks ago our mutual friend Soli Ozel was on this show talking specifically about Turkey. And he noted that there is one difference between. The. Turkish middle classes backing. Populism there. And the middle classes backing populism. In the United States and Britain and Western Europe more advanced. Industrial democracies. In the West. Those middle classes are in decline. Whereas in a country like Turkey. They are. Coming from the country but they're actually doing rather well for themselves. Is there a difference between. The kinds of people backing populism the so-called real people in Turkey. And those in the way are a many differences. But with the book I tried to come up with a common global patterns of right wing populism how the logic works and how the main mechanism of right wing populism works.
Despite the fact that every country has unique conditions. It is only natural. To say that every country is different. There is a common pattern that is operating exactly the same way in every country. Even though those countries are completely different demographically in terms of history and so on. And at the end it comes to deciding to defend the representative democracy or not and when it comes to that point. No country is different from the other and no democracy is more immune to right wing populism than the others. It sometimes. Sounds. Quite absurd. To those people who think that maturity of democracy and the strength of state institutions. Will protect them from right wing populism. But actually. As far as I observed in the. Recent years. The democracies and the societies. Respond to right wing populism almost in the same way. With excess of emotion being outraged. Shocked surprised. Appalled and so on. And then without even noticing they fall into the game of right wing populism. So I wanted to decipher this game of populism. For those people who are too confident in their own country's strengths. Or their democracy's. Maturity in fact. And it seems from the book that you're very well equipped to do that not just you but the experience of. Your family you you cite your grandmother and your mother.
And their experience with authoritarianism. Why has Turkish history. Equipped you so well to understand how to lose a country. And to make sense of this kind of global shift from democracy to dictatorship. I'm coming from a.
Secular leftist family. It kept me very well in terms of resistance and in terms of being better than the. Ruler and so on. I'm in fact a project of secular Turkish Republic. With a source of leftism obviously. So that is why we are very good at Kimpton. My grandmother told the. Village children how to read since she was 16. And then my mom was a teacher as well. Also she is an artist and she has been in prison and my father rescued her from prison as a young lawyer who was also a leftist and so on. I was born into this family and when you are born into such a family the politics is not something happening in the capital but actually there is something happening in your living room. But then now I see that is in all the European and American countries and United States is being politicized as they have never been before. I think for them politics have become something that's happening in the living room as well. I hear seeing people from the United States telling me. They were having a fight in Thanksgiving because of Trump. Or I hear people from Europe telling me that they stopped talking about politics with their relatives. The current situation in the world is making politics. Warren personally creeps into our personal lives which is quite unprecedented for. Americans maybe or European countries. So I think they'll be there. I kept it. Soon enough. Anne Applebaum wrote a piece.
In the Atlantic last year describing the death of conversation in Poland. The right and the left now in Poland on talking to one another our guest on last week's show. Jeff Jarvis the well-known. Internet. Guru. Describes democracy as a conversation. Is that. The great crisis that we've lost the ability to converse with one another. Is that one of the steps from. Democracy to dictatorship. The death of conversation. Or is that a kind of metaphor theme in this show. Well we having exude sizing a certain kind of democracy since 1980s.
Since 1980s. The moral and political values of neo liberalism have been dominant and. In accordance with that our democracies have been gradually. Stripped off of social equality. To start with so. The gap between the poor and the. Privileged. Having widening. Like it has never been before. This is one reason and. Also. This worshiping power which is the central valley in now liberalism has become so. Dominant. That the weak is seen as the loser it's not a coincidence that Trump keeps talking about losers. He refers to this. Values set. Name of liberalism I think. So our democracies. Have been rotten. So there is a point when right wing populists say that. The corrupt the lead the corrupt system and so on so forth. That is why it resonates with millions of people. It is not completely wrong. Unfortunately they are the wrong people to say that because they are not promising a better future or a better democracy but less democracy. And a darker future.
So I had the subtitle of the book is the seven steps from democracy dictatorship. Sounds like a Hitchcock movie.
Lay out those steps very briefly what are those segments that the first step is create a movement. Because political parties over. And. Established is movement upon the world. Words real people. Which would be very familiar with Europeans and Americans at the moment. And then ask for respect. And get yourself recognized by the conventional politics and get yourself a place in that table of conventional politics. And then on terrorised the space the political space. So everybody gets really mad or. Surprise and appalled. So this is.
An Arab and a Savini Trump and guy right.
As soon as you give them a place on the table of conventional politics they elbow you out from that table. Right. And is this dropped racial now and terrorize the language. I wrote a fictitious. Conversation between Bristol tell us and a typical right wing populist in that chapter to show people how they shouldn't be talking to a right wing populist spin doctor. That step is a real shame in morality is the new black. I do think that is. What we are going through. It's not only a political chaos but a moral one as well. So we will have to defend the basic humane moral values while we're trying to get over this political madness. It seems like the crown prince of this if that's the right word is Vladimir Putin. And this disappearance of morality that is in fact very interesting because all these leaders as I told in the book are respecting Putin and putting our respecting them back. So there is an international sort of respect network among these leaders. So they are copying each other. That's true because you know they are so limited in their creativity that actually they are. Taking the slogan from each other makes your country great again.
And maybe some of these people have just been watching too many shows of Sopranos or good God. Exactly. And also I'm now reading Bebe.
A biography of Benjamin right. He says marriage will suffer. Amazing book. I am now thinking that actually before quitting there was no tenure. That this real people elite. Divide. As well. OK so no. What's that is this mental the judiciary and political mechanism. Which happened in the United States before anything else. So it was very interesting. The United States jumped from first step to fourth step. In fact. You know when Trump started to mess with the state institutions and so on. Isn't this.
A little over dramatized I mean OK. Trump wants to dismantle the judiciary. I'm talking to you from Berkeley California. There doesn't seem to me at this point at least. That much evidence that the judiciary has been dismantled that he's had any success at all.
Where's your evidence for these meddling with it. And that was quite unthinkable like five years ago wasn't it. And now it is becoming normalized that. He's moving some state officials from here to there. He's. Firing people and then getting some other people that he finds great or tremendous and so on. My point is you're not going to complete dismantlement of the state institution. But as soon as the leader starts meddling with the state institution in the eyes of the people the state institution becomes something like a paper tiger. Probably many people in United States think that oh wow CIA or FBI. We're not that strong. Not as strong as we imagine them now or you know the Congress is you know had to come together to stop him doing things. You know the government shutdown the longest in American history. That happened and in order to stop it the entire American establishment had to come together. These are new things so. Bit by bit. It is normalized that state institution can be mellow with. This is how it started in Turkey as well. It didn't happen overnight that the entire political and judiciary mechanism was. Dismantled. It started normalization. But he cannot do that. You know the threshold of possibility. Became higher and higher as they went by. So. I am actually calling people to be careful about this normalization as well. But you know when you say but he couldn't do it. It's an interesting statement. But he tried and he did it up to a certain point and then somebody stopped him. So how about you know he does these things on a daily basis. Would there be enough political energy to stop him each time. This is my point.
OK. So number five the fifth stand by five is something I like very much it is.
About political humor. When does laughter becomes up to comfortable political shelter that we don't want to go out. There as soon as these political leaders appear. We start making jokes about them we mock them. It's a defense mechanism to calm down our anxieties. And then we use them to feel strong and powerful against this wave of right wing populism. But then it becomes something. Like a tool to make ourselves feel secure even when we are not. So how does political humor operate in times of rising right wing populism. That's the. Fifth chapter and a sixth step is design your own citizen. If the left right wing populism stay in power long enough as we did in Turkey they create their own generation and they also sort of harvest people from other political stands to act together with them. So they are in fact designing their own citizens and people like me feel like they are not citizens anymore. And the last step is designing our own country and get rid of all the others. All the ones who do not support you. Which is the saddest face that I want. No European country or United States to face. Let's go back to the second one I think is particularly interesting this idea of.
The crisis of terrorizing language. Is that why writers like yourself is so important. Well I don't feel important with. Why you're fighting back. I mean the obvious question out of all of this is. These steps aren't inevitable. And the. Issue is how to. Push back against them how to save democracy. And as a writer I assume that your role is fighting back against the linguistic terror. Exactly. You know when the power. Is. Primitive.
The opposition becomes primitive. Accordingly. For instance this is a good example. There was a case in Turkey. It was revealed that in a religious foundation. Dozens of kids were raped. And this religious foundation was supportive of anyone. So therefore I don't supported this religious foundation. And. They in fact. Prosecuted the reporter who reported about these. Rape cases. So all of a sudden as opposition we find ourselves saying this raping kids is not good. I study law. I'm a lawyer by education. I wrote several books and my intellectual capacity is far better than saying this. But in a world in a country like that. You know you're obliged to repeat this every day. This somehow paralyzes your mind the power makes you primitive. And it's very annoying thing and exhausting thing as well. There's not quite a leader. There is no sophistication at all. And your brain wants to do something that it is designed for which is thinking analyzing and so on and so forth. So it was almost like a intellectual reflex for me. To go out of that madness and to start seeing. Right wing populism as a giant machine. And that is why I wanted to decipher. The mechanism. Because if you are lost in that mechanism you find yourself just shouting No no no no. Which doesn't require a lot of intellectual capacity in fact and it strips you of. Your capabilities intellectual and emotional abilities. You become this angry. Person. And the most defining aspect of. Your soul becomes anger. It is something that people of Turkey knows very well. And they are exhausted of being angry in. Their language being terrorized and their rage now being disrupted. Now it's easier to explain what happened in Turkey in the last 10 years because. Europeans and Americans leave something similar. We've had to talk to these people who believe that world is flat. And when we show them the picture of the word. The planet and it's round as you can see. Is a response they told us. But we believe it's flat. So we have to. Prove them seeing is better than. Leaving or more valid than believing. So it becomes like a conundrum that you cannot get out and you are constantly. Subjected to this mobilized and politicized ignorance. So to speak. It's not easy to survive. And throughout that time the most important thing you'll find out is your language the language you're using is terrorized as well. This is what I mean by terrorizing the language and disrupting the range now. So how to lose a country then is a kind of resistance it's.
It's arrogant it's angry it's funny it's written in and an incredibly engaging way.
It's an excellent piece of work. Some of the people who sort of inspired you. In terms of writing as an act of resistance. You know all while comes to mind whether your work is. Different from Orwell. What other writers maybe some of the Central European writers who wrote against totalitarianism Soviet totalitarianism in the late parts of the 20th century. Who else have inspired you to write How to Lose a country.
Oh there are several names. And while writing the book I think I read almost all of the books that have been written about right wing populism in the recent years. But. What inspired me most is the lack. Of books that talks to people. Because many books. Written about right wing populism are academic work. And they are almost talking to each other except for a few a very few and which ones aren't. Do you think one Miller's book is a good one customer. This book is a very good one. I think there'll be several other books who will be talking to people and who will be telling people how to. Protect themselves think tanks have to protect their democracy. As well. So I wanted to write a personal. Book. I wanted this book to sound like OK my friend. This is how we pull our. Selves together because you you need me. I am experienced in this. And you are new but you have the stamina. Therefore I need you and we can get rid of this. Only if we cooperate on a global level. Because as you can see the right wing populist leaders are cooperating on a global level. So why don't we do that as well. You know this is the main motion or idea behind the book. Fighting back against sort of. Steve Bannon's International right wing network.
In other words Yeah exactly. Because it is so obvious that they are getting in touch and they are. Collaborating so it would be only naive to think that this is not global. And we can beat this. Beast. On national level. No we cannot. No we cannot. It's a huge thing and it's transforming our entire culture of politics and our understanding of humankind as well because as time goes by and as you are subjected to the banalities of this kind of politics. You start losing faith in humankind. You start thinking that maybe the human kind is banal at the end.
You say that the banality of evil has been replaced by the evil of banality. At one point Tim. Exactly. And I think this is an important transformation.
We thought that all this banalities funny something you know limited and so and so forth but then that banality became the president of the United States. That banality has become a significant political leaders. Turn to political figures leaders whatever European Union and now they are ruining the entire ideal of Europe. So. It is not just banal it is the evil banality.
But we are dealing with. And of course it was Iran who came out with the term banality of evil. She perhaps had the most profound. Insights into the nature of 20th century totalitarianism. If she was around today. Do you think should be surprised. Is this 21st century version of totalitarianism. Different from the 20th century version rent was a woman. With a. Distinct sense of. Humor.
And I like her because of that as well. And she wrote Walliams about political code about fascism and so on. And at some point in one of her books she says it is stupidity at the end. So I think she would say Oh my God. Same stupidity again. She would be really bored I suppose to see all these. Finally A.J. It's hard enough to write a.
Compelling non-fiction book but you're also an accomplished fictional writer. How has that helped you. Master the craft of nonfiction and vice versa.
Well I consider myself as a storyteller so I am telling stories some of them are real. Some of them are not. But all of them I consider them to be truthful. So when you are telling a true story and when you're telling a story that you have to tell. I thing that compels people to read it because that genuineness I guess authenticity. Passes to the reader. And I don't have to pretend that I suffered from. Political situation in Turkey because I did and many people I know did even worse than me. So that emotion. And emotion of urgency. And the feeling of trying to warn people. I think that passes to the reader and because it's real because it's real. So one writer finally Ajay one writer who's really inspired you in your career would it be. Perhaps a Latin American magical realism that would be someone from Turkey that we don't know who is Gabriel Garcia Marquez in fact. Among several others. Jack London as well. Because these were. You know journalists and novelists. I think they were the few people who knew that reality. Is far amazing and incredible than the fiction. So they always depended on the strengths of real ness. And the facts. So I think I found the most inspiring when I was very very young. And several women writers by the way.