A Handbook For Authoritarian Governments: How To Stop Worrying and Love the Protest
Dear authoritarian leader,
I know life gets tough for you. Everyone is criticizing you on Twitter. Yes, you have your hashtag, but it seems like your reputation is not as quite good as you wanted it to be. I saw the memes they made for you. I feel your pain and shame.
These liberals. Ohh, they think that the world could be saved by love and peace. How stupid? No one can understand your ambition to dominate and rule. I understand.
They don’t understand the dynamics of power and how you need to support your base. Corruption is a must. Of course, your wife needs that Hermes bag and your son needs to drive a Maybach automobile.
These liberals. They want freedom. What about the freedom of suppression?
Dear authoritarian leader, I want to help you. That’s why I analyzed the authoritarian governments around the world for you and how they stop the protests.
Here is my analysis to protect you from the upcoming ‘Dark Winter.’
1- Defend and talk about religious places, even though they are not in danger
If there is a protest, those protestors must pass near a religious place, right? Use this.
In 2013, Gezi Protests happened. It was a peaceful protest started by liberal, well-educated Turkish people who aimed to protect Gezi Parkı. The protests were sparked by outrage at the violent eviction of a sit-in at the park protesting the plan. The protests continued from 28 May to 21 September.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (now president) accused Gezi protesters of entering Dolmabahçe Mosque with shoes on and beer bottles in their hands after they had taken refuge at the mosque during a fierce police crackdown. As soon as Erdoğan put the “mosque card” on the table, protests lost their power. I admire a leader who knows how to bluff and where to put his police tanks.
Or another example, you can learn from the leader of the Law and Justice party, Mr. Kaczynski. In Poland, protests began on 22 October 2020 against the rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal, consisting mainly of judges appointed by the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS), which tightened the law on abortion in Poland by making it illegal in almost all cases, including severe and irreversible disability or incurable and life-threatening disease of the fetus. A wave of mass protests opposing the ruling commenced on the afternoon of the same day. Protests that were led by Polish women are continuing. On the 6th day of the protests, what did Mr. Kaczynski do? He wrote on his Facebook page, “We must defend Polish churches, we must defend them at every price,” like churches are in danger. Like the most lovely women in the world can put churches in danger.
2- Find an Enemy. If you can’t find one, create one.
Deceiving is an art. Be an artist to distract people from the failing economy.
Suppose you are a leader in a highly dangerous geopolitical place such as the Middle East. You are lucky. Just blame your closest neighbor, which you share a historically complicated past. Blame them for starting the protests.
When you are screwed economically and politically, you are the luckiest. You can now blame everyone since you have nothing to lose. If things are not going well, blame everyone. Blame intellectuals, blame media, blame social media, blame liberals, blame neighbors, blame Muslims, blame the bad weather, or the cucumbers. It’s where you shine.
Being an authoritarian leader is awesome. Why? Because no one can question your competency or your taste in humor. Look how Macron and Tayyip Erdoğan are now both using the Muslim-Christian tension after the Charlie Hebdo caricature to distract their people from the economy and their incompetent management during the COVID-19 pandemic. Use sensitive topics such as religion when needed. People may think these leaders hate each other. All I see is a strong alliance. You should find an enemy who deserves you.
Suppose you feel the threat of upcoming protests due to the economy. Your job is more challenging. Now you have to create an enemy — an enemy within perhaps.
If you have minorities. Nice. Use them. You have invested in minorities by neglecting them economically or socially for many years. It’s time for them to pay you their debt. How? First, make the minorities angry by saying controversial things or make unlogical policies. They may want freedom of expression. Please don’t give them anything. If you can take their existing rights, take them. I hope you are multitasking. Because you also have to provoke your base. When the minorities start protesting, voila! You have someone to blame for your failures. By doing this, you are now preventing upcoming protests. First, create chaos, then take control while you can. Show how powerful you are.
3- Poison the oppositional leaders
Learn a few chemistry tricks from KGB. If you are too lazy to learn science, just learn how to cook rotten chicken.
Look how easy Putin gets rid of oppositional activists. According to Alexei Navalny (an oppositional activist), President Vladimir Putin was responsible for his poisoning. We don’t know if it’s Putin or the chicken, but the important thing is Navalny has been kept away from politics. Learn from the masters, my dear authoritarian leader.
4- Put intellectuals in prison and the smarts in an exile
Intellectuals enjoy being together anyway. Help them enjoy life.
There is nothing more irritating than an extrovert intellectual. When they talk or express their world views, everyone listens to them. How can they steal your thunder? Don’t let them speak. Look at the Chinese government and learn what is “the inciting subversion of state power.’ Check out how many naive romantics they got rid of by this policy. It’s a masterpiece.
For example, Reporters Without Borders urged for the immediate release of Chinese political cartoonist Jiang Yefei, who was sentenced to “subversion of state power” in 2018. But who cares about the reporters without borders? They don’t even have borders. You have.
Or look at Osman Kavala, a Turkish activist and a businessman who supported Gezi Protests in 2013, and he has been in prison since 2017 without reason. You don’t need a reason to put people in jail. I’m giving you a list of keywords. Use these words to put anyone you like in jail: Terrorist, traitor, spy, parallel. As soon as you put every intellectual in prison, smarts will escape from the country too. Win-win.
5- Control the media
Soap operas and footbal games are the best friends of an authoritarian leader. Who wants to watch news anyway?
According to the Atlantic, “You can, of course, take a gang of men, give them some guns, and send them off to seize a broadcasting center. That’s what happened in October 1993 when Russian lawmakers revolted against Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. They failed, but 69 people died in the attack on the government’s Ostankino Television Center. In 2000, shortly after Putin was inaugurated as Russia’s president, government security forces arrived at the offices of the parent company of NTV, an independent channel generating high ratings for its investigative reporting, and began seizing documents. The authorities chalked the raid up to a business dispute, claiming that NTV’s owner, media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky, owed his creditors $300 million and wouldn’t pay them back. State-controlled Gazprom-Media took over the channel less than a year later. While NTV is still one of Russia’s biggest channels, it has been politically neutered and now hews closely to the Kremlin’s viewpoint.
Of course, there are more subtle ways. For example, in Turkey, the AKP government passed laws that constrict the space available for independent media. They set legal traps, sent the tax police to carry out endless inspections, denying that political views have anything to do with the investigations. In 2018, the last oppositional media group that belonged to Aydın Doğan was sold to the government’s famous supporter Demirören Group. Doğan group was under the pressure of heavy taxes and legal cases.
6- Control the system of justice
Of course justice is important. But not as important as you.
As Murray Gunn wrote in 2018, “In Poland’s case, one policy of the ruling Law and Justice Party is to overhaul the judicial system by forcing judges to retire early. This, the European Union argues, is aimed at increasing political influence in the Polish legal system. Turkey took similar actions in 2017, and it has been a classic tactic of authoritarian regimes throughout history.” and he continues, “Poland’s Law and Justice Party are adhering to authoritarian policies in several ways. It has introduced legislation that considers “slandering Poland” a serious criminal offense; it’s also a crime to imply that Poles had any responsibility for Nazi crimes in Poland during World War II. Add into the mix a persistent focus on nationalism, attacks on the free press, and changing election regulations. It all adds up to a story of regression rather than progression. On 13 August, the EU stepped up threats of legal action against the Polish government, which remains intransigent on the judicial matter. It’s looking very probable that Poland will follow Turkey on the road to international isolation.”
My dear authoritarian leader. I hope you liked reading my analysis. In conclusion, the dark winter is coming, and I want you to be prepared.
You can also check my previous article, Why Poland Is The New Turkey?
If you come this far, find me on Twitter.