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3 February 2016

Slavoj Žižek: The spectre of Putogan

Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan are now officially enemies, but doesn't it seem more and more that they stand for the two versions of the same political regime?

By Slavoj Žižek

The well-coordinated official Turkish campaign against me deserves a short conclusive comment. Some on the Turkish side twisted the New Statesman’s apology for the reference to a fake interview into an apology for (i.e., the revocation of) all the main claims of my text. However, my text published in the NS was not “based” on the fake Andalou interview, it was written and published elsewhere (in Germany) before, without the reference to that fake interview, and the claims contained in it echo hundreds of critical texts on Turkish politics. My only “lie” was to refer to a fake interview available on the web – an error that can happen to anyone these days.

As an ordinary reader of public media, I, of course, have no first hand knowledge of what goes on in the Middle East; no way to investigate the details for myself. But I can do something with the public materials available to anyone. What I do know is that no effective ideology simply lies: an ideology is never a simple mystification obfuscating the hidden reality of domination and exploitation; the atrocious reality obfuscated and mystified by an ideology has to register, to leave traces, in the explicit ideological text itself, in the guise of its inconsistencies, gaps, etc.

The Stalinist show trials were, of course, a brutal travesty of justice concealing breath-taking brutality, but to see this, it is not necessary to know the reality behind them — the public face of the trials, the puppet-like monstrosity of public confessions, etc., made this abundantly clear. In a homologous way, one doesn’t have to know how Jews really were to guess that the Nazi accusations against them were a fake — a close look at these accusations makes it clear that we are dealing with paranoiac fantasies.

This, of course, in no way implies that the disclosure and analysis of facts are not important: one should bring out to light all the details of their atrocious brutality, of ruthless economic exploitation, etc. However, in order to explain how people often remain within their ideology even when they are forced to admit facts, one has to supplement investigation and disclosure of facts by the analysis of ideology which not only makes people blind to the full horror of facts but also enables them to participate in activities which generate these atrocious facts while maintaining the appearance of human dignity. Ideology does not reside primarily in stories invented (by those in power) to deceive others, it resides in stories invented by social agents to deceive themselves.

And is Turkey today also not an exemplary case of all this? It is enough to read carefully the public proclamations of Erdogan and his government, the furious paranoiac tone of accusing opponents for being national traitors, of reducing legitimate political parties to the public face of terrorists, of denouncing opposition as one big secular-kemalist-zionist block, of arresting intellectuals who sign an appeal for peace, etc, to see that something is rotten in the land of Turkey.

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So, to conclude, let me compare my “lie” (referring to a fake report on the web) to how the Turkish governmment reacted to the Cumhuriyet‘s claim that Turkish intelligence agencies were smuggling arms to Islamist groups in Syria. When my “lie” was revealed, it was immediately set straight, i.e., the passage referring to the fake interview was withdrawn. When the lie of the Turkish government (which denied supplying arms to the Syrian Islamists) was revealed by Cumhuriyet (which published the pictures and video of the border incident), the whole affair was proclaimed a state secret and journalists were arrested. Is this not the clearest contrast imaginable between modest honesty and a brutal lie sustained by state oppression?

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Turkey now sees Vladimir Putin as an enemy, and I have no great sympathy for him – I am very critical about Russian military intervention in Syria. However, what cannot but strike the eye is the similarity between the two official enemies, Putin and Erdogan, who more and more stand for the two versions of the same political regime – one that, while formally remaining democratic, de facto functions in an authoritarian way.

What if Putin and Erdogan are two embodiments of the same figure that we can call Putogan?