Turkey: democracy deferred

Those who hoped for swift restoration of parliamentary government in Turkey are bound to have doubts after two recent events: the conviction of former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit for violating military regulations banning political statements by ex-politicians, and the temporary suspension of the conservative daily Tercuman for publishing an editorial critical of the dissolution of political parties.

Significantly, the statement whose distribution to foreign journalists prompted Ecevit's prosecution was no more than self-defense against his fierce public criticism by the government, while Tercuman had been one of the staunchest supporters of the military regime. This appears to indicate that Gen. Kenan Ervan's junta has no intention of tolerating even the tamest criticism.

Indeed, the regime's authoritarianism is fast surpassing even the opposition's predictions. A repressive constitution is being drafted to replace that of 1961, which the generals find too liberal and blame for Turkey's ills. They forget that Nationalist Front governments allied themselves with extreme rightists who were perceived as bulwarks against communism. It was the freedom of action that the right enjoyed and not the lofty principles of the 1961 Constitution that contributed, more than other factors, to the chaos that preceded the Sept. 12, 1980, takeover.

Political persecution and torture, according to Amnesty International, ''is being practiced on such a wide scale in Turkey that it is impossible that it is being carried out without official sanction.'' Pressure from the European Council forced the regime to reduce the period of detention without charges from 90 to 35 days, but political prisoners still cannot appeal if their sentences are less than three years.

The international press has stressed the country's economic recovery, but much of it is still conjunctural. A sizable portion of the export ''boom'' is due to the wartime needs of neighboring Iran and Iraq, while heavy doses of foreign aid - following International Monetary Fund-mandated austerity measures - helped put Turkey back on its feet.

The junta has asked the people for tremendous sacrifices but have given little in return. ''Stability'' and promises to curb terrorism lose their effectiveness as memories of nights speckled with gunfire fade. Only weapon caches periodically unearthed with great fanfare momentarily shore up the junta's position.

The junta attempts to reshape society, placing military officers in virtually all government posts and extending their influence to every facet of daily life. With strikes banned, and most unions outlawed, workers have witnessed a steady drop in their real income. And, most recently, new laws have been decreed ending the autonomy of universities: all academic appointments and decisions are now closely controlled by the regime.

Western Europe has had mixed reactions to these developments. Some governments, notably Belgium, have been hostile from the start. More receptive ones like West Germany (one of Turkey's primary creditors) have recently expressed disappointment with the Army's failure to restore democracy and prevent human rights abuses.

Not surprisingly - between Alexander Haig's consciousness (as former NATO commander) of Turkey's strategic importance and the apparent Reagan-Weinberger toleration of human rights violations by friendly (''authoritarian'') governments - the United States has openly supported the regime. Indeed, this year US economic aid to Turkey has increased from $295 million to $350 million, and military aid from $155 million to $450 million.

If the Reagan administration's recent memorandum in support of human rights is to be taken seriously, Turkey seems to be a good place to start.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.