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To Craft an Authoritarian Regime: Politicisation of Civil Society and the Judiciary in Turkey

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CRAFT (To Craft an Authoritarian Regime: Politicisation of Civil Society and the Judiciary in Turkey)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2021-03-31

CRAFT investigates the politicization of the judiciary and civil society in countries that face de-democratization or the gradual deterioration of the quality and quantity of democratic institutions, actors, and procedures. Politicization occurs when non-partisan institutions become increasingly embroiled in politics, and their cumulative output, role, and actions are dependent on the political preferences and interests of the incumbents. Politicization plays a particular role within the context of de-democratization. Non-partisan institutions such as the judiciary and civil society are expected to behave and make decisions without a political or partisan agenda to ensure accountability and inclusivity in functioning democracies. However, when their actions and decisions become politicized, their autonomy would be increasingly restrained and they could entrench polarized political agenda and negative partisanship.
CRAFT theorizes 'politicization' as one of the reverberations of the gradual loss of pluralistic and participatory democracy in Europe and beyond. Understanding the reasons and consequences of politicization is pertinent for the future of democratic governance, political rights, and social peace.
The project has four specific objectives:
1. To investigate the impact of strategic repression and co-optation of the associational sphere on interest representation and the autonomy of civil society.
2. To explain why and how the opposition and dissident groups resort to judicial contestation and legal mobilization, despite the politicization of courts by the incumbents that undermine democracy and the rule of law.
3. To develop analytically and demonstrate empirically the impact of politicized civil society and judiciary on undemocratic power accumulation and durability.
4. To develop policy-relevant alternatives to the EU support and aid strategy concerning strengthening the judiciary and civil society in candidate countries.
These objectives have been realized through a case study of Turkey, which is one of the textbook examples of slow de-democratization over the last decade.
CRAFT was carried out in three scientific work packages (WP). WP1 investigated the politicization of civil society in Turkey. WP2 looked into the politicization of high courts in Turkey, and WP3 examined the EU support for the rule of law and civil society in Turkey. CRAFT combined qualitative methods (in-depth interviews, participant observation, and narrative inquiry of the lived experiences of civil society activists and representatives) with quantitative statistical analyses. Primary data is supported by an analysis of documents and publications by civil society organizations in the form of pamphlets, reports, newsletters, websites, social media accounts, and policy proposals, and statements and interviews that appeared in Turkish and European print and online media. Research sites for qualitative data collection included Turkey, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Belgium, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Results of the project provided insights on

1. the shifting degree, focus, targets, and the means of political repression targeting the civil society and judicial autonomy under democratic erosion.
2. the little-known terrain of the civil society sector with ideological and organic ties to the ruling party.
3. novel and dynamic actors and arenas of pro-democracy social movements and collective mobilization in autonomous civil society.

These results have been reported in 6 single-authored journal articles, 2 book chapters, 9 invited talks/lectures, 4 other conference presentations, 6 interviews with media platforms, 2 analysis reports for non-experts. Additionally, 1 monograph, 3 articles, and 2 book chapters are under preparation.
CRAFT has pushed the boundaries of knowledge on de-democratization and the causes and consequences of the politicization of non-partisan institutions in several ways.

Little insight had existed on nonpartisan mechanisms of de-democratization. CRAFT’s findings have contributed to the dynamic field of democratic backsliding through a new research agenda: the under-researched societal dimension and non-partisan mechanisms of autocratization. Based on the site-intensive ethnographical methodology, CRAFT showed that elected incumbents who seek to monopolize power do not confine themselves to changing electoral systems or capturing formal institutions, they also heavily rely on subtle and less visible fields of control. When elected rulers undermine democracy, they heavily rely on intermediaries of manufacturing consent and credibility to counter existing or potential discontent. Crackdowns on civic freedoms largely constrain vibrant civil society and extra-legal repression erodes the independence of and trust in the judiciary. Overall, the case of Turkey demonstrates that these developments can create lasting repercussions on civil-political and state-society relations. The politicization of civil society and judiciary can contribute to the goals of power-abusing elected rulers to wield more control over social demands creating a loyal coalition and social support and weakening alternative claims-making.

However, the politicization of civil society and the judiciary is a double-edged process. These non-partisan arenas can also breed unprecedented practices of innovative actions and coalition-making among pro-democracy groups that push against the top-down attempts of control and cooptation. The project’s findings showed that civil society and judicial mechanisms are used for civic collective action, non-violent contestation, citizens' action-oriented assemblies, and strategic litigation can revive interest in democratic claims-making, despite autocratization at the formal-political level. Particularly, networks and movements working women and gender equality have shown an unparalleled capacity to utilize civil society and courts to challenge the conservative, nationalist and heteropatriarchal processes of autocratization.

Second, CRAFT’s analytical and methodological scope capitalized on an interdisciplinary approach melding analytical perspectives and concepts from political science (new institutionalism in the study of undemocratic regimes), sociology (state-society-civil society relations, societal and civic ‘mechanisms’ of autocratization), judicial politics, and sociology of law (interrelationships between the legal arena, politics and dissident groups in undemocratic settings), and forward-looking policy analysis (EU-Turkey relations, EU’s judicial and civil society support).

Third, CRAFT also addressed a common gap regarding research on semi-autocratic or autocratic contexts: the lack of primary data and on-site research. The generative ethnographic method the CRAFT followed allowed the project to access hidden perspectives and restricted information. Immersion in the everyday social and political landscape and 'letting people speak for themselves' allowed original data generation and an investigation of how civil society is understood, used, and practiced in ordinary contexts also through the manifestations of unspoken thoughts and practices.

These findings on Turkey can be relevant for or comparable to many other cases of democratic backsliding in Europe (Hungary, Poland), the Balkans (Serbia), Asia (Indonesia, India), Latin America (Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela), and Africa (Zambia, Tanzania) and other cases.
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