Geopolitics

A New Press Crackdown: Is Turkey Really A Model For Democracy?

Op-Ed: Ankara's is coming down hard against Kurdish opposition forces, including dozens of new arrests of journalists. It is a bad sign for the health of Turkey’s democracy, with the West watching and the Muslim world holding it up as a model in

Ozgur Gundem newspaper features its own troubles
Ozgur Gundem newspaper features its own troubles
Sedat Ergin

ISTANBUL – It was the most sweeping series of arrests directed at the media in Turkey in recent memory: last Saturday, 49 journalists and media employees were detained, with 36 ultimately placed under arrest.

Let me say this first: The arrests of my colleagues and the raids on their homes and newspaper offices is an extraordinary event that has no parallel in other democracies. This latest wave of arrests casts a long shadow over press freedom in Turkey.

Most of the journalists arrested work for Dicle News Agency and Ozgur Gundem newspaper, both press outlets whose views are aligned with the Kurdish political movement, and who closely follow all developments related to the (Kurdish terrorist group) PKK.

Aside from this group - the ‘Kurdish press' - there were also reporters for mainstream newspapers like Vatan and left-leaning Birgun.

(Update: according to press reports Thursday, a Turkish air strike along the heavily Kurdish border with Iraq has killed 35 people)

The wave of press arrests is the latest in a series of operations directed since the fall against the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) – allegedly the urban wing of the PKK. It began with the detentions of officials from the Kurdish party BDP, followed by academics, then a large group of lawyers involved with the BDP and KCK trials. This latest move is directed against journalists.

The fact that these KCK operations are proceeding, as if by category, proves that a well-planned, integrated road map is being put in place, step by step.

Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin's recent hawkish statements appear to hint at what the next steps will be. Sahin declared that the BDP was an extension of the PKK; he said "we will show their true faces' and spoke of "terrorism's backyard." Describing the inhabitants of this backyard, he referred to artists, poets, universities, associations and NGOs, without naming names.

This latest wave of arrests will certainly hurt the ability of the Kurdish political movement to communicate with its constituencies.

FROM KCK TO VIOLATION OF PRIVACY

Freedom of the press includes the right to get news and spread news within a society. As lawyers for the defendants have pointed out, it is disturbing that in their interrogation the suspects were questioned about their ordinary journalistic activities.

The interrogation was not just limited to the KCK and journalism; one suspect was faced with records relating to his personal life and asked to give information about them. This is a frightening dimension.

It is up to the Interior and Justice Ministers to explain how an investigation that began as counter terrorism has turned into an investigation of someone's private life.

The real food for thought is this: the government in Ankara recently promised both the European Council and the European Union that it would carry out a series of legal changes to improve press freedom. This commitment led to optimistic expectations.

A technical study on this issue was due to begin with the European Council next month. Yet coming just as the government gained some credit in the West, these latest developments will damage its standing.

The problems related to freedom of expression and the number of journalists under arrest has become the most important thorn in Turkey's side in its relations with the West. This image problem is likely to worsen now.

In the end, 36 more members of the press have been added to the much-debated roster of how many journalists are under arrest. That the precise number of journalists detained by authorities in Turkey has become a matter of statistical debate is another sign of how problematic press freedom has become.

It is apparent that the ruling AKP party feels it has a free rein at home on these issues because of the West's need for Turkey in the wake of the Arab Spring and the crisis in Syria. But how can a country that throws 36 journalists behind bars overnight be a democratizing inspiration to the Arab Spring?

Read the original article in Turkish

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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