Ece Temelkuran: Well, hello there. This is my first time in Republica, and I think it’s the coolest festival in Europe about digital media, digital life, and political issues. It’s very rare that these two things come together, so I think it’s really cool.
Throughout two days I guess, people here on this stage and on other stages will be talking about the future. And the future is the cool thing. And probably everybody will be talking about how the future has never been so close to present time as it is today. Whereas I’m going to be the killjoy and I’m going to talk about the past. I’m going to talk about remembering, and the abracadabra of memory.
I do think that remembering is a form of forgetting. What we remember is not the total sum of past events but actually the powerful of the present time determine what we remember of the past. The story of the powerful makes us selectively forget, or selectively remember, what has happened in the past. Therefore one of the biggest tragedies of humanity or the human mind is to remember alone.
Remembering is an act that requires at least two people. You need two people not to go crazy when you’re remembering alone. I’m sure you remember when you say something like, “Remember that summer holiday,” to your father or to your mother, and he or she goes, “No, such a thing didn’t happen.” Or when you talk about an abuse that has happened to you, and the rest of the people say, “No, that didn’t happen to you.” Remembering alone can drive you insane. That’s why remembering is an act that requires at least two people.
You need me, (yeah), and I need you, to remember how we ended up in this shit. In this world where Trump is leading the biggest nation in the universe. Where Great Britain all of a sudden decided that it’s not great enough. Or, in Germany all of a sudden abortion became an issue. Of all countries, in Germany. We have to remember how we ended up in this world where a third world war was about to happen a few weeks ago and nobody gave a damn about it.
So, actually we were right to feel comfortably numb. You know, they didn’t even ask about our decision when they decided to bomb Syria a few weeks ago. Germany, France, and the United States all of a sudden, during an Easter holiday, decided to bomb Syria. And we were all watching. So I want to remember how we became so helpless, how we became so passive an audience, and how it became so…you know… The fabric of humanity has changed so much, so dramatically—when did that happen, really?
I’m sure you know this. There are some times when they’re reporting from Yemen, or Iraq, or you know, Myanmar…the presenter always says something. She or he warns us. He says, “The following footage may contain disturbing images.” You remember the dead Syrian kid who washed ashore on the [?] coast a few years back. When they were reporting about that kid, they all warned us “the following footage may contain disturbing images.”
And I was thinking, did they do the same warning in 1972 when this naked Vietnamese girl was running away from a napalm attack? The entire press community, press that the published that image, believing that when people know the truth they would be disturbed so much that they would want to change that truth. They would want to change that reality. So they never hesitated publishing that image. They never told us, “Look away. You’ll be disturbed if you watch this.” And why watch it anyway? Why bother? You’re going to go to your work in the morning. Nothing will change. So why, you know…why get yourself in this depressive mood?
So, when did these things change? When did we decide that we no longer need to watch news? We no longer have to watch these disturbing images? That’s why I’m writing a book. I’m thinking about these issues. And the book is called How to Lose a Country: The New Ice Age of Politics. And here I am, I’m talking about the new ice age of politics.
And I try to remember. And I need you to remember with me. I need to remember that British woman with big hair, high-pitched voice, and an Asprey bag. Do you remember the woman? Margaret Thatcher. You cannot be that young. Do you remember what she said? The most famous quote from her. She said, “There is no alternative.” TINA; there’s an abbreviation for it, even: TINA. There is no alternative. Which meant at the time “this is the best we can do.” You don’t have to try to build a better world. You don’t have to think about those things. You don’t have to think about politics, we can do it for you. It’s all about numbers, it’s boring, mmm. It’s too much antagonism, da da da da da. So she said there is no alternative. And she handbagged a nation, an entire opposition in Britain, to put those words into circulation.
And on the other side of the Atlantic, there was another man called Ronald Reagan. And he came out with this slogan, I love that slogan, “Let’s make America great again.” So it wasn’t actually Trump who came up with the idea of making America great again, it was actually Ronald Reagan.
So, it was then actually humanity split into two: winners and losers. While it was happening, also reality was split into two. There was the winners’ reality, and there was the losers’ reality.
I’m sure there are people who are old enough to remember the Gulf War. Do you remember that we were so mesmerized by the fact that for the first time in human history we were watching a war twenty-four hours a day? We were doing our things, coming back, the war was still on. We were eating our dinner watching the war. And these bionic flies were going flying above Christiane Amanpour’s head, and they were killing people. And we were so, you know…paralyzed by the fact that we were watching this. And we started thinking that this is normal, being mesmerized when people are dying.
And then this split the reality into two. All of a sudden, a tragedy of a nation became the fireworks, entertainment, for the rest of the world. And then a few years passed. A guy called Colin Powell showed up in the UN, the United Nations, with a tube filled with colored fluid. And he said, “Since this fluid is purple, let’s bomb Iraq.” And people wanted to believe this. And they screwed a nation.
Ironically it was the around the same year, this warning came into being. “The following footage may contain disturbing images.” So you don’t have to look anymore; it’s another reality. It’s not your reality anyway.
Something more important happened the same year, while the Iraqi invasion was happening. Paris Hilton became very famous, alongside Nicole Richie. They were in this reality show called Real Life. [The Simple Life] These filthy rich girls were visiting the other unfortunate realities, and they were classifying the reality as saying it’s hot or it’s not hot. So actually, their disgust of the unfortunate reality became a commodity in the entertainment world.
And around a few years after that, Afghanistan started happening. It was only two months after Afghanistan was first bombarded, CNN International was reporting from Afghanistan, and the reporter was saying Afghanistan is a great touristic destination now. And you know what’s going on in Afghanistan since then. So, the idea of other people’s realities becoming touristic destinations was already there.
So, do you know what Boris Johnson the minister of foreign affairs of Britain told to the Libyan people? He said Sirte (the Libyan city) can actually become the new Dubai. It’s just you have to push all these dead bodies away. But when he said that, it wasn’t an original idea. The orginal idea was actually in Afghanistan when the CNN reporter told us that Afghanistan is a great touristic destination if you can live with the dead bodies.
When reality was splitting, the facts also became negotiable. I don’t know if you remember this, and I want to remind you if you don’t. We learned how to start a sentence with “I believe…” “I feel…” “From where I stand…” “According to my…” you know, blah blah, in the 1990s. There was no such thing before the 1990s. There was no I believe, my belief, I choose to believe, blah blah, you know, that kind of of running away from antagonism, evading the confrontation sentences. Starting a sentence with “I feel” was invented throughout the 1990s.
Okay. I’m going to tell you a stupid story about me. It’s really stupid. Last year I was in New York joining a women’s summit. I was in the opening panel with Masha Gessen, a New York-based famous Russian journalist who wrote a biography Putin. And with David Remnick, The New Yorker editor in chief. We were the opening panel, we talked about several things like freedom of expression, all the other sexy things like journalism, da da da. And then you know, the panel was over. We went to the opening ceremony dinner. Everybody who is somebody in New York is there, and we were set at a table with Masha.
And this guy came up to me and he said, [adopts a heavy Slavic accent] “You were fantastic in the speech. Where do you live now?”
And I thought he was someone from the Turkish government trying to, you know, pin me down. So I said, “Somewhere in Europe. What is it to you?” And then I turned to Masha and said, “Who is this guy? He’s asking me where I live.”
And she said, “Don’t you know the biggest chess player in the world?” For all of the people, I found Garry Kasparov to put down. Yeah.
And then I didn’t stop there, of course. I’m great at networking. The guy sitting across me stood up, he was so polite, he complimented my speech. And I said, “Yeah yeah yeah, bon appétit.” He was editor in chief of The New York Times.
But I didn’t stop there. This beautiful woman came up to me, and she was telling me how interesting the panel was… And I went, “Where do I know you from?”
And she said, “Well from movies, probably.”
And I said this woman is really famous, and I don’t recognize her, so it’s better I go to my room and sleep. Because probably I’m in a position where I should be really really embarrassed.
So anyway, I went to my room, and then I went back to Zagreb, and I started writing the book How to Lose a Country: The New Ice Age of Politics. When I’m writing a book I obsessively watch Netflix TV shows. And when you run out of the new ones, you go to the old ones. So I’m watching this Netflix show, and then I see this woman. It’s the same woman. It’s the leading actress of The Good Wife. And I’m like all ahh, I’m crunching with embarrassment. Like oh god, how did I do that and so on. And then I keep on listening. And she plays this very intelligent lawyer. She’s super realistic, you know, cut-edge and so on. And she has a daughter, and her daughter asks her, “Mom, do you believe in climate change?”
And I think okay, the woman will say something like, “What do you mean ‘do you believe in climate change?’ It’s a scientific fact, it’s not a matter of belief.” But she doesn’t. She says in the TV show, “I don’t know if I believe in climate change or not.” And they go on speaking about this. It was interesting.
So, do you know that now, scientific facts are equal to beliefs? And it’s not only the doing of political power but also it’s in our daily lives. So, what I tried to explain to you today is one of the things, that post-truth is not a new invention. It’s not an invention of the Oxford Dictionary. We have been living in the world of post-truth.
And it’s not because the Internet is huge. It’s not because of Facebook. It’s because the neoliberal system asked us to live according to its ethics and forget the fact that we share the same reality, to forget the fact that truth is a single thing, and it wanted us to forget that we share the same reality in this world. And standing together has a joy. Sharing the same reality, even if that reality is tragic, has a joy in it.
What you have been told about the 1970s, do you remember? Whenever there’s a documentary about the 1970s you see this naked woman dancing like crazy, she’s high! They never tell you Black Panther people were actually serving free breakfast to poor kids. They never tell you that they actually formed solidarity networks through the 1970s. And even though they make us forget these things, people want to remember. They have an urge to remember. I know this because I was in Tahrir. I know this because I was in Tunisia in el Kasbah when our uprising was happening. I know this because I was in Gezi.
And social media was full of joy then. But after these riots, riots of ethics let’s say, were suppressed, social media turned out to be like a castle under siege. There was an intellectual famine, as it were, in social media. It became giant dome for blame games, shitstorms, social media harassment. And we started talking about these things. And the reign of trolls began. When people felt defeated, they retreated, and they started to blame each other on social media. And then all of a sudden trolls and all that evil became so visible.
You followed Mark Zuckerberg. Whenever I see him, with his t‑shirt and jeans, I always remember Umberto Eco’s famous quote. Umberto Eco once said fascism does not only show up in uniforms. I remember that it can sometimes show up in t‑shirts.
The reason I tell this, once Hannah Arendt (This is one of the best people that this country raised.) talked about the banality of evil. I think we are facing a new saying. It’s called the evil of banality. We now know that fascism can also come from the banal mediocracy, with their limited perspective of the world, where they like things or unlike things. The evil can also come from them. The evil can come from infantilized masses. And by infantilized masses I mean people who feel helpless, who fear politics, who fear each other.
What’s the answer, because I think I’m also already over time. What’s the answer? Whenever there’s this answer part, the solution part, I feel like I’m going to say like Leonard Cohen, the meaning of life is shalala.
The answer is going to come from collective thinking. The answer will come from the streets. This is the end of political gurus. There won’t be a book which will tell us what to do and how to do it. We are going to find it together, and we are going to find it on the streets. And social media, without a moral compass, without a political compass, without the actions on the street, is just a castle under siege. And it’s a poisonous one.
I want to remind you that you are capable people. I want to remind you that you are political people. And I more importantly and most importantly, maybe, remind you that “I hate politics” is the most political statement you can give, and it’s the most horrible statement you can give. We like politics. We like being politics. Politics is sexy. And, it has been a fashion lately to quote Game of Thrones by saying winter is coming. But actually I want to quote my quote, which is, spring is coming, unless you want to remain uncomfortably numb. Thank you very much for listening.
How To Lose A Country The New Political Ice Age session page