Neoliberal developmentalism, authoritarian populism, and extractivism in the countryside: The soma mining disaster in Turkey

15 Marzo 2018
Paper

While state-society relations in Turkey have historically been top-down and coups d’etat periodically interrupted the functioning of electoral politics, the recent authoritarian turn under President Erdogan is remarkable. This paper examines two especially salient political economic dynamics at play.

First, Erdogan and his Justice and Democracy Party (AKP) have been particularly effective in continuing with and deepening the neoliberalisation of economy and society, a process that had been ongoing falteringly since 1980. Their policies have created a new form of neoliberal developmentalism, where solutions to all social ills have come to be seen as possible through rapid economic growth. As existing social protection mechanisms are dismantled and the poor (as well as ethnic and religious minorities) are further marginalized, proponents of this model point to the massive construction and infrastructure projects transforming the landscape of the country.

The execution of these projects – both physically and financially – are dependent on the rapid transformation of the countryside, where new forms of dispossession and deagrarianisation open the way to an unprecedented extractivist drive, which is the second important dynamic in question. Together, neoliberal developmentalism and extractivism have resulted in growing socio - economic and ecological costs both in the rural and urban spheres, leading to various forms of social dissent. The eruption of anger after the Soma coal mining disaster that killed 301 miners is one such case.

The paper demonstrates how authoritarian populism, neoliberal developmentalism and extractivism buttressed each other in the case of Soma, leading to the disaster that could have easily been prevented. The paper also shows how Erdogan and the AKP use populist tactics (ranging from an uptick in nationalist discourse to the provision of ‘coal aid’ in winter) to assuage their critics. Where these prove inadequate, an increasingly violent crackdown on society is being deployed in the name of peace and order as the country remains in a state of emergency since the attempted coup of July 2016.

This paper was presented at the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) 2018 Conference: "Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World"