On 5 February Ece Temelkuran, one of Turkey’s best-known political commentators, asks ‘Are We Losing the Battle for Democracy?’. This event is part of the Coleridge Series 2019.

Ece Temelkuran

This blog provides links to background material for this event.

How to Lose a Country: The Seven Warning Signs of Rising Populism

Publisher description

How to Lose a Country is an impassioned plea, a warning to the world that populism and nationalism don’t march fully-formed into government; they creep. Award winning author and journalist Ece Temelkuran identifies the early-warning signs of this phenomenon, sprouting up across the world, in order to define a global pattern, and arm the reader with the tools to root it out.

Reader comments

  • ‘Temelkuran, a treasure of a novelist, turns a nonfiction eye to the burning topic of today: populism.  Vivid, visionary, terrifyingly familiar, How To Lose A Country is essential reading for everyone on planet Earth’: Andrew Sean Greer
  • ‘The opponents of authoritarian populist and nationalist regimes have often failed to foresee or effectively resist their rise until it was too late. This highly informed and original book is essential reading for anybody who wants to understand the forces that are convulsing our world’: Patrick Cockburn,
  • ‘An important, current and, most importantly, very readable book about the populist playbook and how it threatens to engulf us all’: Rick O’Shea
  • ‘In the tradition of Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, Ece Temelkuran exquisitely dissects the origins of authoritarian populism, using the bitterly learned lessons of Turkey to warn England and America. Not stopping at critique, she offers defiant visions of how demagogues might be fought. A poetic, vital, harsh and ultimately hopeful book’: Molly Crabapple

Articles by Ece Temelkuran

The Guardian, 26 October 2018

The astonishment felt by the remain-voting British people who marched through the streets of London last weekend when they hear lectures about democracy from Nigel Farage is not dissimilar to our reaction in Turkey when we are lectured to by those who damaged democracy in the first place… Having studied the global rise of rightwing populism for more than a year, I am quite confident in saying that, despite the dramatic differences between countries, there are common patterns… One is populist leaders’ claim to a monopoly on moral behaviour and the difficulty of challenging this claim through political means

The Guardian, 26 June 2018

In countries such as mine, politics is highly emotional, and leaders are either loved or hated. Supporters carry their leader’s photo in their wallet like a secret lover’s. This might have seemed an odd phenomenon to western societies. But now there is the ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ chant and ‘I love you, Bernie’ screams. This happens when people are faced with the fear of rightwing populism. Just like the Turkish people, Britons and Americans have started looking for a saviour, a valiant prince who won’t let them down.

The Guardian, 31 May 2018

Memory is not the total sum of past events and what we collectively remember is determined by the dominant narrative during our lifetimes, put into circulation by those who rule. It’s far more complicated than ‘winners write the history’. The rulers cannot rewrite it as they please unless the ones who remember the entire story fall silent. That is why truthful storytellers are met with merciless treatment as terrorists even though they never fire a bullet.

Literary Hub, 27 July 2017

I asked myself: ‘What is a country?’ My answer was that the country is a table and the abstract space which surrounds that table. The country is a moment. It is the moment when you make a spontaneous joke and your friends at the table laugh without need of further explanation, without needing the references explained. When someone says they miss their country, they mean they miss that moment at the table, rather than the vast space that surrounds it or the eternity surrounding the moment itself.

Index on Censorship, 27 January 2017

‘No’ is an intoxicating word that gives emotional fuel to the masses. After swimming in the slack waters of identity politics or concerning yourself with whether or not your avocados are fair trade, taking to the streets en masse for a proper cause is like a fresh breeze. But as we learned in Turkey, ‘No’ can also be a dead end. It exists in a dangerous dependency on the what those in power are up to. It shouldn’t be mistaken for action as it is only a reaction… Failure to move beyond ‘No’, in Turkey’s case, has made alternative and potential political movements all but invisible.


The Irish Examiner 

… when the sense of law and justice are damaged in a country, the ones who are most vulnerable are always the first victims of the violence: which are women and children. Therefore, oppression and violence comes into our daily lives. Ideology changes. It gets into the very personal sphere of your life, changing the value system of intimate relationships. Violence against women is the outcome of this massive change…

Other book reviews

Turkey: The Insane and the Melancholy – Los Angeles Review of Books

A journalist whose firing in 2012 could have served as a ‘fire bell in the night’ ahead of the current crackdown on the press, Temelkuran puts her country on the couch… Americans take for granted not only the right to political speech but also a full vocabulary with which to articulate their political identity. Freedom is the go-to concept in the American political project, for better or worse. The situation in Turkey is the opposite… Temelkuran shines in her analysis of how Erdoğan successfully weaponized the Turkish Republic’s complexities, transforming them into a narrative of victimhood and ‘us’ versus ‘them’.

Turkey: The Insane and the Melancholy – Asian Review of Books

… the author argues that the deepest divisions in current Turkish society are not between the secular and non-secular, but rather between the obedient and non-obedient. It is the obedient who feel the full brunt of Temelkuran’s criticisms… She accuses her fellow countrymen of engaging in collective national amnesia, conveniently forgetting the past in order to suit present political needs.

Women Who Blow on Knots – Wales Arts Review

Women Who Blow on Knots is a fearless debut which draws on Temelkuran’s experience and sets a high benchmark, not just for anyone looking to depict the challenging complexity of the role of women in the modern day Middle East, but for those who want to capture the essence of resistance and power in the most unlikely of circumstances. Around half way through this absorbing tale there is a line which rallies characters and readers alike: ‘come now brave warrior. Show us the lands and the seas through your eyes. Come.’ Ultimately, in this remarkable novel we can see how Temelkuran has answered her own powerful call to expression and it is beautifully done.

The Time of Mute Swans – n+1

Heroic in her refusal to bow to categories, Temelkuran’s answers nevertheless appear haunted by a left she can barely allude to, thrown to the margins of an ever-thinning but hyper-prominent realm of politics. Relentless politicization: this, paradoxically, is what led Temelkuran, committed socialist and political journalist, to fiction. Everything in today’s Turkey is politics, and yet it all takes place on such a delimited plane—what is a socialist to do?

Image credit Muhsin Akgun

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