On the Road in Search of Stability

Transposing emblem by Peren Çakır

On November 21, 2015, the day before the second round of the general elections in Argentina, I was having dinner with my spouse at a restaurant next to the Evita Peron museum, which was founded as a temporary shelter for women and children in 1948 by Eva Peron. María Eva Duarte de Perón a.k.a. Eva Peron is the iconic figure of Argentina’s Peronist history. After she moved from her village to Buenos Aires in order to pursue a career as an actress, she met Juan Peron, a lieutenant who was to become the president of Argentina after the economically and socially difficult years of World War II. Together, they formed Peronism, which emphasized isolationist national development and solidarity with the working class. Eva Peron became the first lady of Argentina as well as an international icon, being the voice of the ”descamisados” or the “shirtless ones”, the women, the children and the working class of Argentina.  She was granted the title of “Spiritual Leader of Argentina” shortly before her untimely death at the age of 33.

We had been living in Buenos Aires for nearly 6 months, long enough to understand the political history, political divisions in Argentinian society and the different expectations for the bourgeoisie and the working class. We had the feeling that the next day would be a turning point for Argentina and its Peronist/Kirchnerist governing model, as we raised our glasses to Eva Peron and her never-ending influential position in the society. On November 22, 2015, Mauricio Macri, a conservative neo-liberal political leader, became the new president following a powerful campaign for liberalization, putting an end to 12 years of Peronist/Kirchnerist rule.

The current political and societal influences in Argentina cannot be fully grasped without understanding its Peronist history. Although the Peronist government was thrown out by the coup of 1955, which was only one of many coups Argentina faced throughout the 20th century, the political and social power of Peronism did not diminish. On the contrary, it reclaimed influence in different periods. In 2003, Nestor Kirchner, a social democrat who ascended to power after the Argentinian recession in 2001, applied his version of Peronism, promoting national economic growth, foreign debt restructuring and support for the precariat and working class. His successor and wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, served as president between 2007 and 2015, facing several challenges regarding the repayment of international debt, social protests, poor relations with western neo-liberal institutions, lack of media support and corruption scandals. The result was a transfer of power to the conservative liberals.

Argentinian society’s endless search for economic and social stability, its traumatic past of coups and warm social relationships between Argentinian people were the major reasons why we felt akin to its culture as a Turkish couple. My spouse and I have always loved travelling and learning new cultures. However, when we decided to relocate to Buenos Aires and learn Spanish, we also had strong underlying reasons for wanting to live outside of Turkey and its current political and social climate.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey in the aftermath of a dramatic war of independence shortly after World War I. Atatürk was a talented officer in the Ottoman Army, and became the visionary founder of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Like Argentina, it was successful in staying neutral during World War II. 

The global fear of communism and the self-assigned task of the military to eliminate leftist ideology had given way to coups, just as it had in Argentina during the 60s and 70s. The 1976 coup in Argentina and 1980 coup in Turkey both had a powerful impact on leftists and social democrats. The military held power both in Turkey and Argentina until 1983. In the 80s and 90s, both countries made alliances with western institutions and prioritized liberal economic reforms. However, the 2000s brought major economic recessions to both countries, due to their fragile economic and financial systems. Argentina went through more dire straits in terms of social unrest and violence, whereas Turkey struggled with high unemployment and rapid devaluation. Both societies dealt with their fates differently. As the Turkish people decided to be governed by the AKP, a newly founded party that promised to increase welfare and resolve deeply rooted social problems, the Argentinian people once again turned to the spirit of Eva.

In Argentina, a Kirchnerist brand of Peronism led by Nestor Kirchner immediately introduced isolationist economic policies, while Turkey became a strong ally of neo-liberal institutions. Although they applied different economic methods, both countries demonstrated economic progress until around 2010.  In recent years, however, both societies have been shaken by corruption scandals, the failure of leaders to keep their promises and lower investment. Argentinian society decided to bring an end to 12 years of Kirchnerist rule in November 2015, and is currently in a deep recession due to the rapid devaluation of the currency, gigantic increases in tariffs, major cuts to government subsidies and lack of investment. Meanwhile, as Turkey tried to maintain stability after the elections of November 2015, the powerful effects of the war in the neighboring country of Syria, economic difficulties and the precipitous devaluation of its currency are making things more difficult every day. The failed coup attempt in 2016 transformed the political scene dramatically and the critical referendum opening the way to constitutional and political change will determine the path Turkey takes. Since we left Turkey, more than 30 terrorist attacks by ISIS and the Kurdish PKK have caused hundreds of civilian deaths, while the society has been traumatized as it learns to live with fear of death every day. Similar to what we see happening more and more throughout the northern hemisphere, Turkish society is also getting accustomed to living with increased security controls and heightened levels of anxiety.

As Argentinian society suffers the consequences of hasty liberal policies, theft and unemployment have significantly increased. However, it is still relatively easy to enjoy yourself without fear of a terrorist attack, as Argentina’s beautiful nature, strong human relationships, a laid-back attitude, smiling children and playful pets help us forget about suffering for a moment and enjoy life itself.

Economic and social instability in different parts of the world, reflected through major elections during the last two years, signals a complicated period in terms of global economics as well as labor mobility. As economic development is highly correlated to technological investments, both Argentina and Turkey need to apply new, visionary reforms to promote sophisticated production as well as maintain balanced relations with the rest of the world.

The timing of our journey to Buenos Aires became more significant than what we initially thought it would be, as we experienced a deep transformation in Argentina, while closely following the events in Turkey. Every day we wake up to more and more unexpected developments; and getting accustomed to constant change has become the main priority. Meanwhile, witnessing similar experiences in different parts of the world allows us to visualize a global mindset. As earth is our only home – shared by the global human community, animals and nature – the path to improving our quality of life and achieving a balanced state for all creatures to thrive shall require mutual understanding, dialogue and the development of globally advantageous visions for the sake of all.

Peren Çakır