The Turkish government is launching a new campaign encouraging neighbors to tattle on each other by placing anonymous notes in boxes to be installed nationwide. The plan has elicited criticism from journalists who are using terms such as “sinister” and “troubling” and comparing the plan to Nazism, Stalinism and the Stasi, saying it will peel away the trust between citizens and will inevitably lead to abuse.
The code name for the project is “The Confidential Police Notice Point Project” which will accept both written and oral complaints, Turkish media report, though it’s unclear how the boxes will anonymously collect oral testimonies.
Hurriyet Daily News and other Turkish media are reporting that the tip box installation plan was apparently prompted by a call from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urging citizens to sue their neighbors if they bang pots and pans in support of the Gezi Park protests, a nightly occurrence in some areas.
“It’s a crime to disturb neighbors. I’m telling you that such acts require punishment,” Erdogan said. “Because no one has the right to disturb the peace of this nation.”
“When people want to report to the police about a crime through email, letter or fax, they can be concerned that their identity will be revealed and they will get hurt; when they want to report in person, they might hesitate due to the length of the bureaucratic processes,” the Directorate of Public Order of the Police Department said according to the Cihan new agency.
Jenny White, a Boston University social anthropology professor who writes extensively about Turkey is alarmed by the tattling campaign. She writes, “what we can expect is more people hauled from their homes for unspecified ‘crimes’ that they may or may not have done and that may or may not actually be on the law books. Serendipity might be the new watchword instead of justice — the chance to trample on your neighbor or a stranger with impunity.”
“The former East Germany also had an entrenched network of people spying on one another for the Stasi secret police. Once Stasi archives were opened, it was learned that one in ten citizens of the GDR spied for the Stasi, spouses on each other, children on their parents, and friends and fellow activists on one another,” White adds.
Freelance writer David Lepeska, who lives in Istanbul, calls the plan “sinister.” He writes on the website Next City, “All this should be acutely troubling to anyone who cares about democracy in the urban world. Istanbulites long weary of the gaze of their government now must look into the eyes of their neighbors.”
“Tools similar to the informant boxes have been used in dictator-run Arab countries before, and as well as in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia — places where secret police kept watch and public trust evaporated,” Lepeska adds.
“With anonymous reporting, the potential for abuse is considerable,” he adds.
Al-Monitor columnist Tulin Daloglu echoes that concern, writing, “it’s impossible to guarantee that authorities won’t ever abuse the power.”
Lest you may think something similar couldn’t happen in the U.S., check out a news report from Washington State around the Fourth of July last month.
KOMO-4 TV reported that in the neighborhood of Magnolia, a citizen was seen posting signs on light polls asking community members “to stop the madness” and turn each other in if someone is seeing lighting fireworks. It suggested videotaping any culprits and reporting them to police.
One neighbor said, "I have called the police when it got really bad, but I've never videotaped or anything like that. That's taking it a little too far.”