Taksim Square takes its place alongside Tahrir Square
The nationwide protests sweeping Turkey, the hundreds of thousands who jammed Lisbon’s streets and other Portuguese cities at the weekend and the activists who staged Blockupy in Frankfurt are linked by a common goal. They want the right to determine their own futures.
In Turkey, this right is denied by the authoritarian, rampant pro-business regime led by prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted AK Party. In Portugal, the demonstration was against a right-wing government that is implementing instructions from the so-called Troika.
The notorious Troika is comprised of the European Union’s ruling commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is essentially in charge of economies across Europe, including those of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus, Slovenia and Italy.
Blockupy staged its anti-austerity action in Frankfurt, home of the ECB headquarters. Activists demanded an end to the Troika’s oppression of countries like Greece and succeeded in blocking access to the bank for a short time.
The most significant new development in an upsurge that began with revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 is the anti-government protests in Turkey.
In power for more than a decade, the AK Party has replaced quasi-military regimes with a quasi-Islamic regime that has scant regard for democratic rights.
Resistance to the decision to turn one of Istanbul’s few remaining green spaces into a bizarre combination of a shopping centre, mosque and replica of an historic military barracks sparked off the protests.
Taksim Square and the adjacent Gezi Park is a green patch in Europe's fastest-growing city which dedicates just 1.5% of its land to public parks, according to the World Cities Culture Report. Taksim is also the traditional venue for rallies and the start of demonstrations, which Erdogan clearly wants to put an end to. That’s why it’s fast resembling Tahrir Square, the site of Egypt’s revolution.
But the background is rising youth unemployment and inequality in a country where the business elite has grown rich under Erdogan’s protective umbrella, together with a growing Islamisation of a country whose modern tradition is secular.
"If it were up to the prime minister, I would be wearing a head scarf," said Tugba Bitiktas, a 25-year-old unemployed university graduate, before she joined anti-government protests in central Istanbul late. "All this government worries about is rewarding its own. Those with a different voice are marginalised. That's what I'm protesting.”
Rampant economic growth has ground to a halt and one in five of the 15-24 age group is out of work. Overall unemployment is more than 10%, according to official figures. A growing resentment has gone unreported by a media that is in the government’s pockets.
While rioting was gripping several cities, newspapers hardly mentioned the confrontation with riot police while Turkish TV showed cooking programmes! Hardly surprising in a country which jails more journalists than any other.
In January 2013, 11 journalists were arrested during a raid on a Marxist political party meeting. Police said the group were planning to attack and murder government officials. Five of them were sentenced to jail, joining the 64 media workers already behind bars. They joined thousands of government opponents, including students, academics, lawyers, Kurdish activists, military officers and the alleged leaders of ultra-nationalist gangs.
It’s not about to get better any time soon. Erdogan said yesterday: “There is now a menace which is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society." He has clearly lost the plot.
"An administration that has no opposition for balance and no free media to monitor it can easily spin out of control," said Kadri Gursel, chairman of the International Press Institute's Turkish committee. "The Turkish experiment has now answered the question of whether moderate Islam and democracy are compatible without checks and balances."
This is a critical observation which, with adjustments for different national traditions, could be applied across the capitalist world. The political system is a busted flush and serves no purpose other than to prop up a status quo which lurches from one crisis to the next.
Clearly, the challenge lies in developing this international movement from one of resistance and protest into a force that creates its own democratic political and economic system.
3 June 2013