image from http://imgur.com/a/gKAsu, under Creative commons licence
The events of the first weekend of June in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities in Turkey, where thousands of people demonstrated against an authoritarian government and were met with disproportionate violence by the police, continue a movement of democratisation which is clear across Europe and the Mediterranean, and have solicited transnational solidarity from activists across this space. European Alternatives joins itself with this movement.
The trigger of the demonstrations – the attempt to demolish Gezi Park in Istanbul to build yet another another shopping mall – is a situation familiar to people across Europe where common goods are being privatised and sold off. Whether it be the sale of the railway system, the privatisation of water, the attempt to privatise power utilities, the selling of natural heritage for gold-mining or fracking, the selling of cultural spaces, the closing of libraries or the destruction of urban green space for private profit, the collusion between private enterprise and the government in undermining common goods has been reinforced in recent years, whether through the excuse of ‘austerity’ or in the interests of ‘national development’. From the North of England to the South of Italy, from Lisbon to Athens to Istanbul, this attempt at massive privatisation is now facing citizen resistance.
The combination of neoliberal economic policies and ‘Islamist’ government is also increasingly familiar to people in the South of the Mediterranean. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has taken a lead from (and perhaps given inspiration to) Erdogan’s AKP party in Turkey. On the one hand there is an attempt to ‘Islamise’ the society through drinking bans, increased expenditure on Mosques, suffocating creativity and opposition and attempting to subjugate women into a second-class existence. On the other hand the governments promote privatisation, the undermining of labour standards and any attempt collective bargaining.
The combination of neoliberal economic policies and attempts to de-secularise government are not unknown in Europe either: the conservative currents of the Catholic and Protestant Churchs in many European countries has allied itself with a neoliberal economic agenda around many issues, from resisting emancipatory LGBT and womens’ rights to the privatisation of schooling.
The disproportionate response of the police to the peaceful demonstrations based on the massive use of powerful teargas and water canons along with batons and beatings, and which has resulted in the blinding of many people and reportedly the death of several protestors, recalls the failed tactics of Ben Ali and Mubarak (which are now being used again by Morsi in Egypt), but also – albeit on a smaller and usually less deadly scale – the reactions of governments in Europe. The regime of Erdogan believes that it can increase its conservative supporters by invoking the threat to stability from ‘radicalised’ protestors. Once again, using tactics familiar from London, Frankfurt, Cairo or Athens, policy brutality is used as a way of attempting to depict peaceful protestors as a security threat.
This cynical disregard for the right to protest, of freedom of assembly and association and in general the right to disagree in a democracy are shockingly familiar and will only provoke further outrage and citizens mobilisation, as indeed already happened in the development from the small protest to protect Gezi park in Istanbul to the many thousands of people throughout Turkey. The protests in Turkey have brought together people of many different political opinions and backgrounds, all of whom feel unrepresented and disrespected under the current government.
The ongoing demonstrations in Turkey have received almost no coverage in the Turkish media. It is clearer than ever before that the Turkish media are under the control of the government, and Turkey is the country with the highest number of journalists in prison. It is also in protest against this impossibility of expression and democratic discussion that citizens in Turkey have risen up. Social networks have allowed them to find transnational means of expression, and acts of solidarity on the internet have spread this information massively.
Citizens from throughout Europe and the Mediterranean know that media throughout the region and liberty of expression are under threat, in differing degrees – and again this has motivated their acts of solidarity with people in Turkey this weekend.
These acts of transnational solidarity across social networks and in the squares of cities across Europe and the Mediterranean show the commonality of issues across this space and the emergence of a growing political subjectivity to address them. We fear governments in Turkey and elsewhere will react with increasing panic and violence to this emergence, but we are sure that the strength of this network of people will resist.