Article also published in Transform Network.
Turkey: A New Progressive Movement in the Making
A historical uprising has resulted in new practices, potentially very fruitful for closer investigation for progressives in both Europe and the Middle East.
Finally the progressives had the power to shake the hegemony and be in the center of Turkish politics for a while. It all started with the trees in Gezi Parki and construction plans of a shopping mall, which quickly spread and grew to be a people’s uprising against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s arrogance, neoliberal policies, aggressive urban regeneration projects, lack of freedom of speech, gender inequality, homophobia etc.
The country wide protests are more than just an uprising. It’s a proof that the progressives can gather individuals and movements from the whole political spectra. That’s why you can see the flags and hear the slogans of LGBT people, Feminists, Communists, Ultranationalists, Kemalists, Islamists, but also people that label themselves “apolitical” and have never been active in politics before. This movement and uprising is indeed inclusive.
This is an uprising against self-reinforcing prejudices also. Many Turks have lived with the idea that the youth is apolitical, the women submissive and politically inactive and that the civil society is enthusiastic but ineffective. The barricades speak for themselves, with the participation of many young people, among them are a large number of girls and women.
What is perhaps more important is the exchange of experiences between different groupings. There is a critical dialogue going on between historical enemies that have gathered in Taksim. But the progressives and the Left (of all positions and traditions) are clearly determining the future of this uprising. The progressives created the platform for the protests and have been a crucial factor in creating the Commune-like organization of the Taksim Gezi Parki.
In fact, the protesters have controlled a large part of central Istanbul during these protests. Many of the banned tables in the open air can now be seen again in the backstreets of Istiklal Caddesi, while the Taksim Square, of great historic importance for the Left (remember the Taksim Square Massacre 1977) was open for demonstrations on a daily basis. This is a giant democratic leap for the Workers’ movement that fought hard and lost the battle of Taksim Square the 1st of May 2013, when thousands of leftists were brutally attacked with tear gas, water cannons and police brutality while trying to reach the square to make use of their very basic right to protest on May Day.
But after all, the single most important step towards a new progressive movement is the idea behind “the Commune”. Food, water and medical services are free and shared among all protesters. The democratic platform is responsible for the security and cleaning, which functions as good as the welfare service presented by the municipality. You could even find a library there. All this happens thanks to the inclusive and far-reaching understanding of solidarity that pushes the protesters to contribute to all work voluntarily. All decisions are taken after open discussion, where all the protesters are welcome. This is undeniably a participatory democracy project well worth investigating closer, not least since millions of protesters have been included in this partly Socialist experiment during the first weeks of the protests. This will be remembered in history as a short-lived (?) model community, which future political initiatives will refer to and get inspired from, hopefully also beyond the borders of the country.
An important topic remains to be discussed. We don’t know what will happen with this platform when the uprising needs to transform itself into different organizational channels. But what is already confirmed is that the progressives have left the process of waiting for political alternatives and started to build them themselves, to the joy and inspiration of many otherwise unorganized young citizens of Turkey.