Why the Gezi protest is no “Arabic Spring” and no “Angry Citoyen” movement

On 3. Juni 2013 by rkuebler

I had the pleasure to live now for more than one and a half years in Istanbul. More precisely in Eastanbul, as I am living in Camlica on the Anatolian side of this fascinating metropolis. With the ongoing riots and demonstrations most of my European friends come back to me and seek for more information. Unfortunately I am not a big help. I was in London for the last week and missed most of the demonstrations. However, as I have some Turkish friends my facebook newsfeed just explodes every second, providing many information. Of course one has to be careful as most of the stories are very subjective and biased by political interests. Nevertheless the picture becomes more and more clear on what happened since the start of the last weekend.

Things started with a very small demonstration/occupation of the Gezi park that is close to the very modern center of the European Istanbul: Taksim. If I got it right from my sources Gezi park was installed by the founder of the Turkish republic, Kemal Pasa Atatürk. For the construction of the park Atatürk demolished an old ottoman army/artillery barrack that stood there for several hundred years.

It might be worth to mention, that Atatürk did not only found the Turkish Republic but also modernized the Turkish people after years of Otoman decline. He introduced many modern things to Turkey as latin writing, surnames, modern education and most of all: secularism. Until today Atatürk (what means father of all Turks) is widely admired in Turkey and a national hero. All national holidays relate to Atatürk’s republican achievements and the Turkish independence war in 1923. You can find pictures from him in every public building. Even our private university has a Atatürk statue right on campus.

Poverty, a running inflation and sever economic problems turned people more and more away from the Kemalist movement.

In the early 2000s current Prime Minister Reycep Erdogan and his AKP party took over. With a close eye on joining the European Union the AKP government modernized Turkey. Due to a very successful economic policy Turkey became again a considerable force in the world. However this success came with a certain price. Beside it’s economic competence, the AKP also fosters the re-raise of old ottoman proud and traditions. The current government has to be considered as strictly conservative and pro-Islamic. Since the early 2000s the AKP constructed more and more mosques. Experts say that today’s Istanbul has a higher mosque/inhabitant ratio than at any point of Ottoman time. Even the comparable metropolises in Islamic countries like Iran or Pakistan have a smaller ratio.

In the same time the AKP administration enforced laws on alcoholic consumption and raised taxes for non-halal products. Trying to turn Turkey into a role model for a modern Islamic republic the  actual government ignored more and more the preferences of it’s secular citizens. However, one should not ignore that the AKP had a huge political success in all elections during the last 10 years, whereas the secularist and kemlist parties struggled in choice. Apparently citizens preferred economic safety and wealth over some minor right issues. In addition Turks have an amazing ability to come around legislations and laws. And this is not meant in a negative sense. People just arrange and trick a bit around. The AKP perfectly understood to use this Turkish mentality. Keeping up consumption and providing a rich base of shopping opportunities always helped to satisfy people and to keep the masses calm.

Until last weekend! So what changed? The Gezi Park turndown to it’s old Ottoman barracks and an included mall seemed to be the last drop that was needed to get a flood.
With the very hard police reaction, rioting and burning down the protestor’s camp, a huge wave of unexpected support started to roll trough the city. The brutal police reaction only increased the protests and brought even more people on the streets. The rest seems to be history and can be observed all over the web.

What I found very interesting: the reaction of foreign media. Whereas especially German media speaks about the phenomenon of the “angry citoyen” Anglo-American press speaks about a Turkish spring, referring to the latest movements in the Arabian countries.

However, I think that both are wrong. The German angry citoyen movement is mostly supported by older and retired people from the 68 generation. More than 80% of the S21 movement that fought the German Bahn plans to tear down the main train station and the related Schloss Park in Stuttgart was over 65. Most of the protestants here in Istanbul are very young.
In contrast to the Arabic spring these people are not fighting against an uncertain future or for more economic chances. The up growing Turkish generation seems to have the best chances since the foundation of the Turkish Republic more than 90 years ago.

It seems more that Erdogan missed a current global development that does not only affect Turkey but as well whole Europe and the US. People are fed up with pure capitalism. Future wealth, great incomes and perspectives are no more in the main interest of people. Recent research shows that the current generation seeks for more space for their personal developments. No wonder, that Malls, excellent economic numbers, consumption and low interest rated don’t help any more to satisfy these people. Instead of consumption and great perspectives this generation seeks for individuality. Restricting this development (by e.g. limiting or prohibiting alcoholic consumption or enforcing Islamic traditions) will hence lead to severe reactions. As we can see it right now.

The current Istanbul demonstrations are hence not an only Turkish problem. For me it seems to be more a problem with our current system. Pure capitalism with it’s promise to provide a secure, easy and wealthy future seems not to be sufficient to please the young generation. Following the very basic claims of Maslow’s hierarchy of need, it seems that we have overcome the basic stages with personal safety and security of supply and entered the very top stage: the need for self-realization. Just promising a bride future full with consumption and high incomes seems not to be enough to please these people. Time to construct a society that gives everyone the right and opportunity to follow it’s own ideals and preferences. Of course in a safe and prosperous environment.

If Erdogan and his party really want to stay in power they should understand this desire and find a way how they can combine their claim for a modern Islamic state with the right for individuality.

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