Why Gezi Protests areUnique ? Abstract InJune 2013, Istanbul along with the many other cities in Turkey has experiencedmassive demonstrations and occupations, which has started in a park located inthe hearth of Istanbul. Protests were one of biggest in Turkish history and ithas huge effects in both economy, politics along with the culture and society.But Gezi as a huge protest was not the only one in the world. There wereseveral protests going on in North Africa – which is called Arab Spring,Brazil, Greece, USA in the same time period. When we take a look at each ofthem deeply, we realize that there are some similarities and differences. Inthis essay i will focus on a particular similarity which is neo-liberalpolicies of governments after 2008 financial crisis and their effects on lifeof middle-class urban people, and i will try to compare them in the context ofGezi as a unique case. Introduction During2000s, various protest and occupations throughout the world took place, fromEgypt to Tunisia, Libya goes along with Brazil, Turkey, USA, Iceland, Greece,Spain and many others.
As the technology evolves such local events have beenglobalized. Now people can know what is going on in the other side of the worldinstantly. This change allowed people to understand problems of others andconnect them with their own problems. As a result of this we came to the age ofglobal revolts where the revolts are everywhere (Tu?al 2013). As it stated inthe protests in Brazil in 2013 ” The love is over, Turkey is right here” (Bevins 2013).Geziprotests in 2013 was a part of this global wave.
In 27 may 2013 the news ofcontruction trucks moving towards to Gezi park has circulated around socialmedia. Along with that a piece of activist went to the park and occupied it inorder to stop the demolition. They were able to stop the vehicles that night butthe day after police came into the picture. Violent actions of police to theprotesters has increased the tension and growing number of protesters afterstreet even deepened the situation. After long clashes between police and hugenumber of protestors. Protestor able to occupy the the streets of Taksim and GeziPark?.
Between 1 june to 15 june Gezi Park? was completely out of state controland people experience a sort of communal life in that 15 days. Until the majorpolice attack in 15 june people were enjoying and celebrating what they achieved.According to the Ministery of Interior Affairs there were around 2.5 millionpeople has been involved in to the events. (Hürriyet, 2013).Thereare several explanations on why such event occurred.
According to the IstanbulBilgi University’s research. Three main reasons that influenced participance ofprotesters is first the otoritarian attitude of prime minister. Than itcontinues with police violence and violation of democratic rights.
Meanwhile,North-Africa was also crawling with the voice of freedom. A revolutionary wavestarting with Tunisia quickly captured the attention of the world. Years oftyranny and oppression started to shaken against the voice of protestors. In aregion where sectarianism, corruption, and massive human rights violation goesalong with the economic instability caused by neo-liberal policies ofgovernments are realities of the that are not expected to be changed. Suddenlyfound the way to reach their hope. Massive occupation movements in mainsquares, clashes between police and at the and, victory. Even we can say that itdid not go well as it expected when we look at these events right now, peopleare encouraged by the fact that, if they increase their voice they can changesomethings.
This perspective was also in the protestors of the westerncountries too. In USA, Occupy Wall Street movement had a huge success on bothlegitimizing their demands in the eyes of people, and draw attention to thefact that something is wrong about the system. Brazil which presented as asuccess story and role model to the world also experienced massive movements. Asmall raise in the bus tickets caused huge demonstrations and occupations whilethe country was hosting confederation cup.
Greece as almost bankrupt country,try to figure out ways that can save themselves from the effects of 2008 crisishosted massive movements against the austerity measures. There are many othercountries such as Spain, Iceland also experienced such demonstrations andoccupations. Therefore in this essay, I will look at each of these events andtry to explain the reasons behind this movements while presenting Gezi as aunique case. What Happened in North-Africa ? Beforetalking about the situation in Arab Spring, people need to know that, it doesnot reflect the cultural differences of arab society (Tugal 2013). What I meanis, since the region as a whole considered as stagnant since Western countriesleft, there is this orientalist belief that arab nations can not change becauseof their religious and cultural traditions. Revolutionary acts in North-Africawas in fact have a lot of similarities with color revolutions which occured informer soviet territories and as a similarity there are also several foreigninterventions from organisation such as Endownment for Democracy in arabuprisings too (Ron Nixon 2011).
What I really want to talk about in this partis the driving forces that led people to revolt against the tyranny. In thatregard I will focus on two aspects which are the class aspect of the uprisingand macroeconomic instability in the region. According to the standart economicdata which measures unemployment, growth rate etc. Arap Spring should not havehappened (World Bank 2015). The numbers from ten years before was pointing outnot bright but stable future for the countries in the region. They were makinggreat job on decreasing extreme poverty, increasing the education level, reducinghunger goes along with a moderate growth rate.
In 2011 everything turn around.Countries experienced massive uprisings and as a result of this a dramaticpolitical change. The reason why this measurement miss the events is itrepresents very scientific and positivist approach. In that period people werefrustrated by declining living standarts, increasing unemployment, lack ofpublic services and of course a declining democratic environment. In that sensemiddle-class along with the working class were the ones who suffered from thissituation most.
In Tunisia young middle class as well as unified labororganisations overthrow Kaddafi. Egypt was also had similar events. Squares inTahrir was the main location for the protesters and they were heavily middleclass and wage earning people. Labor organisations also played a big role.Cities such as Mahalla and Tanta which are heavily industrial cities of Egypt,hosted huge demonstrations and occupations.
In addition in Tunisia mine workersrevolt in Gafsa in 2008 actually was a signal for that (Verdeil, 2011). Unjustpublic services in healthcare, finance, education and especially in housingdrive people to revolt against the commodification of public sphere (Tu?al2013). As i indicated at the beginning main driver for that middle, lower classuprisings are the neo-liberal growth model which is lack of social security andequality. Commodification of urban places which I will talk about later, wasalso a huge factor for the arab uprisings.
Most of the young people whoconnected with the other parts of the world thanks to social media, raised thevoice of urban middle and lower class young people who demands better”habitat”. Policies that always pushes towards profit, restricted living spacesof people especially in major cities such as Cairo and Tunis. Another factorwhich I would like to talk about is the macroeconomic instability of theregion.
Before the upheavel, fiscal imbalances was already a huge problem.Since 1980’s food prices in non-oil selling of north-africa was a problem.Before the Upheavel in Egypt, bread price inflation was over 18.9% and countryas a whole experienced a lot food crisis in it’s history (Zurayk 2011). Riots that causedbecause bread was occurring regularly in a country which is biggest wheatimporter. Tunisia was also experienced similar occasions since 1980’s.
The debtcrisis in 1980’s pushes non-oil producer North-African countries to take loansfrom IMF in order to subsidies their energy needs. Therefore it was always asignificant problem. In addition to that IMF also imposed their neo-liberalgrowth model which aims to create revenue in order to get back their loans. Inaccordance to that, import of public goods monopolized in time by a small elitebacked by state and as a result, these countries experienced increasinginequality and declining social welfare.
Such occasions frustrated middle classto a some extend but it definitely played an important role for the lower classinvolvement to the uprising. Afterthe revolution the situation did not get any better. Even it is argued thatthese revolutions aimed for achieving more democratic rule they are occupiedwith economic concerns rather than political participication.
(Williams andAssociates Survey, 2011). Therefore, one might say that, one of the main reasonwhy Muslim Brotherhood were toppled by army after the revolution in Egypt sincepeople were discussed with the fact that new regime will also going to applythe same economic policies which country suffered for many years. It isquestionable whether it was a success or not. But it is clear that, theseremarkable events globalized the idea of occupation and revolt, against inequalityand commodification of all aspects of life. Brazil Occupationmovements in recent years was also very popular in western world too. Mostlymiddle class young generation raised their voices against the socialinequality. Other than discussing movements in USA, Greece or Iceland I wouldlike to focus on movements in Brazil since it is more similar to the Gezimovement.
In 2013 both Turkey and Brazil experienced massive mobilizations.About one week later after Gezi movement. Brazil witnessed a massivedemonstration. Around 4 thousand people mobilized by Free Fare Movement(Movimente Passe Livre) against a 20 cents raise in public transportation.Meanwhile Brazil was hosting the Confedaration Cup and it was preparing twomassive sport events which are FIFA World Cup in 2014 and Summer Olympics in2016.
According to some researches these events considered as an opportunityfor Brazilians to explain the injustice rule of Brazilian government.(Maricato, 2013; Harvey, 2012). More than 120 cities has involved to the protestand around 1.4 million protest joined to the movement.
(Peschanski, 2013, 59). Protestin Brazil brought people together that are completely different from eachother. Therefore they could not raised their voice as a united body. (Rolnik,2013, 12).
As it is in Turkey there were flags which can be considered as aconservative element, but also there were a lot of progressive involvement thatexpects legalizing same-sex marriage and gay rights.Sowhy did they raised their voices together than? The simple answer for thisquestion is income inequality. According to Oxfam Brazil’s executive directorKatia Maia : “Extreme inequality breeds conflict, violence and instability. AllBrazilians regardless of social class or race; are effected by the inequality crisis.This what unites us.” In order to explain the inequality in numbers in Brazil.Someone who earns minimum wage in Brazil has to work 19 years to earn the sameamount of money that a richest 0,1% of the population makes in a month (Oxfam).Inaddition to that another aspect of occupation movements in Brazil, which Iwould like to discuss in this paper is that the class aspect of theparticipication.
As I mentioned in the beginning of the chapter protestsstarted in Sao Paolo which is highly populated urban city in Brazil. As ithappened in Turkey, urban issues was at the center of protesters, they met withthe police forces and events escalated afterwards. (Tu?al, 2013) Problems ofcommodification of life along with the ineaquality, privatization and policeviolence was the main drivers for middle class.
But what makes these events inBrazil different than Gezi is the lower class involvement to the events whichcarries similar concerns with middle class. (Caldiera 2013). What makes Gezi a Unique Case ? GeziMovement in 2013 escalated over 3.6 million Turkish citizens spread over 98% ofthe Turkish cities.
It started in 28 march against the violent actions of thegovernment against the urban space in order to construct a shoping mall. Infollowing days peaceful events evolved into massive clashes between policeforces and protestors. As it was in the previous cases that I indicated beforethe main reasons that led people to these events are first the commodificationof urban space and neo-liberal policies AKP government and secondly violentpolice involvement against democratic protests along with the increasing authoritarianism.These drivers as in the core, consist similarities of Gezi with the otheroccupation movements. In order to explain the uniqueness of Gezi I will look atdifferent aspects of this movements. In that sense first I will take a look atthe class aspect of the Gezi which is different than its fellows and than Iwill try to explain the identity that protestors bring to the protest which isuncommon in occupation movements.
Accordingto Poulantzas, social classes identified as their involvement in the productionprocess. In that sense economic position is not a significant criteria forclass structures. (Poulantzas, 1975a, 14-15). Therefore ” wage earners” doesnot simply reflects the working class or middle and working class together.
Inthat sense what is really important to define class structure is whether aperson have an authonomy in production process or have a word in terms ofmanagement. Whenwe look from this perspective, Gezi movement can be described as dominantlymiddle class with a small number of proletariat involvement . It is hard tocalculate the involvement of the masses since there is little or no researchabout the topic yet. But there are some signs which supports this argument.
Inthe beginning of the protests in may 28, it was perceived as an environmentalissue and before the masses that come from industrial or working classdistricts such as (Umraniye, Ba?c?lar, Alibeyköy) it was actually a pure middleclass movement with organised environmental activists. After it evolved to amassive movement it became more heterogent and diversed as it happened inBrazil. According to Istanbul Bilgi Universities research it was the first timefor the 53% of the participants, to attend a demonstration.
Most of the peopledecided to join to the events because of the news that they saw from socialmedia. This data indicates that, organized labor does not take part in the coreof the protests. The research also shows that only 7.7% of the participantsattended to the events because of their group membership. So what were thedriving force for the middle hugely middle class participication? According to Middleclass in Turkey experienced a huge improvement in terms of their lifeconditions compared to their ancestors. Liberal economic policies along withthe wealth it brought to the country since it is considered as an economicsuccess, actually delivered its promises. It is arguable whether thedistribution of this wealth is equal but middle class has increased in terms ofsize. According to the World Banks research in 2014, the shareof Turkey’s middle-class increased from 18 percent to 41 percent of thepopulation between 1993 and 2010.
This is the unique aspect of Gezimovement compared to other ones that I mentioned before. In arab spring incomeinequality was the main concern for the protestors, also in most of the westernoccupation movements this was the main framework. This social change in thesociety also brought identity into the picture. Most of the middle classmembers especially who are experiencing urban culture started to feel aliniatedfrom the traditions. Therefore their expectations began to differ than othersegments of society.Theironic fact about Turkey is, it has this sharply diversed society as its locationin earth. It is considered as a bridge between Asia and Europe for hundreds ofyears and influenced by both sides. A secular state with a Muslim population,capital of Eastern Orthodoxy and many others.
In that sense Gezi movement alsoreflects this fact. The identity question that I mentioned before actuallyconsists this years of diversion. Middle class participants in Gezi alsostarted to question the governance of AKP. As a conservative part it has a hugeties with the culture and traditions as most of the conservative parties in theworld. Therefore some elements such as democratic participation, freedom ofspeech, same sex marriage or drinking alcohol in public space since it is amuslim majority evolved in to a conflict between traditional and conservativegovernment and west oriented urban middle class so called laic. It was alreadya huge problem even before the AKP era, but AKP managed to consolidate thetraditional Turkish citizens who are religious but also liberals in economicalterms. This conflict had a huge impact on Gezi movement. A statement by Erdo?analso reflects the impact of this argument.
“They are drinking beers inside ofmosques” (Hürriyet, 2013). Istanbul Bilgi Universities research on Gezi alsoreflects this aspect too. A question in this research asks participants “Whichidentity is close to yours? According to rating averages. The top three ratingsare with 3.
77 point Libertarian, with 3.47 enviromentalist, with 3.44Secular.This aspect of Gezi movement what makes Turkish occupation movement asa unique case. Conclusion Occupationmovements in 21st century played a huge role in globalized world.Especially with the impact of social media, we see lots of revolts againstauthoritarianism and anti-egalitarian rules in all over the world. It isquestionable whether it is going to change the current status or not but it isfor sure that now people realize that they are able to have an impact onpolitical situation in their country.
With this perspective Gezi as a historicevent for the Turkish society, pointed out the problems of commodification ofurban places caused by neo-liberal policies of government. Such movements alsocarries several cultural issues and historical burdens with itself, and this aspect of movements might occurin many different shapes in all over the world in the future.