Why huge protest was not the only one

Why Gezi Protests are
Unique ?

 

 

 

 

Abstract

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In
June 2013, Istanbul along with the many other cities in Turkey has experienced
massive demonstrations and occupations, which has started in a park located in
the hearth of Istanbul. Protests were one of biggest in Turkish history and it
has 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 were
several 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 of
them deeply, we realize that there are some similarities and differences. In
this essay i will focus on a particular similarity which is neo-liberal
policies of governments after 2008 financial crisis and their effects on life
of middle-class urban people, and i will try to compare them in the context of
Gezi as a unique case.

 

Introduction

 

During
2000s, various protest and occupations throughout the world took place, from
Egypt to Tunisia, Libya goes along with Brazil, Turkey, USA, Iceland, Greece,
Spain and many others. As the technology evolves such local events have been
globalized. Now people can know what is going on in the other side of the world
instantly. This change allowed people to understand problems of others and
connect them with their own problems. As a result of this we came to the age of
global revolts where the revolts are everywhere (Tu?al 2013). As it stated in
the protests in Brazil in 2013 ” The love is over, Turkey is right here” (Bevins 2013).

Gezi
protests in 2013 was a part of this global wave. In 27 may 2013 the news of
contruction trucks moving towards to Gezi park has circulated around social
media. Along with that a piece of activist went to the park and occupied it in
order to stop the demolition. They were able to stop the vehicles that night but
the day after police came into the picture. Violent actions of police to the
protesters has increased the tension and growing number of protesters after
street even deepened the situation. After long clashes between police and huge
number of protestors. Protestor able to occupy the the streets of Taksim and Gezi
Park?. Between 1 june to 15 june Gezi Park? was completely out of state control
and people experience a sort of communal life in that 15 days. Until the major
police attack in 15 june people were enjoying and celebrating what they achieved.
According to the Ministery of Interior Affairs there were around 2.5 million
people has been involved in to the events. (Hürriyet, 2013).

There
are several explanations on why such event occurred. According to the Istanbul
Bilgi University’s research. Three main reasons that influenced participance of
protesters is first the otoritarian attitude of prime minister. Than it
continues with police violence and violation of democratic rights. Meanwhile,
North-Africa was also crawling with the voice of freedom. A revolutionary wave
starting with Tunisia quickly captured the attention of the world. Years of
tyranny and oppression started to shaken against the voice of protestors. In a
region where sectarianism, corruption, and massive human rights violation goes
along with the economic instability caused by neo-liberal policies of
governments are realities of the that are not expected to be changed. Suddenly
found the way to reach their hope. Massive occupation movements in main
squares, clashes between police and at the and, victory. Even we can say that it
did not go well as it expected when we look at these events right now, people
are encouraged by the fact that, if they increase their voice they can change
somethings. This perspective was also in the protestors of the western
countries too. In USA, Occupy Wall Street movement had a huge success on both
legitimizing their demands in the eyes of people, and draw attention to the
fact that something is wrong about the system. Brazil which presented as a
success story and role model to the world also experienced massive movements. A
small raise in the bus tickets caused huge demonstrations and occupations while
the country was hosting confederation cup. Greece as almost bankrupt country,
try to figure out ways that can save themselves from the effects of 2008 crisis
hosted massive movements against the austerity measures. There are many other
countries such as Spain, Iceland also experienced such demonstrations and
occupations. Therefore in this essay, I will look at each of these events and
try to explain the reasons behind this movements while presenting Gezi as a
unique case.

 

What Happened in North-Africa ?

 

Before
talking about the situation in Arab Spring, people need to know that, it does
not reflect the cultural differences of arab society (Tugal 2013). What I mean
is, since the region as a whole considered as stagnant since Western countries
left, there is this orientalist belief that arab nations can not change because
of their religious and cultural traditions. Revolutionary acts in North-Africa
was in fact have a lot of similarities with color revolutions which occured in
former soviet territories and as a similarity there are also several foreign
interventions from organisation such as Endownment for Democracy in arab
uprisings too (Ron Nixon 2011). What I really want to talk about in this part
is the driving forces that led people to revolt against the tyranny. In that
regard I will focus on two aspects which are the class aspect of the uprising
and macroeconomic instability in the region. According to the standart economic
data which measures unemployment, growth rate etc. Arap Spring should not have
happened (World Bank 2015). The numbers from ten years before was pointing out
not bright but stable future for the countries in the region. They were making
great job on decreasing extreme poverty, increasing the education level, reducing
hunger goes along with a moderate growth rate. In 2011 everything turn around.
Countries experienced massive uprisings and as a result of this a dramatic
political change. The reason why this measurement miss the events is it
represents very scientific and positivist approach. In that period people were
frustrated by declining living standarts, increasing unemployment, lack of
public services and of course a declining democratic environment. In that sense
middle-class along with the working class were the ones who suffered from this
situation most. In Tunisia young middle class as well as unified labor
organisations overthrow Kaddafi. Egypt was also had similar events. Squares in
Tahrir was the main location for the protesters and they were heavily middle
class 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 workers
revolt in Gafsa in 2008 actually was a signal for that (Verdeil, 2011). Unjust
public services in healthcare, finance, education and especially in housing
drive people to revolt against the commodification of public sphere (Tu?al
2013). As i indicated at the beginning main driver for that middle, lower class
uprisings are the neo-liberal growth model which is lack of social security and
equality. Commodification of urban places which I will talk about later, was
also a huge factor for the arab uprisings. Most of the young people who
connected with the other parts of the world thanks to social media, raised the
voice of urban middle and lower class young people who demands better
“habitat”. Policies that always pushes towards profit, restricted living spaces
of people especially in major cities such as Cairo and Tunis. Another factor
which I would like to talk about is the macroeconomic instability of the
region. 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 country
as a whole experienced a lot food crisis in it’s history  (Zurayk 2011). Riots that caused
because bread was occurring regularly in a country which is biggest wheat
importer. Tunisia was also experienced similar occasions since 1980’s. The debt
crisis in 1980’s pushes non-oil producer North-African countries to take loans
from IMF in order to subsidies their energy needs. Therefore it was always a
significant problem. In addition to that IMF also imposed their neo-liberal
growth model which aims to create revenue in order to get back their loans. In
accordance to that, import of public goods monopolized in time by a small elite
backed by state and as a result, these countries experienced increasing
inequality and declining social welfare. Such occasions frustrated middle class
to a some extend but it definitely played an important role for the lower class
involvement to the uprising.

 

After
the revolution the situation did not get any better. Even it is argued that
these revolutions aimed for achieving more democratic rule they are occupied
with economic concerns rather than political participication. (Williams and
Associates Survey, 2011). Therefore, one might say that, one of the main reason
why Muslim Brotherhood were toppled by army after the revolution in Egypt since
people were discussed with the fact that new regime will also going to apply
the same economic policies which country suffered for many years. It is
questionable whether it was a success or not. But it is clear that, these
remarkable events globalized the idea of occupation and revolt, against inequality
and commodification of all aspects of life.

 

Brazil

 

Occupation
movements in recent years was also very popular in western world too. Mostly
middle class young generation raised their voices against the social
inequality. Other than discussing movements in USA, Greece or Iceland I would
like to focus on movements in Brazil since it is more similar to the Gezi
movement. In 2013 both Turkey and Brazil experienced massive mobilizations.
About one week later after Gezi movement. Brazil witnessed a massive
demonstration. 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 two
massive sport events which are FIFA World Cup in 2014 and Summer Olympics in
2016. According to some researches these events considered as an opportunity
for Brazilians to explain the injustice rule of Brazilian government.
(Maricato, 2013; Harvey, 2012). More than 120 cities has involved to the protest
and around 1.4 million protest joined to the movement. (Peschanski, 2013, 59).

 

Protest
in Brazil brought people together that are completely different from each
other. 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 a
conservative element, but also there were a lot of progressive involvement that
expects legalizing same-sex marriage and gay rights.

So
why did they raised their voices together than? The simple answer for this
question is income inequality. According to Oxfam Brazil’s executive director
Katia Maia : “Extreme inequality breeds conflict, violence and instability. All
Brazilians 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 same
amount of money that a richest 0,1% of the population makes in a month (Oxfam).

In
addition to that another aspect of occupation movements in Brazil, which I
would like to discuss in this paper is that the class aspect of the
participication. As I mentioned in the beginning of the chapter protests
started in Sao Paolo which is highly populated urban city in Brazil. As it
happened in Turkey, urban issues was at the center of protesters, they met with
the police forces and events escalated afterwards. (Tu?al, 2013) Problems of
commodification of life along with the ineaquality, privatization and police
violence was the main drivers for middle class. But what makes these events in
Brazil different than Gezi is the lower class involvement to the events which
carries similar concerns with middle class. (Caldiera 2013).

 

What makes Gezi a Unique Case ?

 

Gezi
Movement in 2013 escalated over 3.6 million Turkish citizens spread over 98% of
the Turkish cities. It started in 28 march against the violent actions of the
government against the urban space in order to construct a shoping mall. In
following days peaceful events evolved into massive clashes between police
forces and protestors. As it was in the previous cases that I indicated before
the main reasons that led people to these events are first the commodification
of urban space and neo-liberal policies AKP government and secondly violent
police involvement against democratic protests along with the increasing authoritarianism.
These drivers as in the core, consist similarities of Gezi with the other
occupation movements. In order to explain the uniqueness of Gezi I will look at
different aspects of this movements. In that sense first I will take a look at
the class aspect of the Gezi which is different than its fellows and than I
will try to explain the identity that protestors bring to the protest which is
uncommon in occupation movements.

 

According
to Poulantzas, social classes identified as their involvement in the production
process. In that sense economic position is not a significant criteria for
class structures. (Poulantzas, 1975a, 14-15). Therefore ” wage earners” does
not simply reflects the working class or middle and working class together. In
that sense what is really important to define class structure is whether a
person have an authonomy in production process or have a word in terms of
management.

 

When
we look from this perspective, Gezi movement can be described as dominantly
middle class with a small number of proletariat involvement . It is hard to
calculate the involvement of the masses since there is little or no research
about the topic yet. But there are some signs which supports this argument. In
the beginning of the protests in may 28, it was perceived as an environmental
issue and before the masses that come from industrial or working class
districts such as (Umraniye, Ba?c?lar, Alibeyköy) it was actually a pure middle
class movement with organised environmental activists. After it evolved to a
massive movement it became more heterogent and diversed as it happened in
Brazil. According to Istanbul Bilgi Universities research it was the first time
for the 53% of the participants, to attend a demonstration. Most of the people
decided to join to the events because of the news that they saw from social
media. This data indicates that, organized labor does not take part in the core
of the protests. The research also shows that only 7.7% of the participants
attended to the events because of their group membership. So what were the
driving force for the middle hugely middle class participication? According to Middle
class in Turkey experienced a huge improvement in terms of their life
conditions compared to their ancestors. Liberal economic policies along with
the wealth it brought to the country since it is considered as an economic
success, actually delivered its promises. It is arguable whether the
distribution of this wealth is equal but middle class has increased in terms of
size. According to the World Banks research in 2014, the share
of Turkey’s middle-class increased from 18 percent to 41 percent of the
population  between 1993 and 2010. This is the unique aspect of Gezi
movement compared to other ones that I mentioned before. In arab spring income
inequality was the main concern for the protestors, also in most of the western
occupation movements this was the main framework. This social change in the
society also brought identity into the picture. Most of the middle class
members especially who are experiencing urban culture started to feel aliniated
from the traditions. Therefore their expectations began to differ than other
segments of society.

The
ironic fact about Turkey is, it has this sharply diversed society as its location
in earth. It is considered as a bridge between Asia and Europe for hundreds of
years and influenced by both sides. A secular state with a Muslim population,
capital of Eastern Orthodoxy and many others. In that sense Gezi movement also
reflects this fact. The identity question that I mentioned before actually
consists this years of diversion. Middle class participants in Gezi also
started to question the governance of AKP. As a conservative part it has a huge
ties with the culture and traditions as most of the conservative parties in the
world. Therefore some elements such as democratic participation, freedom of
speech, same sex marriage or drinking alcohol in public space since it is a
muslim majority evolved in to a conflict between traditional and conservative
government and west oriented urban middle class so called laic. It was already
a huge problem even before the AKP era, but AKP managed to consolidate the
traditional Turkish citizens who are religious but also liberals in economical
terms. This conflict had a huge impact on Gezi movement. A statement by Erdo?an
also reflects the impact of this argument. “They are drinking beers inside of
mosques” (Hürriyet, 2013). Istanbul Bilgi Universities research on Gezi also
reflects this aspect too. A question in this research asks participants “Which
identity is close to yours? According to rating averages. The top three ratings
are with 3.77 point Libertarian, with 3.47 enviromentalist, with 3.44
Secular.This aspect of Gezi movement what makes Turkish occupation movement as
a unique case.

 

Conclusion

 

Occupation
movements in 21st century played a huge role in globalized world.
Especially with the impact of social media, we see lots of revolts against
authoritarianism and anti-egalitarian rules in all over the world. It is
questionable whether it is going to change the current status or not but it is
for sure that now people realize that they are able to have an impact on
political situation in their country. With this perspective Gezi as a historic
event for the Turkish society, pointed out the problems of commodification of
urban places caused by neo-liberal policies of government. Such movements also
carries several cultural issues and 
historical burdens with itself, and this aspect of movements might occur
in many different shapes in all over the world in the future.