Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Gezi-Anatomy of a Public Square Movement

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Gezi-Anatomy of a Public Square Movement

Article excerpt

"Yasamak bir agac gibi tek ve hur ve bir orman gibi kardescesine"

"To live like a tree alone and free and like a forest in brotherhood"

Nazim Hikmet

The Occupy Gezi movement has been a staging ground for the creativity of micro-practices, and it embodies the importance of the politics of everyday life. As a public square movement, it opened up a new arena of experience and democratic opportunities growing and resonating from Istanbul, Turkey.

The Occupation of Gezi Park started on May 28, 2013, in protest against the implementation of an urban management project. When the police brutally intervened and used aggressive force, the Gezi movement gained new momentum from the massive support of the middle class and the expansion from Istanbul to other urban cities. The public has not hesitated to take to the streets and block avenues, neighborhoods, and their city's central spaces. Others participate from their balconies, with whole families chiming in to the protestors' chorus, banging on pots and pans. They have found pacifistic means of protest that require no arms or political slogans to express their discontent and frustrations with the AK Party government. This urban movement, started by young people, supported by the middle class, and featuring a strong female presence, has not weakened in the face of impressive displays of force by riot police who use tear gas without hesitation. Clouds of gas filled the sky in city centers, making breathing difficult; but these clouds, symbols of pollution and the abuse of power, have only bolstered the anger of ordinary citizens.

The Gezi movement marked a new threshold for democracy. As every new event unfolded, there is a date, 'before' and 'after' Gezi. The movement in which they have gained a new voice and unifying force happily surprised the participants themselves. The movement created its actors, a repertoire of action of its own, and instigated a new social dynamic that challenges the established political norms.

The Gezi movement has been compared to other social protest movements throughout history. Similarities were drawn to the "May 68" youth protest movement in France. The "Tahrir Square" movement in Egypt and the "Arab Spring" came to mind. But the movements in the capitals of Western cities, such as "Occupy Wall Street" and the "Les Indignes" were also given as examples to understand the anti-capitalist stand of the Gezi protest movement.

The Gezi movement is both all of these movements, and none of them. It borrows from them all, and has similarities with each. However, it is also distinct and unique. As in the case of these other movements, Gezi is a demonstration of citizens--an expression of civilian resistance, staged in the streets and occupying local squares. It is a public movement. As in the case of the 1968 movements in France, Gezi distinguishes itself as a youth movement, with its own generational characteristics. However, this was not a case of the younger generation turning against the previous generation. On the contrary--their parents were joining their children and participating in the same protest movement. In Paris, the 68 slogan "ca suffit" ("enough is enough") was aimed against Charles De Gaulle for holding power in office for ten years. Similar to the French context, the Gezi protest says "enough" to the last ten years of power held by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

For some, who use the Arab Spring as a model, these protests resemble the occupation of Tahrir Square, and demonstrate the population's anger against the authoritarian political regime. However, the political structures are not similar. Turkey is a parliamentary system, holding free elections since 1946. The Arab Spring was about the dissolution of an authoritarian regime and the demand for democracy, and giving the public --the majority--a voice. The protests in Turkey were the criticism of a democracy of the majority in defence of individual, minority voices. …

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