Istanbul, Gezi Park: TINA vs. NAIT?

Gezi_Park_gases Personalized attention to every citizen: one of the most infamous pictures of the protests in Istanbul

Istanbul, Gezi Park: TINA vs. NAIT?

Francisco Veiga, Eurasian Hub, June 2, 2013

It seems evident that the revolt in Istanbul’s Gezi Park has been a true “Black Swan”. According to author Nassir Nicholas Taleb, who coined this concept, a “Black Swan” event would be a completely unexpected phenomenon, deemed highly improbable and of great magnitude and significant consequences.

Since the different actors involved –including the Turkish government itself- are at a loss to fully understand what is happening, some media have been quick to say that the growing evidence of mobilization of the citizenship are the seeds of a true “Turkish Spring”. In the battle of headers which followed, some media took for granted that a true “Turkish Spring” was in the offering.

We shall wait a few more days to find out what will be the real consequence of what had happened, although we can hardly affirm that we are facing a “Turkish Spring”; because, unlike the regimes in Tunis, Egypt, Libya or Yemen, the Turkish regime is not autocratic. In reality, if the “rebellion” continues and manages to enforce a change in government, they would damage the Turkish political model- a moderately Islamist government that has been repeatedly proposed as a model for the new MENA regimes. Therefore, what we have in this case is a process we can call a “deconstruction of the springs”. However, we should not anticipate events as, at the moment, understanding what it is going on would be more than enough.

The first thing that seems clear is that the Turkish government scored an own goal- i.e., a large part of the damage received has been self-inflicted by the Turkish government itself. The rigidity of Prime Minister Erdogan and police brutality magnified the importance of what happened. Television images showing the police firing generous amounts of pepper spray against demonstrators were particularly unfortunate, now that it is being discussed the use of sarin gas in Syria by forces loyal to Bashar al Assad. In addition, Erdogan’s threat of calling his supporters against the demonstrators was a poor public relations move. It was one thing to mobilize AKP followers six or seven years ago, when the Turkish Islamist government seemed under the menace of the military and the judges. But now things have changed, and to appeal to the absolute majority in parliament to justify violent actions or social rupture is an irresponsible move that is little appreciated in western democracies.

Maybe this is the reason why Washington, Brussels and London have asked the Turkish government for restraint-and such a strong, rapid reaction leads us to think that there is something else. A few days ago, Eurasian Hub posted an academic’s letter, first published by The New York Times that discussed the supposed American mistrust towards the Turkish government, at least in regard to its involvement in the war in Syria.

It is still too early to glimpse what is the role being played by the major powers in this situation. But, at the moment, it seems evident that a large part of the Turkish population has not been won over by the current Turkish model that, after the rift with the European Union, presents itself as non-European. In fact, the Erdogan government has not managed to redefine a coherent alternative. Turkey is, as of today, a regional power half-way to nowhere, involved in an endless war that it cannot control, in partnership with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and heading towards confrontation with long-time, useful allies and friends.

But the above is not critical in order to understand what happened at Gezi Park. In fact, Turkey’s stagnated international position is but one aspect of the institutional and political paralysis of the regime that has been built by the AKP government during the last decade. And that was the main complaint first heard at Gezi Park, then at Taksim Square, Istanbul, and later in Ankara. The victory of the AKP in November 2002 was historically necessary- there was another Turkey, an Islamist one, different from the post-Kemalist establishment. Two middle classes co-existed in the country, one of them with a rather statist mentality clashing against another, more economically liberal, one. It was a good thing that this dichotomy came to the surface, but now it is time to reunify these two opposing Turkeys. However, since 2003, the AKP governed to the benefit of its voters, not to the benefit of all Turks- so this unification has not happened. This is what was denounced loudly these days in the centre of Istanbul.

Erdogan might be an unsympathetic figure, but he is not a bad politician. He is getting ready to launch a media counterattack that, with the support of prestigious, intelligent party notables such as president Gül, might calm the situation down. However, if he does not take notice and rewrite his own discourse, discontentment will surface again, because “the other Turkey” is as real and tangible as the one giving electoral support to the AKP.

A different problem would be the opposition parties that are undergoing a crisis of identity as deep as that of their fellow parties in the entire Mediterranean basin. The courage and resilience of the citizen protests’ in Istanbul and Ankara have been admirable, but let’s not make the dangerous mistake of confusing street demonstrations with actual voting intention. If social dissatisfaction is not translated to the Meclis -the parliament-, we will witness in Turkey the same political phenomenon that has dominated the political game in large parts of the world over the last thirty years: the neo-liberal TINA will get on top of the NAIT (Non Aligned International Tension).