Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Play it again.

And still they stand, and still they protest, and yet still do they refuse to be bowed down. As I write, someone is playing the piano in Taksim Square; a human chain separates the encamped protesters from the ranks of the police, while all over Turkey people continue to voice their disenchantment.
And what does The Sultan do?
He meets a clapped-out 80's singer, purportedly a representative of the #OccupyGezi movement, but in truth someone who'd sell her own daughter for the sake of a bit of publicity. A 'referendum' has been suggested: It's the kind of referendum that you'd give (forgive the pun) turkeys: 'Do you want Christmas to happen now, or later?'
I just feel sickened that I can't do more to help. I tweet, I translate, I pass on news, I sign petitions, but I wish I could do something tangible, something palpable.
But there is this, always this - the power of words, of writing, of standing as witness to truth. So here is me, doing the only thing I really can in this situation - writing, letting my hands pass over the keyboard, stroking the letters into life, now andante, now allegro, sometimes agitato, occasionally lento. The piano player of Taksim square does what he can, bravely; I will do as I am able.
Even before this latest round of horror and vileness, I must say that I never had much time for Turkish  politicians. When I first arrived in Izmir back in 1993, it wasn't long before I had an experience of how much more in-your-face they were, and how clearly they were engaged in rotten practices. Corruption and nepotism were rife, and it was clear to anyone with sense that they were skimming all the wealth of the top. And behind it all lay the rotten corpse of the 1983 constitution, penned by the generals who took over the country in 1980, and who still lurked behind Parliament, ready to raise their hand at any time. Voter participation was relatively poor to apathetic - everyone knew that the likeliest outcome at any time was a hung parliament that would need replacing every couple of years, while the economy carried on out of control.
It was no wonder that the Justice and Development Party, aka the AKP, got in. For the first time, this was a party that a) listened to the poor out in the countryside and in the cities (and by poor, I mean REALLY poor) and b) had enough money to make changes, even if that meant effectively bribing swathes of the electorate. Coupled with this, the public was sick to the back teeth of the lying and corruption, and they thought - believed - that they were about to get a change.
And so it seemed. Credit where credit is due - the AKP made changes that, for a significant proportion of the country, made life much easier. Relatively simple measures, such as creating bus-only lanes in Istanbul, that transformed people's experience of the daily commute into something tolerable, instead of the hellish 3-hour slog it could be. More reliable taxation. A clear attempt to make Turkey a more open, democratic society. A willingness to take tough decisions, including the very brave one of seeking to engage in dialogue with the PKK.
And if they had stopped there, all would be well. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Why? Well, there are the huge capital building projects for starters - it has become increasingly obvious that the Turkish economy, one of the fastest-growing in the world, is based on a desperately overheated building sector, as well as on a very, very fragile service ecnomy. But mostly, the reason why the AKP shouln't be trusted is because it seems that one man has decided that he is the fount of all goodness, truth and everything that has happened in Turkey, ever. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister, has quite simply lost it. He doesn't seem to be capable of listening to anyone - everything has to be His Way or The Highway. His threats over the past few days have been horrendous - 'We will talk to you in language you'll understand', just before a horrific police assault in Taksim and Ankara; His order to the local governor of Istanbul to 'Finish this in 24 hours'; His casual racism - 'They think we don't understand arts and music. They think we're blacks' (he used the word Zenci here, which can be far more derogatory than how I've decided to translate it); his near-hysterical attacks on the protesters, saying first they're beggars and marginals, then looters, then terrorists, and now that they are clearly in the hand of foreign provocateurs, and, tonight, that the jews are to blame.
This is a man, and this is a government, who don't quite get the fact that democracy is not a one-way thing. It's not just some ballot box that you dust down every four years or so. It's something that you have to live with each day, every day, even though that can be so, so easily forgotten. When faced with protests, they've just reverted back to the 'Strong Leader' mentality of crushing dissent, rather thane seeking to engage with those who oppose them. They have chosen to see them as an enemy, rather than as an asset. And what, rather ironically, they have done is create something really quite wonderful - a generation of people who are prepared to fight for what they believe to be right, even if one person's idea of what is right is not exactly the same as someone else's. And that, in the long run, can only be beneficial to Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan cannot last forever; The AKP won't last a thousand years; But the willingness to stand for what you think to be the right thing can last forever.
A man plays a piano in a square. A people sing a new kind of song, and all the world is listening.

1 comment:

Andre Holzapfel said...

Thank you Paul! I share those impressions with you.