EL Delegation to Taksim Square

Plunging into the maze of tents in Taksim Square and the Gezi Gardens, members of the ELP delegation (2 members of its Political Committee and two leading members of Syriza) we sought to pinpoint the many organisations and demands.

A delegation of the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ODP) is helping us to understand this area of free expression and way of life that is being built as the days go by. It is Monday 10 June, the prime Minister has just announced that he will meet with a delegation of demonstrators: there are many inhabitants of Istanbul here who are smiling, glad at the hope of being able to change the course of events.
The point in common: some tensions, frustrations and conflicts with Erdogan. The movement is now going much further than the refusal to allow a public area to be destroyed to suit rich tourists from the Arab countries.
Some tents set up by the free radios, the alternative television channels and papers printed daily by themselves show that what the demonstrators also want to win is freedom of thought.
This year the trade unions were banned from using this Square, that is traditionally used by for their May Day demonstrations, although working conditions and purchasing powers are deteriorating.
The effusive expressions of joy expressed by the Istanbul football supporters were violently broken by the police.
The young people are rejecting the transformations being imposed in quick succession that imply a growing Islamist pressure (banning the sale of alcohol, challenging the right to contraception, the difficulty for a woman to find work unless she has her hair covered).
This also echoes the strong criticism of Erdogan’s foreign policy: his arming of the Syrian Jihadists on the border while, at the same time trying to appear as the president of a secular republic to the international community.
The situation is hard to analyse, as there is no common platform.
The ODP activists consider that, for the moment, the demands are more cultural than social. They are of a Kemalist character, and round issues of rights and freedom, and so pretty far from those that challenge neo-liberalism in the other revolts that took place elsewhere in 2011. However, other activists of the same party analyse the attacks on Erdogan’s authoritarianism as being a way of calling into question the economic choices that benefit the more privileged strata and thus fairly close to the other uprisings.
We understand that over and above the many demands, there are a variety of co-ordinations in this area that are largely autonomous hard to reconcile with one another: those in Taksim Square and those in Gezi Gardens as well as those of the barricades that are supposed to protect those occupying this area of protest. The ODP activists have a place in one co-ordinating body of 80 left-wing organisations and took us to one of their meetings in the premises of an engineers’ and architects’ trade union near Taksim Square.
“This is an opportunity for the Left, but we were not ready and we are not united”.
Waltraud Fritz proposed to see if one or two young members of ODP could the ELP’s Summer School to exchange their experiences with other European progressives and send them some ELP material.
The people living in the area seem to accept this intense chaos — they explained to us that when the police go over to the offensive they open their doors to shelter the demonstrators.
The solidarity areas are well organised: some are free, sickbays and supplies available nearly everywhere in the Park, bottles of water containing vinegar, essential in the event of tear gas or pepper attacks. There are tents in which to sleep everywhere and groups are discussing, writing, drawing …
We were unable to contact leaders of the BDP, but we did go and see the Kurdish activists who have an area of their own in the Square. They told us that they and the other demonstrators since they are in the middle of negotiations with the government although being there. There were some violent clashes between them when they were asked to remove Öcalan’s banner “It’s as if they were torturing us” one of the Kurds said. They have remained there because their presence enables them better to explain the repression they have suffered to the Turks.
We have been able to have a press conference, a free radio broadcast from the Gardens had speak from the platform one evening after the concert of booing and tin pan beating. In the name of the ELP and the 27 national parties that make it up I confirmed our support for their demand of a democratic secular Turkey acting in the interest of the greatest number of people and connected this with the 2011 Social Forum in Istanbul, as well as the Athens Alter Summit. The Synaspismos youth leader talked to them about the movement of the “Indignant ones” in Greece and of the politicising of the revolt. The Syriza member of Parliament stressed the necessity of building up a political balance of power.
The next day, Tuesday 11 June we say the columns of tanks going up to Taksim Square. This gave full meaning to the remark an ODP activist made the day before: “Whatever happens next, even if we have to return to our neighbourhoods, go back to work or to University, the people know that they can cross the bridges, know that they can broaden the limitations of existing organisations and thus can change the authoritarian regime and the government”.