Don’t You Wake up the Greeks, but What about the Turks? Some Thoughts on ‘INDIGNANCE’ at Syntagma Square

BY DR. BAŞAK ALPAN | 02.06.2011

‘La Beaute est dans la Rue’ (‘the Beauty is in the Street’)

Ernesto Laclau

Syntagma_Square_indignadosDuring the mid-May demonstrations in Spain where protesters of all ages and backgrounds have filled the squares unhappy with the economic difficulties and high rates of unemployment, one of the signs said: “Shh! Don’t wake up the Greeks!”, sarcastically drawing attention to the lack of a popular protest against the current economic crisis in Greece. Apparently, 100.000 Greeks flocking to the Syntagma Square on Sunday were not asleep at all. The general theme at Sytnagma on Sunday was an overt hatred against political figures of the country, especially against Yorgo Papandreu and Theodoros Pangalos, the prime minister and vice-prime minister of the current Greek government respectively. ‘Thieves, thieves’, the crowd chanted in Athens. Another popular slogan was ‘I will not pay’, referring to the recent tax increase stipulated by the last week’s memorandum prepared by the government.  As an answer to the Spanish banner, a banner in the demonstration read:  “We are awake! What time is it? Time for them to go’. The so-called ‘Indignant Citizens Movement’, following the Spanish ‘los indignados’,  is also significant as it points to a new fissure between the members of the so-called ‘570 Euros generation’ in Greece (the flat rate a new graduate would approximately get if he/she is lucky enough to find a job) and their PASOK-aligned parents who was fighting at the PASOK front in the 1970s against the junta. The new junta in the eyes of the young Greeks seems to be the current socialists. However, the claim that the Greek protests (or read it European) being the next Woodstock do not seem very accurate to me. The Sunday demonstration was rather an astute middle-class reaction to a change in their lifestyles, which reminded me of the 2007 Republican rallies in Turkey where hundred thousands protested against the emergence of the AKP as a threat to the secular regime and republican values, rather than the Woodstock.  Although there were banners displaying a certain unease with capitalism (the famous little fish-coming-together-and-chasing-the-big-black-fish figure), the real protest was against the politicians and economic crisis. The organising principle was not an eloquent critique of capitalism or unequal income distribution whatsoever. The later stages of the demonstration turned into a workshop where everyone would take the floor and express why they were here and there have been statements of some left-wing groups about the necessity to stand together against the suspicious and unjust arrest of a 15-year-old migrant for theft, but the crowds seemed not so enthusiastic about this part of the protest. Nevertheless, the protest at Syntagma this Sunday gave me hope and euphoria for a prospective articulate movement in Europe as well as a certain degree of envy.  Although the impact of the economic crisis is not as acutely felt in Turkey as is the case in Greece, the Turks have the adequate reasons to stand against the myth of the prosperous and stable Turkish economy which is in fact fed by an ever-increasing external debt, current account deficit, an immense wave of privatisation and a high degree of young unemployment. To say the least, this is partly because of the current government’s allergic reaction to any hint of opposition and the lack of a ‘creative dissent’ in Turkish political landscape that would bring the masses together. This Sunday, I attended a memorable protest not so far away from my lonely, beautiful [1] and currently not-so-angry country and I sighed.

[1] In May 2008, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkish film director, dedicated the Best Director Award in the 61st Cannes Film Festival to ‘[his] lonely and beautiful country’ with his film ‘Three Monkeys’

Dr. Başak Alpan is Lecturer at Middle East Technical University.

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