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Flames of Resistance and Hope in Turkey


Zeynep Bilgehan: You released a solidarity message for the protestors from Ankara. First of all how long have you been in Ankara and what’s the purpose of your visit?

Tariq Ali: I was in Ankara for three days to give a public lecture at the invitation of the Cankaya municipality that had been agreed several months ago. Naturally I observed what was going on in the evenings. Unprovoked attacks on peaceful demonstrators, the constant use of tear gas and water visited the Park and talked to the young people there.

ZB: What do you think about the recent incidents as a whole? From your point of view what happened or is happening in Turkey?

Tariq Ali: The mixture of a sharp intelligence, fearlessness and the rebirth of hope that I witnessed was very inspiring. It reminded me to a certain extent of Europe (Paris and Prague) in 1968, much more than the Arab spring. What is happening in Turkey is very clear. An elected authoritarian government, committed to neo-liberalisam and war, imagined that it could do anything it wanted because of its democratic status. This was a foolish mistake.

When I was in Istanbul a few months ago, it was difficult not to detect a pall of depression that had enveloped activists and oppositionists. The closure of one of the city’s oldest cinema on Istiklal had led to mild protestsd. So mild that the government imagined it could accelerate its select and destroy mission. They miscalculated badly. The Prime Minister, in particular, a veritable Sultan of the building industry refused to retreat and embarked on repression. This was the breaking point. People unconcerned with the proposed destruction of Gezi now came out to protest and in huge numbers. The more the repression, the more the protests grew, spreading to virtually the entire country apart from four Kurdish-dominated towns. A campaign to save a park had become a national uprising against an obstinate and thuggish regime.

ZB: You say, Turkish protestors ignited hope in Europe. In what sense did they ignite hope? line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
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Tariq Ali: Turkey has changed. This is clear in what we are witnessing. As I said above the key now is how to institutionalise this change so that Turkish democracy is enhanced. Real Democracy as opposed to actually-existing democracy is a delicate flower. It has to be nurtured and cultivated but not with the blood of its citizens or regular surveillance (reminiscent of, but technologically on a higher—and therefore more debased— level than the former Stasi in the dead East Germany) or drones and torture or the imprisonment of those who speak the truth. Neo-liberal capitalism is hollowing out democracy. Those who fight the capitalist onslaught are also strengthening democracy.

ZB: In our previous interview we had talked about the Arab Spring. You said “The spring has turned into winter”. Can you compare what’s happening in Turkey with Arab Spring? What is similar and in what sense it differs?

Tariq Ali: The similarity is in the scale of the uprising, but otherwise the situation is different. As I’ve already said Turkey in its intellectual life and its political culture is far closer to Europe. One has only to look at the books translated from European languages, at the univerity and school curriculuums, etc to realise this and the style and instinct of the demonstrators confirm all this, at least, in my opinion. Military dictatorships have existed in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Turkey. In the current period where the United States has moved away from dictatorships in its client states, Turkey has benefited. But the new regime and, in particular, the big bullying Prime Minister think they can rule in the same old way. Erdogan’s project is to build himself as the anti-Ataturk using the language of NATO in the garb of ‘moderate’ Islam. We have noted the ‘moderation” in recent weeks. The notion that Islamist conservatism can solve the real problems with Turkey as a model now appears like a sick joke in Turkey, leave alone Egypt and Tunisia.

ZB: Can we call this movement a Turkish Spring? Why?

Tariq Ali: Why bother using that phrase. It has already turned sour.

ZB: Any chance this movement will also turn into a winter? What should be done to avoid this? line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
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The Obama Syndrome (Verso). 

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