Gezi protests mark an important evolution on Turkey's civil society: EU envoy
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
A group of young people take souvenir photos at top of a damaged vehicle in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park in this file photo. The police’s excessive use of force on May 31 against peaceful protesters who were demonstrating against the destruction of Gezi Park, sparked protests around the country. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZThe Gezi protests represented a revolution for Turkish society, demonstrating that the country’s vibrant civil society was now becoming more active, according to an envoy of the European Union.
The Gezi protests will have consequences in the future, said Jean Maurice Ripert, the head of the European Commission in Turkey. “The Gezi events will have an impact on helping civil society empowerment.”
The environmental protests that turned into anti-government demonstrations, shaking the country over the summer, have also left their mark on the commission’s yearly progress report, as a new and separate section was devoted to the issue of “civil society.”
“There is a vibrant civil society, but it is also an active one; daring to speak out and also daring to act,” Ripert told a small group of journalists. The Gezi events, as well as the government’s reaction, will be noted in the progress report, which is expected to underline that the reaction of the authorities were not fully in line with EU laws and practice, according to Ripert.
“We are aware that protests have been used by extremist groups who had nothing to do with the original protesters,” said Ripert, while adding that the demonstrations were largely peaceful.
“People said, ‘We have things to say, we want you to listen and to take it into account,’” said Ripert, adding that this would have an impact on civil society’s ability to push for structural change.
The Gezi events were actually the result of having more liberties in the country. When the people are given more political freedoms, they want to use them, he said.
He also noted that while this should not come as a surprise, the reaction of authorities shows that they need time to adjust to civil society’s eagerness to take advantage of their liberties.
The progress report will underline the fact that while there has been progress in the area of the judiciary, there is a mixed picture on the area of fundamental rights, said the EU diplomat.
The report is also expected to state that freedom of the media in Turkey remains restricted in practice according, he said.
The fact that the press is largely owned by economic holdings beholden to the public market is not sound for the freedom of media, said Ripert, expressing astonishment that a female presenter was fired by a TV channel when her low-cut dress was criticized by a government spokesperson.
“Anyone has the right to say, ‘I don’t like this.’ But what was problematic was the TV company fired [Gözde Kansu] following this statement,” said Ripert, who added that the progress report would talk about intimidation by politicians as well as how self-censorship is becoming widespread and that journalists are fired or forced to resign.
Gül receives praise
The progress report due to be made public on Oct. 16 is expected to underline the “balanced and positive role” played by President Abdullah Gül in Turkish politics. The lack of government’s accountability, as well as a lack of compromise and the difficulty in sustaining dialogue among partners are expected to be a source of criticism in the progress report.
The police’s excessive use of force on May 31 against peaceful protesters who were demonstrating against the destruction of Istanbul’s last downtown leafy corner – Gezi Park – and the building of a shopping mall in the form of an Ottoman barracks, sparked protests around the country, with an unprecedented number of protesters taking to the streets around Turkey. While five people, including a police officer, died.