Beer ban at music festival
It was strange to find only non-alcoholic drinks such as water, soda, fruit juice and coke when I opened the door of the minibar in my hotel room on one of the top floors of a high-rise Singapore hotel.
Moreover, there was a list of the prices of a variety of alcoholic beverages on top of the minibar. However, the drinks featured on the list had disappeared from inside the minibar.
When I called the room service to inquire, they replied that they could immediately deliver drinks to my room if I wished. A little while later there was a knock at my door and an official from the hotel administration apologized with an embarrassed face, saying: “Before your arrival, Turkish officials asked us to remove all alcoholic drinks from the minibars in the rooms of the members of the Turkish delegation. This is the first time such a thing has happened in our hotel.”
Mentality intruding the hotel room
This incident happened on Aug. 14, 1996, during the third leg of the first international trip of the prime minister of the time, Necmettin Erbakan. On the first two legs of the trip, in Iran and in Pakistan, alcoholic drinks were not available anyway. In the Turkish Airlines (THY) plane that was chartered for the trip, there were no alcoholic drinks served upon the instructions of the office of the prime minister. When we set foot in Singapore, the option resorted to was to take measures against alcohol inside the hotel rooms.
Following reaction from journalists and stories published in the press, this ban was softened in the later stages of Prime Minister Erbakan’s trip. For example, in the next leg of the trip, Kuala Lumpur, the minibars of the hotel rooms of the journalists contained alcoholic drinks, but the minibars of the members of the official delegation were sterilized and cleansed of alcohol.
This incident, which occurred in the second month of Erbakan’s prime ministry, was an eye-opener from the point of view that it demonstrated how a mentality that grants itself the right to intrude into the lifestyle of others could reach as far as a hotel room in Singapore.
What about practices in Anatolia?
Reading the news and comments about the banning of beer following pressure at the “One Love” music festival held at Istanbul Bilgi University’s santralistanbul campus in Eyüp last weekend took me 16 years back to the incident I experienced on Erbakan’s trip.
The same intrusive mentality this time penetrated across the borders of Bilgi University on the shores of the Golden Horn in Istanbul and banned a practice that had been going on for 10 years. When a freedom which you have enjoyed for years suddenly disappears, that creates a sense of lessening in one’s self. The sudden disappearance of a longstanding freedom results in the shrinking of your living space, like the shrinking of an outfit you are wearing.
We have experienced examples of such restrictions at certain intervals in our daily lives recently. For example, while it had long been possible to eat and drink outside in restaurants in Istanbul’s Asmalımescit neighborhood, a municipality ban introduced in summer 2011 terminated this freedom enjoyed by citizens. Indeed, bans in Asmalımescit or at a music festival at Bilgi University are immediately reported in the press because they occur in the biggest city in Turkey. Thus they come to the attention of the public and become subject to a debate and much reaction. When similar incidents happen in remote corners of Anatolia, is there an opportunity for them to reach the public’s attention? Most of the time, there is not.
An assurance, the sound of which fades away in space
Actually, the recent incident that occurred in Eyüp is a striking example demonstrating how far the dimensions of the intolerance against different lifestyles have reached.
There are several other examples one can resort to such as the rapid decrease in the number of venues in Anatolia that serve alcohol, the fact that their alcohol permits are not renewed by municipalities run by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), that these kind of venues are forced to relocate outside the cities and that an alcohol ban has been imposed at certain teacher’s lodges.
All of these developments point to a tendency that is becoming increasingly distinct. That tendency is a darkening conservatism slowly but consistently blanketing Turkey.
While this trend is unfolding, the echo of discourses such as “We will respect different lifestyles” is fading away.
Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on July 18. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.