EU progress report embraces the 'spirit of Gezi'

EU progress report embraces the 'spirit of Gezi'

Irrespective of how angry and vengeful Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might be feeling toward the “Resist Gezi” protests, the European Union managed to find a reason to praise the May-June demonstrations as a demonstration of Turkey’s emerging “vibrant, active citizenry.”

Put to one side the government that has accustomed to the intensifying, unconditional allegiance that has been brewing in the country for a while (at the same time transforming it into a police state); indeed, no one was expecting that the “apolitical post 1980 youth” might undertake such a civil societal activity with a heavily politicized message. It was not a “handful of youngsters” in Istanbul, however, in almost all major cities of the country, an incredible “vibrant, active citizenry” engaged in peaceful protests, demanding the government to abandon majoritarian hegemonic attitudes and lend an ear to the youth, to provide room for pluralism.

The Gezi incidents started after police began using water cannons and tear gas in their offensive campaign on a small group of youngsters staging a sit-in at the small Gezi Park in Taksim square, downtown Istanbul. The excessive use of force (or brutality rather) displayed by the police in such a short period saw the events gain momentum – and with gravitas; what then became “incidents” then gave birth to the series of vocal and physical shows of discontent with the arrogant and “absolute ruler” governance method that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prefers to apply.

The EU Progress Report would most probably have been the harshest ever annual report the EU released on Turkey if the tone had not been softened down thanks to the “reform package”. The “reform package” (or “democratization package as it is known) was released by the Turkish government in early October, and included new policy initiatives such as, the returning of relevant land back to the Syriac Mor Gabriel monastery, and introducing some cosmetic improvements to Turkey’s Kurdish community. Pledged improvements in the voting system and the like were considered worthy of praise. The report stressed a fundamental concern that the political climate in Turkey continued to be marked by polarization. Probably when it response to the report officially, the government would strongly criticize the Commission’s conclusion but, unfortunately, this is the bitter fact of today’s Turkey, which the report carefully underlined repeatedly.

“Resist Gezi” was not just a protest against a local development plan. Yes, initially it started as a protest to the deforestation of a park and a subsequent rebuilding of an Ottoman-time barrack and shopping mall or a plush residential complex in the heart of Taksim; after the police’s horrendous attacks on the protesters, however, a national “enough of tyranny” demonstration was then launched.

Obviously, as the EU report highlighted, the Turkish government must replace its awful interpretation of democracy, “relying exclusively on a parliamentary majority, rather than a consultative process in which all voices are heard, and finally in an uncompromising stance in the face of dissent and a failure to protect fundamental rights and freedoms.” That would not be enough; the government should go after those policemen and “civilians” who applied excessive force on demonstrators, while implementing its famous “no tolerance” principle on them, bringing them to justice.

Turkey is frustrated with the EU. Support for Turkey’s EU membership has dipped to unprecedented lows. Turkish people have no confidence that one day Turkey will be admitted in. The number of chapters that will be opened moving forward is no longer news item of value for the vast majorirty of Turks. Yet, as is demonstrated once again, not considering membership or accession to the EU, the EU process remains a facilitator of reform and Turkey must stay on course.