Throwing eggs: Turkish students are good at it and getting better. This week they brought down an ‘egg rain’ on AKP MP Burhan Kuzu, member of a parliamentary commission that advises on constitutional change. He came to the Political Science Faculty of Ankara University, and was welcomed by the ‘Egg Throwing Collective’. Dozens of eggs landed on him. Well, on his umbrella – he came prepared.
It sounds ridiculous: political science students welcoming with eggs a MP who wants to discuss constitutional change. It would make more sense to prepare good questions and discussion points and really make your point about what you feel needs to change in the constitution. But considering what happened earlier this week between students and the police, and considering the history Turkey has with protesting students, I can somehow understand their action.
Last weekend Prime Minister Erdogan held a meeting with university rectors in Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul. Students protested the fact that they were not invited to the meeting and took to the road leading to Dolmabahce, armed only with banners. No weapons, not even eggs, they claim. The police were determined to stop them, and soon started using violence: water cannon, pepper spray, batons. That was not a pretty sight, some students ended up in hospital (where one 19 year old pregnant student lost her early pregnancy after being hit in the stomach). More than thirty students were arrested.
A few weeks ago, eighteen students of a university in Istanbul were sentenced to fifteen months in prison for waving banners and shouting slogans against the AKP when Prime Minister Erdogan came to open the university. Their crime: protesting. The list of court cases and violence against protesting students is long, and getting longer.
In Turkey, unlike in, for example, my own country, the Netherlands, many students still lead a very political, activist life. They group together in often socialist or communist (who said communism is dead?) and also sometimes right wing groups. They discuss their political views, hold protest meetings, meet with like-minded groups from other universities, and engage in demonstrations. And there is indeed a lot to fight for. Independent academic life, for example, not controlled by a state institution. Better job prospects after graduation. No mingling of politics in academia. Just to name a few.
How are you going to be heard if protests are followed by violence or a court case? Egg throwing is childish, but I can imagine the obstinate mood students are in this week. And I feel no sympathy whatsoever for Mr. Kuzu, who, after being ‘egged’, said that the students were ‘brainless’. He called on the rector, deans and the head of the Politics Faculty to step down.
How about he put the events of this week in a broader perspective and ponder his own and his party’s basic principles? Why are there still so many restrictions on the constitutional right to demonstrate? His party has been in charge now since 2002. They love to talk about democratisation but haven’t even managed to guarantee one of the most basic democratic rights. The shame of that is so much deeper than the shame of throwing eggs.