‘Water is a right, it’s unsellable!’ When I saw that protest sign yesterday afternoon at Taksim quare, I was sure: everybody is here. Everybody that has something to protest about that can in any way be linked to May Day, was gathered in Istanbul’s central square. And showed a unity that was just breathtaking.
The general idea about Turkey is that it is a very polarized country. It is, in many ways. But that polarization shouldn’t make us blind to the great unity that is sometimes shown. Besides ‘water activists’, there were banners for justice for Dersim (read more about it here), for the socialist revolution (with Che pic of course), actors protesting for shorter working hours and a better legal status, Kurds demanding more rights, journalists wanting more press freedom, feminists against sexual harassment, youth branches of many political parties, unions of a wide range of professions, name it and it was there. On a huge stage there were speeches, and then music. And sunshine. On and around the square there were 38,500 policemen: the more the day progressed, the more I saw them yawning and sitting down having yet another cup of tea.
It’s only two years since May Day demonstrations have been allowed again on Taksim, after 33 people were killed on the square on 1st May 1977. Politicians were afraid riots would break out. But Turkey is not the Turkey of the late seventies anymore, the very violent years before the 1980 coup. Nor is it the eighties anymore, when the country was trying to get back to democratic rule. Or the nineties, the most violent years in the war between the PKK (and Kurdish citizens) and the Turkish army. Turkey has become more democratic and freedom of expression has expanded.
It’s beautiful, when you think of it. While in the whole country the election campaign of political leaders takes polarization to an even higher level, the people decide to come together and forget their differences of opinion. They just celebrate together to make a contribution to a better life for the average man in the street. Now can we take that spirit from the bottom up, please?