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The following interview appeared in Alternatif Siyaset on 5 June 2013. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton

Foti Benlisoy: We are encountering an uprising

Researcher and writer Foti Benlisoy has characterised the events that have gone on for days as being “an uprising, an uprising lead in particular by youth.” Benlisoy, pointing out that it is normal for neo-nationalists to line up alongside revolutionaries and socialists in this spontaneous movement, said that, “in Tahrir socialists and Salafists were on the same barricade.”

RUKEN ADALI – ANF

The protests, which started out in objection to the government’s plan to destroy Taksim’s Gezi Park but have turned into widespread and mass protest against AKP rule, have lasted for a week.

With the wait continuing at Taksim’s Gezi Park, popular protests continue in a number of cities outside Istanbul, such as İzmir, Ankara, Mersin and Antakya. In the workers’ quarters of Istanbul, barricades are being put up in the evenings.

What is the meaning of this uprising that erupted out of nowhere and how may it evolve? Writer Foti Benlisoy, who has also closely followed the development of the Arab Spring, has answered these questions.

AN UPRISING

Benlisoy said that nobody expected the protests to spread so quickly and remarked, “We are encountering an uprising, a revolt, in the full sense of the word.”

Benlisoy, saying that, “It is pointless to debate why an uprising comes about on one day and not another, and for one reason and not another,” commented that the uprising that has been going on for days “is a social explosion that to a large extent came about spontaneously.”

Benlisoy commented: “The underlying socio-political reasons for this explosion, this uprising, will be debated at great length in the coming days. But, what is already certain is that this has resulted from the outpouring of pent-up anger at the government’s insensitivity and boorishness. In other words, irrespective of certain slogans that have been chanted, the uprising is marked by an innate anti-authoritarian, libertarian character.”

Benlisoy, stressing that we are encountering an uprising, and an uprising lead in particular by youth, said, “The Gezi Park resistance has become the space and justification for the discharging of the anger felt at the government, and probably any kind of governance, by one, or maybe two, generations, who have known no other government apart from the AKP and associate authority with Erdoğan.”

ANTI-AUTHORITARIAN POLITICAL CONTENT

Foti Benlisoy, stressing that young people overwhelmingly have no connection with organised politics, said “This is a colossal reaction, an outpouring against the government, and Tayyip Erdoğan and the police whom they associate with the government, by young people, who for some time have felt themselves to be oppressed, reprimanded, put down and pressurised. These young people have no direct connection with organised politics or the left. But this does not alter the fact that this youth uprising has an ‘anti-authoritarian’ political content. These young people, who have been resisting against the police for days, are the harbingers of a young generation that will leave its mark on the struggles to come. It is thus of crucial importance that the left strengthens its ties with these groups as the struggle progresses.”

Benlisoy was of the view that it is normal for neo-nationalists to come together with revolutionaries, socialists and environmentalists within the movement. Benlisoy said, “Let us not forget that in Tahrir revolutionary socialists and Salafists were capable of lining up on the same barricade, on the same rank, in opposition to Mubarak. This is a typical feature of such large and spontaneous uprisings.”

Benlisoy argued, “Neo nationalists, or even fascists, may participate in the arena. However, it is possible to reduce the influence and strength of such groups precisely by assuming a stronger position within the movement.”

INSIDE IS THE PLACE TO BE

Benlisoy, making the criticism, “To belittle the movement, citing the movement’s political heterogeneity as an excuse, is an apolitical position that amounts to abandoning the arena entirely to these other political tendencies,” made the assessment, “Let us not forget that uprisings are processes in which the broad masses undergo fast political transformation and leaps forward in collective political consciousness are experienced. Consequently, it is necessary to take part in the fight and debate with the people in the arena, and to struggle to win them over to a specific idea and conception. There is thus a need, while on the one hand struggling against state forces, to on the other hand engage in ideological struggle within the movement. The process and its participants are very fluid and flexible. We are all learning and experiencing new things. A group that a minute ago was shouting the slogan, “We are Mustafa Kemal’s soldiers” then joins in when it hears the group next to it chanting the slogan “We will not kill; we will not be killed; we will be nobody’s soldiers.” This process is thus critical precisely in terms of the potential that it presents to bring about significant turning points in the broad masses’ political consciousness.”

Benlisoy, cautioning that, just as an uprising may erupt and spread with unexpected speed, it may also rapidly fizzle out, said, “It is hard to tell just now how this movement will evolve. However, it is vital for the left in a collective manner to take the initiative and give continuity to this popular movement and give even a degree of substance to its political content.”

RESEMBLANCE TO THE ARAB SPRING

Benlisoy, who in replying to a question said that the process resembled the Arab Spring, said, “The use of social media tools, the seizure of a public space by the people, spontaneity and the active role of young people are all important parallels. We also encounter similarities with the youth uprising experienced in Greece in November 2008. We in any case need to stress that this process is part – undoubtedly shaped by local conditions - of the international wave of protest of recent years. Support actions taken in various countries around the world show that participants in the struggle outside Turkey see this protest as being their own cause. This dimension of international solidarity is also a valuable aid for ridding the movement of neo-nationalist themes“

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton