Protests in Turkey are tremendous democratic advance

Published by Public Service Europe, 5 June 

Often, it is fair to say that most of what we read on Turkey in the international media tells us more about those who write it than guide us towards a healthy analysis of developments in the country. The same goes for vast majority of the commentary on the protests we saw in Istanbul and across the country over the last week.

While protests in each of the cities have a different context and local factors, without a doubt initial protests on and around Gezi Park have triggered a larger social eruption. Therefore, understanding the Gezi Park protests would be important as a reflection on trends that unite these protests.

So far, the most credible data that emerged on protestors in Istanbul's Taksim Square has been a poll among 3,000 protestors in the Taksim area by Bilgi University. The findings signal important insights.

Bilgi's survey has found that 39 per cent of protestors are 19 to 25 years old and 24 per cent are 26 to 30 years old. Some 53 per cent have never joined a protest before, while 70 per cent do not feel close to any opposition party. Only 7 per cent say they joined the protests due to mobilisation by a political group. As to the reasons for the protest - some 92 per cent blame the prime minister's attitude, 91 per cent say police brutality, 84 per cent the media's silence on the events, and 56 per cent say the cutting of the trees.
 In addition, 81 per cent identify themselves as a 'freedom promoter', 64 per cent as 'secular' and 54 per cent as 'apolitical'. We can see that 92 per cent of protestors do not identify themselves as AKP voters and 75 per cent said they do not identify themselves as conservative. As for their future demands, 96 per cent want an end to police brutality while 96 per cent call for respect for freedoms. Meanwhile, 37 per cent want a new party to represent them. Interestingly, only 6 per cent want military intervention - and 79 per cent are against any military involvement.

An initial analysis of the statistics provides the following insights. The way the government handled an initial protest on city planning has triggered a larger burst of feelings of anger and frustration. The complete failure of Turkish opposition parties to be a voice for a sizeable portion of the population led them to protest – as it was the only way to assert their voice in politics. Amid all of the seeming faulty reporting on the 'Turkish Spring', the utter absence of the military from protests against the government party and lack of desire from the public to see them involved signals a tremendous democratic advancement in Turkey.

Similarly, the fact that neither European Union nor United States or International Monetary Fund pressure but public demand only led the government to back down from plans over the area - and apologise for police brutality - reflects a key point. Now the main pressure before any government is an empowered, focused and rights-demanding public - as it should be in any healthy democracy.