Posted by SnakeArbusto and greydogg, 99GetSmart
Submitted by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan, from Istanbul. See complete video of the Tools of Freedom panel here.
I have been in Brussels over the last few days to speak at a conference co-organized by the EPP and the Greens/EFA groups at the European Parliament, titled “Tools of Freedom”. During the few days I spent in Brussels, I had the chance to meet several MEPs and Eurocrats. Among them were also Alojz Peterle from the “Friends of Turkey” group; Hannes Swoboda, the leader of Party of the European Socialists; Jerzy Buzek, former president of the European Parliament; Pawel Zalewski, the European Peoples’ Party MEP from Poland; and lastly the one and only Pirate Party MEP from the Greens group, Amelia Andersdotter.
All the meetings were held at the European Parliament and all of them focused specifically on the Gezi Park protests, with a lot of concern over the level of freedom of speech, freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey, including possible social-media censorship laws. Throughout the meetings the main focus was on the excessive violence against civilians by riot police and the government’s supporters. The main conclusions that can be drawn from the remarks and comments of the officials and the non-official people I talked to can be summarized in a few lines:
The first overall message to be understood was that the protests were seen as a positive outcome of a process of transition and democratization that has been going on in Turkey for a long time now. The protests and the ability to make use of liberties and freedoms and the general outcry against any limits on those rights and liberties are generally perceived as a positive aspect of the protests, which remained peaceful and civil until police intervention disturbed the scene. In general, it is indeed promising to see civil society in general demanding that the Europeanization process continue and calling for deep reforms of the state system, as opposed to the top-down reform policies one could see in Turkish politics until recently.
While the excessive use of force against peaceful protests was highly criticized and condemned, the media was spared a big share of criticism of its massive failure to report anything for days and the near absence of unbiased focus in the weeks that followed. As was noted, the lack of press freedom in Turkey has been a major obstacle in the path to the democratization process, and the presence of the social media and the people’s involvement with the social media has been a big impetus towards overcoming the problem. However, it was also mentioned in the discussions that filtering, restricting, or limiting access to social-media platforms on the Internet in general would only cause an even bigger reaction from society and lead to the spreading of invented stories or even misinformation.
One other intensively discussed subject was the current of protests and their direction in social waves. There were a few people worried about the intentions of some protesters, which I share from time to time as well, having seen occasional hateful remarks. But it needed to be clarified that the use of hate speech and verbal violence – just like physical violence – is not a behavior that is tolerated among Gezi Movement crowds across the country. It is a worrisome situation, however, to still see this, yet as repeated by the respectable people that I met, it is important that individuals with a more humanistic understanding of the situation and society make the voice of peace and freedom heard more than hate speech at any given time; this is not a time to be silent about democratic demands.
I can say that I sensed great encouragement from every single person I talked to, and this encouragement went hand in hand with many worries concerning the well-being of civilians in Turkey. Yet – at the risk of repetition – it is important to note that the struggle against a non-democratic state entity is not as risky as fighting against an anti-democratic ruler, as happened with the Arab Springs movements.
In Brussels, I not only met people who were curious to get insight into the Gezi events; other people who are critical of Turkey at all times and want to cease any relations with the country at every opportunity. As a researcher on far-Right ideologies and political movements, I needed to see their reaction to these events in person. I listened to a few people who are critical of Turkey in the EU negotiations and who say that Turkish society in general does not wish to see a democratic government and is not part of Europe. This sounded very ignorant of the news of the last few weeks, since the protesters’ demands have always shown admiration for the European spirit and democratic solidarity.
There are many changes cooking in this summer heat; hopefully a big portion of it is democracy and guarantees of further freedoms and liberties for the whole of society. No matter how pessimistically some may have approached the news – and that may be a better position, or at least a more realistic one –, the public forums, peaceful protests, and the intensive use of intellectual means to get around restrictions give hope for a future of real change. Now the problem is spreading the word; as the noted individuals present all said, those who defy this movement have made up their minds based on the government’s propaganda material on the mainstream media, and it is best to remain civil, intellectual, and peaceful and continue spreading the message of democratic values one by one until everyone learns that it is only through respect and tolerance towards all that we can exist together.
Apart from the meetings with parliament members, I also had the chance to meet several bloggers who participated in the conference. It was very enlightening to hear what is still happening in Tunisia from the “Tunisian Girl,” Lina ben Mhenni, and to learn that it is still the beginning of the democratization process for Tunisia and that there is still great unrest in society in general due to the authoritarian tendencies of the elected government. As one may understand from the unfortunate resemblances of the situation, democratic elections may not always result in a democratic outcome, and there is a long way to go to sustain a better state condition. Hopefully that will happen very quickly, though.
While the meetings and talks generally focused on basic guarantees of human rights and civil liberties, there were also remarks made by Katarzyna Szymielewicz (president of Panoptykon Foundation) and Jarosław Lipszyc (president of Modern Poland Foundation) about ACTA and concerning the protection of personal information and regulating the Internet in order to secure the future of freedom of expression and civil liberties in the digital society.
All in all, it has been thanks to bloggers that there are such great social movements today in all three countries, for different reasons, and there is one simple message: People will not tolerate being stripped of their rights! Once more it is important to repeat:
Big brother should beware of little siblings; they are mobile, they are unorganized and they are interconnected!
VIDEO: Internet and Social Media as Tools of Freedom: http://www.greenmediabox.eu/archive/2013/06/18/internet-and-social-media-as-tools-of-freedom/
MORE STORIES by Gürkan Özturan @ http://radicaldemocrat.blog.com
Turkey: As AKP Aims to Silence International Media, Police Continue to Storm Taksim; Uprising Spreads @ http://99getsmart.com/turkey-as-akp-aims-to-silence-intl-media-police-continue-to-storm-taksim-uprising-spreads/
Turkey: Resistance Park @ http://99getsmart.com/turkey-resistance-park/
Turkey: Regime Ignores International Community’s Outrage @ http://99getsmart.com/turkey-regime-ignores-international-communitys-outrage/
Turkey: The “Cleaning” of Taksim Square @ http://99getsmart.com/turkey-the-cleaning-of-taksim-square/
Turkey: Artists Accused of “Civilian Coup” @ http://99getsmart.com/turkey-artists-accused-of-civilian-coup/
Turkey: Erdogan’s Fictitious ‘Reality’ Persists in Speech to Paid ‘Supporters’ @http://99getsmart.com/turkey-erdogans-fictitious-reality-persists-in-speech-to-paid-supporters/
Green Spaces Keep Shrinking, Boycotts Expand and Police Complain about Working Conditions @ http://99getsmart.com/turkey-green-spaces-keep-shrinking-boycotts-expand-and-police-complain-about-working-conditions/
EU-Turkey Conference Minimizes Overt Police Brutality, Erdogan’s Ongoing Hypocricy & the Failure of Turkish Main Stream Media @ http://99getsmart.com/turkey-eu-turkey-conference-minimizes-overt-police-brutality-erdogans-ongoing-hypocricy-the-failure-of-turkish-main-stream-media/
Nightly report from Turkey 07-06-13 @ http://99getsmart.com/nightly-report-from-turkey-07-06-13/
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Photo by Meghan Rutherford released under a Creative Commons license.