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Excursus III: the emancipated city: notes on the Gezi revolts
Pages 15

Contemporary politics is haunted by a paradox: while most political problems are thematized as particular issues, what causes them is often universalistic in nature. Capital, for instance, is a universal measure of value while it mediates particular, time-space bound relations. It is this dialectical power of money that enables the Right to insist on the role of the market in social regulation, on its ability to link the particular and the universal. Hence any Leftist politics must invent a link between the particular and the universal which can challenge the market’s universalism-particularism. The political question, in other words, is grounded in the movement from the particular to the universal (Albertsen 2002: 49; Harvey 1996: 332, 360-62). The 2013 revolts in Turkey provide an interesting case in this respect. The

event started as a particular, issue-based demonstration: a small group of environmentalists protesting against an urban renovation project in Taksim Square in Istanbul, where the government decided to build a shopping mall and a mosque on the site of a public park. Demonstrators gathered in the park as the authorities started to cut the trees. It was seemingly an ‘inessential’ moment, one among many. But on May 29, when the police started to use violence against the demonstrators, this habit of the police triggered a political fire which the government could not put out for months. In a country polarized by economic inequalities, cultural conflicts, and Islamic governance, the particular claims of the demonstrators metamorphosed into universalistic demands for equality, freedom, and solidarity. The major opposition parties and professional organizations started, after a period of hesitation, to give their support to the demonstrators. In no time, the demonstrations grew, and Taksim became a political magnet, attracting thousands of demonstrators. Police violence continued, and Recep Tayyip Erdog˘an, the Prime Minister, expressed his firm determination: they would not allow ‘a few çapulcus’ (a few marauders) to stop the projects (Erdog˘an 2013c). This remark became another ‘insignificant’ moment that gave impetus to significant events. More and more people started to react to police violence and to the Prime Minister’s remarks. What started as relatively small-scale opposition to an urban renewal project turned into refusal of government policies that aim at creating a neo-liberal paradise in Istanbul. And finally, the refusal became the refusal of Islamic

governance, of the government itself. This movement from the particular to the universal found its expression in the most wide-spread slogan of the revolt: ‘Every place is Taksim’. The establishment media ignored the first large-scale demonstrations on

1-2 June. While one of the greatest crowds Istanbul has ever seen was marching from the Asian part of the city towards Taksim, for instance, CNN Turk, a major TV channel in the country, was showing a crowd of penguins in the North Pole. (The day after, some demonstrators dressed up as penguins were carrying a placard: ‘Record this CNN Turk! We, too, are here today!’ Another placard was less humorous: ‘Corrupted media!’) But all Turkish TV channels were giving prime time to the Prime Minister who was stubbornly defending the project in Taksim as well as other governmental policies such as the alcohol ban in public spaces. ‘They say we are realizing the commands of religion. Is it bad to do what religion says if religion commands something that is good for society, for humanity?’ (Erdog˘an 2013a). This remark, which blurs the difference between the state and religion, is indeed essential to understand both the social psychology of the Turkish revolt and its difference from the Egyptian revolts of 2011.