Imperial Globality and Authoritarian Democracy through the Turkish Prism – Struggles over State, Class and Difference during the Neoliberal Era
1.1. Introduction: A Right to the City
In May 2013 a series of protests erupted in several major Turkish cities, after construction crews had begun the demolition of Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces left in central Istanbul, in order to make way for a new government-sponsored shopping mall. The demonstrations began with approximately seventy Right to the City protesters, who spent the night at the location, erecting tents, organizing music sessions and making their opinions known to passersby. The group was ‘comprised of members of the Taksim Solidarity and the Taksim Gezi Park Protection and Beautification Association as well as some unaffiliated but concerned individuals’ (Cassano, 2013). On 29th of May, the number of protesters had grown by several hundreds, with at least 150 who showed their defiance by spending the night in the area. As a result a spontaneous and festival-like atmosphere starring different films and concerts spread through the park with ‘activists plant[ing] seeds […] as a token of resistance’ (Cassano, 2013). The next morning police forces entered the park in an attempt to clear it, using tear gas on the activists and burning down their tents. But the incursion had opposite effects, as the demolition was stopped yet again in the late afternoon and the news of extreme police brutality in the early morning hours spread through the city, attracting even more demonstrators to the scene. On May 31, police forces raided the camp once more, this time in an even more violent fashion. As the media was banned from the park, the police strategy escalated the situation provoking violent clashes between the two sides throughout the day. After barricading Taksim Square, neighbouring Gezi Park, outrage grew further among Istanbul’s population. The numbers increased to at least 10 000 men and women taking to the street by Thursday night, despite the heavy use of riot control techniques by the local police forces (Cassano, 2013). Twitter accounts even stated 40 000 people were ‘on foot heading to Taksim, including thousands crossing the Bosporus Bridge that connects the European and Asian sides of the city’ (Cassano, 2013). Moreover, solidarity protests against police brutality spread throughout the country, including the cities of Ankara, Izmir, Izmit, Eskisehir, Kayseri, Antalya, Kuthaya and others. According to the conservative estimates of Bianet, an independent news website, at least one hundred protesters were injured during the clashes. What had started as a minor show of direct activist action, thus suddenly ignited into one of the biggest mobilizations in recent Turkish history.
But the Gezi protests can barely be considered an isolated phenomenon of social unrest, neither on the national nor the global level. In 2010 thousands of people took to the street in France to protest against harsh pension reforms. In Germany, the same year, major protests occurred against the life-span extension of nuclear reactors, after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis. In Spain demonstrators spent weeks at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol Square to protest against one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe. Only months later, the MENA region faced its biggest socio-political challenges since the national liberation movements in the 1950s. In no more than a few months millions of people took to the street to protest poverty, inequality and precarity. This year protests erupted in Brazil over the enormous public spending costs before the World Cup. In Ferguson Missouri solidarity marches were organized over the probably racial killing of an unarmed Afro-American boy by local police forces. Thus, societies painfully experience the ever increasing acceleration, hyper-marketization, technification and erosion of social life due to the violent effects of modern capitalist globalization all over the world. As this evolution impacts environmental biodiversity, cultural identity and expression, political representation, economic planning and social cohesion in various forms and regions, it seems to lead to the increase of social unrest not only in Developing countries, but also in many OECD states. Arturo Escobar even suggests this globalized regime operates through various fascisms including spatial exclusion, the fascism of insecurity and financial fascism (Escobar, 2004, p.213). While capitalism continues to express itself through global imperatives, it thus calls forth and arouses a global social movement ‘founded on a critique of globalization as well as the defence of diverse sectors – women, ethnic, minorities, and all who are subject to authoritarian or totalitarian regimes – which have nothing in common but apparently being subject to capitalism in its most brutal and intractable forms’ (Pleyers, 2011, p.xi). Thus, over the years Zapatista communities and their Caracoles (Good Government Councils), piqueteros neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires, new rural communities, alternative squats in urban spaces; assentamentos (settlements) of the Brazilian movement for landless peasants, border camps, and alternative camps at G8 summits have taken up the task to re-create spaces of alternative experience all over the world (Escobar, 2008). The purpose of this dissertation is to locate the Gezi movement in the context of resistance, identity constitution and opposition to globally dominant neoliberal policies which were and still are incarnated in Turkey by previous and current state administrations.
1.2. Methodology & Problematic
Today, the issue of a globally organized and vertically oriented economic system that imposes capitalist modernity’s norms upon societies that are otherwise not connected with each other, need to be taken into account in any contemporary socio-political analysis. As scholars like Amin, Wallerstein and Hinnebusch stated, there exists an unevenly divided global, hierarchic labour and state system dominated by one or a few hegemons who guarantee the spreading and reproduction of the global capitalist system as a whole (Amin, 1973; Wallerstein, 2004; Hinnebusch, 2011). The global economy thus ‘provides a particularly large amount of power to centers of economic decision-making, which are almost always situated at the heart of the most powerful national economies.’ (Pleyers, 2011, p. xi) The metaphor of the center and the periphery is often used to describe the opposition between the two basic types of locations in the world economic spatial system and the resulting inequalities of power distribution between different nation-states. In Discipline and Punish, a critique of modern disciplinary apparatuses, Foucault similarly described the panopticon, a structure where a guard is situated at the centre of many radial cells. Each cell contains a prisoner. This spatial relationship between guard and prisoner ‘links the centre and periphery. Power is thus exercised without division, according to a continuous hierarchical figure’ occupying the central hub ‘gathering all authoritative force in one single place (Foucault, 1993). The German scholar Sybille Krämer elaborates on the relation between centre and periphery in a similar context, as the principle of postal addressability for subject constitution. She explains that the postal service locates subjects within space and time turning them into addressable receivers of messages (Krämer, 2008, p.75). Foucault and Krämer thus both link the power of positioning and hierarchical domination to subordination and execution of control. The vertically organized world economic system therefore has to be taken into account in order to understand the accelerated centrifugal forces of capitalist accumulation following the construction of neoliberalism Turkey.
As corporate globalization must be considered as a ‘complex, historically and spatially grounded experience that is negotiated and enacted at every site and region of the world’, there is an urgent need to go beyond the scope of the Near and Middle East as a peculiar world region, too. This calls for a more subversive, deconstructionist and border-crossing approach that recognizes the networks which link the political economies of nation-states. Although nation-states still exist as such, they need today ‘to be thoroughly historicized and relativized vis-a-vis sub-national, supra-national and trans-national aspects’ (Hanieh, 2013, p.12). Hanieh argues it is essential to break with the classical lineal style of analysis which focusses solely on processes within the borders of ‘neatly ordered states’ bound together only externally (Hanieh, 2013, p.11). He claims the logocentric categorization only linking different centers together does not capture ‘the drive of capital to scour the globe in the search for profitable markets, raw materials, and production sites, bringing ever-larger spheres of activity into its orbit’ (Hanieh, 2013, p.12; Palloix, 1977). Poulantzas suggests accordingly that all capital – regardless of its national origin – was compelled to orient to the global scale and, simultaneously, foreign capital had become internalized as a largely indistinguishable component of the ‘national bourgeoisie’ (Hanieh, 2013, p.11). This does not simply mean the continuous need for opening, controlling and dividing new markets but a ‘relentless drive towards the domination of space’ (Hanieh, 2013, p.13). Dominant capital strives to capture and exploit each and every sphere of human experience in order to increase outputs and extract profits. A chief premise of this dissertation is thus to underline the impact, consequences and importance of international and vertically organized capital accumulation mechanisms to the formation of class within Turkey and Turkish society at large.
Moreover, this dissertation seeks to locate itself at ‘the incredibly complex intersections of nature and culture, space and place, landscape and human action, culture and identity, knowledge and power, economy and politics, modernity and globalization, and difference and sameness’ (Escobar, 2008, p.2/3; Bebbington 2004). The Science Studies show since the 1970s that there is a need for interdisciplinary border-crossings in order to retrace and comprehend the hybrid processes of human reality today. The German scholar Karl Schloegel thus stated in Map-Reading Eye-Work, that ‘pluralization […] is very important because it shows the infinite wealth of a spatialized world’ (Schloegel, 2004, p.265). Therefore this work figures as an essay that offers a limited glimpse into the relationship between the current phase of capitalist globalization, the local construction of neoliberal policies, its consequences, and the resulting efforts of bottom-up culture and knowledge production in Turkey. My dissertation’s problematic is therefore as follows: In what way did the socio-political, economic and ecologic impacts of neoliberal construction in Turkey since the 1980s (at least) partially translate into the activism and demands of the Gezi 2013 movement? Although I have spent some time in Istanbul over the past months, this dissertation can by no means represent a micro-sociological analysis of its grassroots activism. The research was predominantly bibliographic, not empirical. Informal meetings and discussions with the ACI (Anti-Capitalist Islamists) group and other researchers, have nonetheless contributed in limited ways to the outcome of this work. Opposite to a micro-sociological or anthropologic approach, a more global view on available bibliographic material allows for an interdisciplinary and theoretical analysis grasping the intersection of macro and micro-political processes. Herein lies also the interest of this dissertation to the field of development studies, as the local expressions of Gezi 2013 will be located within a global framework of contemporary socio-political, economic and ontological development issues.
2.1. Introduction: The International Neoliberal Turn
It is essential to the understanding of the transformation of Turkey’s political economy over the years and of its local implications, to place it within a framework of a violent neoliberal globalization, especially since the 1980s. Neoliberalism is a global macro-economic and arguably counter-hegemonic anti-Keynesian paradigm which emerged in the post-1973 period on a global scale (Lee Mudge, 2008; Harvey, 2005). Its initial evolution can be traced back to principles such as ordo-liberalism and the laissez-faire movement and other earlier forms of macro-economic liberalisms especially of the pre-WWII years (Lee Mudge, 2008; Harvey, 2005). Neoliberalism’s globalization was spearheaded by international organizations, political and economic representatives, as well as intellectual and americanized elites. Especially international organizations such as the IMF the World Bank and their respective local agents act as a catalyst between core and periphery in capital’s relentless drive for more territory available for de facto annexation (Lee Mudge, 2008; Harvey, 2005). The emergence of neoliberalism paralleled Turkey’s move closer to the centre of the world economic system, in times of the East-West Divide. US-Turkish relations had developed within this context as a strategic necessity in the wake of the Cold War and an expansion of the US Empire into the Near East (Hale, 2000). The emergence of an all-powerful Soviet Union represented an eminent threat to Turkey’s state sovereignty. Deep resentments towards Russian regional expansion could be traced back to the days of the Ottoman Empire and WWI. The resulting allegiance to the United States, also coherent with regards to Turkish attempts of socio-political and economical westernization and modernization efforts, expressed itself in Turkey’s acceptance into NATO in 1952. At the same time ‘American policy makers were lured by the prospects of bases on the borders of the Soviet empire and defence against the Soviet military threat to Middle East oil’ (Hale, 2000, p.68). Cooperation reached new heights during the 1980s and the consequent post-Washington Consensus ‘Americanization’ of Turkey. Various sociologists have, especially since the 1990s, emphasized the political impact of the international neoliberal turn since the 1970s, which evolved (at first) around the ‘export of the “Washington Consensus” from North to Central to South America’ (Lee Mudge, 2008, p.704).
In the following chapter I will therefore explain the initial introduction of neoliberalism’s global macro-economic agenda in Turkey’s political economy during the 1980s. The transition could be observed particularly during the rapid transformation of Turkey’s political economy and state apparatus in the 1980s. For this reason I will put the transformation of the political sphere in Turkey, from a étatist to an authoritarian democratic or authoritarian statist regime in the context of an inflationary neoliberal globalization. I will therefore also take into account the various interests of domestic capital in the matter, while considering the centre/periphery dichotomy in Turkey’s political economy. Neoliberalism as a driving force, as well as the relationship between the secular and the religious national bourgeoisies, will prove significant with regards to the then following discussion of the AKP’s fostering of imperial globality with the help of a neo-populist usage of Islam. It will redirect the somewhat simplistic focus on the alleged Islamist agenda of the AKP and rather draw on the current state of global capitalism and the related emergence of centre-right politics, mechanisms of class formation and new forms of authoritarianism.
2.2. Internal Construction of Neoliberalism in Turkey
In Turkey the safe transition to the new neoliberal regime, pushed for by the IMF and the World Bank through performance criteria of Structural Adjustment Packages (SAP) was secured through a military coup in 1980. Turgut Özal, a former World Bank employee who gradually climbed the ranks of Turkish politics in the wake of the 1980s coup, pioneered the neoliberal revolution in Turkey within the statist/étatist state bureaucracy. Due to his unique background he was perfectly able to bridge the centre/periphery, secular/Islamist divide in Turkey’s socio-political landscape. His Islamist roots appealed to the conservative masses and the Turkish periphery while his strong, organic ties with the transnational financial networks and his attractive modernization projects opened the doors to the urban secular elites (Önis, 2007, p. 116). Neoliberal premises for the first time transcended traditional socio-political and cultural divides in Turkey to form a broadly supported economic agenda. Implementing this agenda of efficient and radical growth according to the SAP ‘propositions’, Özal restructured political and social institutions and significantly strengthened the executive powers of his own management team, through ad hoc mechanisms such as governmental decrees and extra-budgetary funds, and through new institutions such as the Under-Secretariat of Foreign Trade and Treasury. (Önis, 2007, p.51) The term management hints at the technocratic character of Özals cabinet, which was mostly comprised of friends from the bureaucracy and young economists working at the IMF, the World Bank and various American Universities. The melange of business leaders and politicians was, according to the WB, the ‘bringing together [of] the best knowledge, expertise, and experience’ in order to establish ‘priorities and directions for a comprehensive and structured policy reform agenda’ (Hanieh, 2013, p.65). More importantly though, it served a coordinative function in the gradual ideological and structural introduction of neoliberal policies from the inside, making the frontier between business and the state more permeable. Lee Mudge argues similarly, by drawing on Bourdieu’s topos of the political field, that neoliberal politics represent a distinctive social terrain, organized through struggles over political power such as rules of access, resource distribution, legitimate positioning, and definition privileges (Lee Mudge, 2008, p.707). In other words, this terrain is induced by ideological representations that transcend immediate political realities, but can strongly delineate the terrains boundaries.
This evolution resonates with the general restructuring of the state during the neoliberal era as described by Poulantzas. The hierarchical organization of the former de jure State which controlled a current administration through the means of parliament, as the legitimate representative of the nation, setting norms, is gradually reversed. The power of control shifts in favor of the Executive branch, which revises once universal norms on the basis of a business-like ‘rationality of efficiency’ (Poulantzas, 2014, p. 218/219). Initiatives for the enactment of laws derive more and more from the daily struggles of the Executive with the national economy. Rather than being carefully processed through democratic legislation, laws are assessed in the private summits of the Executive, which is also increasingly constituted by high profile technocrats who are often former employees of international financial organizations. While communication channels between international organizations and the new managerial state bureaucracy grow exponentially, channels between state and parliament dry out (Poulantzas, 2014, p.223). Consequently, in the Turkish case, Özal assured the rapid implementation of the neoliberal reform package through centralization and erosion of parliament, bypassing legislative hindrances as often as possible and enacting laws through the direct rule of decrees. This tendency of the neoliberal state towards centralization of decision-making is, according to Hanieh, simultaneously countered by an opposite trend towards decentralization of policy implementation. Especially when it comes to budgetary decisions of government departments, ‘this decentralization has been ideologically driven by the ethos of “new public management”. Government departments are forced to compete against one another for central funding, and market-based incentives increasingly become part of budgetary calculations’ (Hanieh, 2013, p.67). This evolution renders a multiplicity of unaccountable managerial decision-making processes in the unaccountable committees of the administration itself (Hanieh, 2013, p.68). The macro-managerial rationalization and spatial construction is what Certeau names strategy. ‘It is the calculation (or manipulation) of power relationships that becomes possible when a subject of will and power […] becomes isolated. It postulates a place likely to be […] the base from which to manage relations with an exteriority targets or threats’ (Certeau, 1990, p. 59).
According to Greg Albo, it is furthermore impossible to separate, analytically or politically, the emergence of neoliberalism from the defeat of working-class politics and the retreat of the labour unions in Turkey (Dogan, 2009, p.188). The authoritarian collaboration of Turkey’s military strength and neoliberal politics resulted in the immediate radical political-cum-economic repression of labour movements and the political organizations of the revolutionary left, declared responsible for the 1970s violent outburst. The reformist or radical left-wing political parties consequently lost ground, both ideologically and electorally, along with the political importance of labour unions. ‘State-run enterprises were said to be less efficient, act as a drain on fiscal resources, and reduce growth because of the “perverse incentives and contradictory demands” placed on managers of state owned enterprise’ (Hanieh, 2013, p.49). Located henceforth within the free market, the lack of an immediate correlation between state legitimacy and worker satisfaction in the public sector resulted in the immediate decline of wages and the degeneration of working conditions. Without regulation working conditions within the domestic private sector, which prior to privatization had to orient itself at the public sector in order to ensure employee satisfaction, now declined as well. Privatization and deregulation thus appear in the neoliberal reform program as two sides of the same coin. Neoliberal reforms were aimed directly at the strong regulative state bureaucracy of Turkey’s post-republican regime, as the private sector would be able to become, in the words of the World Bank, the ‘engine of strong and sustained growth’ (Hanieh, 2013, p.49). Public investment was consequently rationalized (reforming the state’s personnel regime by introducing a contractual system), collective bargaining was prohibited, the commodity trade liberalized, and low-value-added manufacturing sectors like the textile and garment industry became integrated into global supply chains. The imposed regime furthermore included ‘liberalizing [imports]; favoring private investment […]; decreasing agricultural subsidies; reforming the state economic enterprises […]; decreasing resource transfers to these enterprises; [and] reforming the tax system’ (Bekmen, 2009, p.50). Moreover, wages were restrained while controls on prices, interest rates, and exchange rates were removed in order to cope with high rates of inflation (Bekmen, 2009, p.50). During this period ‘American subsidiaries set up a whole range of enterprises from soft drink-bottling plants, to pharmaceutical plants, to aircraft assembly plants’ (Hale, 2000, p.78). Through deregulation, the country’s economy was thus also opened to trade and capital flows which were especially drawn to cheap labour.
Neoliberalism’s local introduction in domestic political economies of countries considered peripheral within the world economic system, such as Turkey, happened by means of a simultaneous reformation of the state and the national economy. The incorporation of neoliberal agents and managerial premises in the state bureaucracy resulted in a shift from legislative to executive power. Mechanisms of democratic legitimacy were increasingly avoided. In Turkey, the combination of military force and business rationale also meant the violent repression of leftist movements. Moreover, labour market deregulation, privatization and market liberalization created violent conditions on the ground. Foreign and national private investment attracted by the growing prospects of low labour costs integrated various ‘forms of […] exploitation’ (Hanieh, 2013, p.7), and provoked a ‘massive shift in the composition of the labour force and its precarisation’ (Dogan, 2009, p.189; Cosar & Yücesan-Özdemir, 2012) Turkey’s increasing adherence to principles of the free market economy meant ergo an increasing integration into a vertically organized world capitalist system, as well. As I have now mentioned the relation between the global emergence and local introduction of neoliberalism with a special focus on the role of the state administration, in the next chapter I will consider shifting class relations in Turkey in the wake of neoliberalism and thus define a hierarchically organized trinity of global capitalism – authoritarian democracy – capitalist elite.
2.3. ‘Power-Bloc’: Turkey’s centre/periphery dichotomy and the Passive Revolution
The period of military rule in Turkey between 1980 and 1984 can be understood as a period of reshuffling of powers within the country’s political economy. Struggles over power had increased during the 1970s and new economic players emerging from the Anatolian periphery claimed their place in the sun next to the urban secular bourgeoisies. The implementation of the Import Substitution Industrialization Strategy (ISI) after the 1960 coup had deepened industrialization across Turkey. During this period the importance of industrial capital increased steadily and gained prominence not only in the Istanbul-based conglomerates, but also among landowners, middle-scaled enterprises, and import merchants in Anatolia, who began to close the gap on big business (Bekmen, 2009, p.49). It was these enterprises that built up opposition ‘within the officially recognized leading organization of capital, namely the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB – under control of governing Justice party), claiming mostly large-scale industrialists were benefiting from measures taken (Bekmen, 2009, p.49). After the dispute over the alleged benefits of the government’s ISIs for the urban, and at the expense of the Anatolian bourgeoisie, the Istanbul-based conglomerates separated themselves from the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) by founding the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSIAD) (Bekmen, 2009, p.49). This split meant the radical demarcation between the two major capital fractions in Turkey’s political economy.
The new ‘pious’ Anatolian bourgeoisie, now a ‘self-conscious fraction of Turkish capital’, consequently longed for political representation (Durak, 2013, p.220). This accelerated the arrival of Islamist politics representing this new form of dominant capital first on a local level and later on the national (Durak, 2013, p.219). As Bekmen states, ‘the emergence and development of this capital fraction, since its beginning in the 1960s, has always proceeded in parallel with the emergence and development of Islamist politics in Turkey’ (Bekmen, 2009, p. 62). He continuous by pointing to a ‘partial overlapping of the more classical segregation between large versus medium-scale capital with a cultural-cum-political segregation, specifically at the level of representation’ (Bekmen, 2009, p. 62). The political representation of Islamic ideology was organically tied to the economic claims of emerging capital fractions. Moreover, it was accompanied by an Islamist resurgence on a global scale since the 1973 oil boycott had sent global oil prices soaring, enriching Gulf government treasuries, and in the case of Saudi Arabia filling the pockets of Islamic Wahabi organizations, such as the Muslim World League (Coll, 2004, p. 26). Organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan promoted the steady globalization of Islamic anti-imperialist views directed against the Soviet Union engorged with funds from Saudi Arabia and the US. Within this climate the first Turkish political party with an Islamic agenda was founded in 1970 under the leadership of Necmettin Erbakan. The introduction of the MNP (National Order Party) was backed and joined by members of different Turkish Islamic communities, among them politically influential actors such as the Nakshibandi Sufi order. Considering the secular/religious and centre/periphery dichotomies at the time, the Islamist’s political agenda was aimed directly at the secular establishment. Islamist parties in Turkey, from the MNP until the emergence of the AKP, had over time more or less consistently maintained one ideology: the ‘national outlook’ or milli görüs. It is in socio-political and cultural terms a highly protectionist, defensive set of ideas, whose political agenda focuses on the East/West dichotomy. They promoted extremely negative views particularly of Turkey’s post-WWI Westernization process and accused other Turkish parties ‘of being blind imitators of the West, either of its exploitative capitalist version, or its materialist socialist version’ (Hale/Özbudun, 2011, p.6) The National Outlook rather emphasized a potential leadership role of Turkey in the region, especially among Arab neighbors and interlinks strong Turkish nationalism with Islamic transnationalism. ‘They put forward the idea of an Islamic United Nations, an Islamic UNESCO, an Islamic NATO and an Islamic Common Market’. The radical chasm between the secular and the religious bourgeoisie in Turkey predominantly contributed to the state of un-governability the country found itself in by the end of the 1970s. The military together with the dominant capitalist elites, especially those led by TÜSIAD, concluded that a rupture of the political and economic order was necessary. The Military coup should thus reconstitute the socio-political sphere and free it from the shackles of class struggle. State power should be restructured and a transition to a new strategy of capital accumulation be guaranteed. Neoliberalism was perceived as a means to overcome and transcend the trench warfare of different capital fractions, with different constituencies, based on different ideologies. There was a consciousness of the fact that ‘the characteristic sharpening of contradictions within the power bloc necessitates growing political involvement on the part of the state, so that the bloc may be unified and class hegemony reproduced’ (Durak, 2013, p.213).
Mentioning all this is essential for two analytical reasons. First, it hints structurally at the economic and ideological fragmentation of the domestic capital, with a common interest in political representation. Second, it recognizes the role of the state as an ensurer of the perpetual reproduction of class relations and as a mediator between the different fractions of domestic capital. To Gramsci the state is even more the immediate substrate of various ruling classes, in which hegemonic claims are unified (Poulantzas, 2014, p.239). Establishing this power bloc means establishing a direct link between dominant capital and the state, thus accentuating an overreaching, totalizing and systemic power structure. It also defines the common ‘State/Civil Society’ dichotomy more precisely as a State/Dominant capital fractions/Production forces system, underlining the bottom-up organization of hovering capital accumulation mechanisms. This structuralization of state and class relations is eminent to the understanding of the violent top-down application of capitalism. It also explains Turkey’s urgent need for a state administration able to transcend the urban/periphery break after the Passive Revolution of Islamic capital had shifted power relations, in the wake of Özal’s neoliberal regime. But the paradigm of the power bloc is also essential to the understanding of the AKP era, as will be discussed in the following chapter.
2.4. Accelerating Imperial Globality: The AKP and the Post-modern Leviathan
The 1990s favored the final stage of Islamic Capital emergence in Turkey and its fostering within the domestic power bloc. ‘Manufacturing firms, […] made progress as sub-contractors to multinational manufacturing chains, by offering cheap and informal labour throughout the 1990s in Anatolia, while attaching increasing importance to technological investment and becoming more competitive in international markets’ (Bekmen, 2009, p. 62). The emergence of Turkey’s ‘authentic bourgeoisie’ is best exemplified in the sudden appearance of the ‘Anatolian Tigers‘ on the global stage. Large holdings and small and medium scale manufacturing firms mostly based in the East, organized further within various business associations such as MÜSIAD (the independent Industrialists and Businessmen Association), TUSKON (Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey), and ASKON (Anatolian Lions Businessmen‘s Association). These groups capitalized strongly on the emergence of the AKP in Turkey’s political sphere, due to close relations with party cadres. In contrast to the national outlook parties’ agenda, the AKP propagated a free market economy ‘with all its rules and institutions’, based on Özal’s neoliberal legacy. The party programs in 2002 and 2007 both encouraged privatization and foreign investments (Hale/Özbudun, 2011, p.23). In the attempt to secure the essential support of the World Bank and the IMF for further funding of Turkey’s economic project, the AKP was keen on having good relations with the US State Department. It therefore particularly emphasized its foreign policy ties with the United States and the European Union and its engagement in NATO. Following the post-Soviet regionalization of Turkey’s diplomatic efforts in the East, another aim was becoming the production base of Eurasia in medium and high-tech products. ‘As of the 2000s, the share of medium-technology products, such as motor vehicles, basic metals, and machinery and equipment, [had] increased to reach 40 per cent of exports’ (Bekmen, 2009, p.59). In 2004 the AKP also set in motion the EU harmonization package, which should sooner or later assure Turkey’s admission into the Union through key legislation. Moreover, the AKP pushed for the reconfiguration of investment according to dynamic capital, that is, the more sustainable linkage with strategic sectors, international markets and transnational capital. Overall, its post-2001 consensus policy included a tight fiscal policy determined by the IMF, anti-inflationary policies conducted by the government and the central bank, high interest rates and an export led growth strategy ‘based on private sector initiative to take advantage of existing global conditions, providing cheap foreign funding and credit’ (Bekmen, 2009, p.62). As a result of this strategy foreign direct investment increased rapidly attracting global capital groups, such as Citibank, HSBC and BNP Paribas.
The elimination of a counter-narrative to capitalist democracy in the post-Soviet void also significantly weakened leftist movements around the globe and made space for new liberal centre politics. Dogan states that ‘the demise of the Soviet Bloc, somehow gave credibility to a discourse praising the self-regulating market, and viewing private enterprise as the most efficient social mechanism for distributing tangible and intangible goods among the polity’ (Dogan, 2013, p.192). Radical centre politics promoted the total transcendence of the former left-right division around the world, thus marginalizing the idea of an alternative hegemonic order (Mouffe, 1998, p.12). This evolution was paralleled by the emergence of a new kind of identity politics in Turkey during the 1990s, which gained pace with the arrival of the AKP, increasingly drawing on Islamist and neoliberal values. Between the violent armed conflicts of the 1970s and the AKP in the early 2000s, the shift from radical ideological polarization and partisanship to a prosaic cross-cultural policy of pragmatism could not be more obvious. Other than previous representatives, the AKP realized that the principles of democratic freedom and pluralism could be used for the mass mobilization of the Muslim voice in Turkey. It thus rejected any continuity with the traditional National Outlook parties. For the parliamentary elections in 2002 and 2007, the party leadership agreed on an emphasis on ‘universal values as democracy, human rights, the rule of law, limited government, pluralism tolerance and respect for diversity’ (Hale/Özbudun,2011, p. 20). According to the AKP’s constitution, the Republic became ‘the most important acquisition of the Turkish nation’ (Hale/Özbudun,2011, p. 20). It further assured it did not seek the Islamization of society, although it ‘attaches importance to religion as a social value’ (Hale/Özbudun,2011, p. 22). It defined secularism as, ‘a principle which allows people of all religions and beliefs to comfortably practice their religions, to be able to express their religious convictions and live accordingly, but which also allows people without beliefs to organize their lives along these lines’ (Jenkins, 2008, p.168). The AKP thus accepted secular democratic structures as a necessity for sustainable ‘freedom and social peace’ but also intended to create spaces for religious expression in the public sphere. The acceptance of liberal norms resonated perfectly with the status quo of neoliberal globalization whose ‘ethos of democratization’ swept the globe throughout the 1990s, although it meant first and foremost electoral competition between political-cum-economic elites. Moreover, it was necessary to bridge the aforementioned ideological gap between the urban and Anatolian-based bourgeoisies. According to Tugal (2009) the AKP is the ‘outcome and the prompter of this “passive revolution” that resulted in the incorporation of the Islamic-conservative masses into the wider neoliberal social project’ (Bekmen, 2009, p.61). According to Cosar and Yücesan-Özdemir ‘all social and political discoveries under the AKP’s rule have been made to conform to a neoliberal economic rationality, which is fixed on the goals of marketization and commodification without regard to the real lives of real people suffering from exploitation, suppression and oppression’ (Cosar/Yücesan-Özdemir, 2012, p. 295/296).
As the transcendental mediator between hostile fractions of class, the AKP functions within the authoritarian democratic regime like a post-modern neoliberal Leviathan. Hobbes referred to the concept during the sectarian wars of the 16th century, as a mortal god to which we owe our peace and protection, under the immortal God (Latour, 2011). Its global authoritarian implications of an intransigent regime systematically suppressing subordinate interests, cultures and knowledge resonates with the AKP’s promotion of neoliberal modernity in the disguise of ‘authentic Islam’. Here neoliberal dogmas merged with Islamic belief systems. ‘Islamist instruments such as Islamic life-worlds, beliefs, codes of conduct, and networks have been manipulated to domesticate and accommodate the exclusionary neoliberal practices embedded in economic, political, and ideological structures’ (Cosar/Yücesan-Özdemir, 2012, p.295/296). The result is a state of imperial globality, realized through what Mignolo named El encubrimiento del otro, that is the ‘cultural privileging of capitalist models of life over local diverse economies’ (Escobar, 2008, p.13). Social control is increasingly exerted in new, more flexible and individualized forms, i.e. through a general atmosphere of mistrust which classes other ‘mentalities’ as a priori dangerous to the status quo. This form of control ‘is articulated to a process whereby diverse networks spreading throughout society structure the population through administrative – police procedures adapted to the specificities of each category’ (Jäger, 2006, p.220). Local opposition to the authoritarian implications of the state and the political economy are countered instantaneously on the site of resistance, as society is infused with mechanisms of control that run organically through its body and crystallize in a permanent semi-totalitarian structure – a dispositf of the state apparatus itself. The state apparatus manifests itself thus inside society as a more flexible, local and organic Gesamtkunstwerk (a total artwork), which articulates itself locally (Jäger, 2006). Moreover, the deepening of state control in the popular spheres of society, ‘where the masses are from now on directly [and permanently] confronted with the State’ Poulantzas, 2014, p. 213), is highly augmented. In the next chapter I will further elaborate on this regime, while relating its impact the Gezi 2013 movement.
3.1 Introduction: Modern Decay, Subaltern Ascent
Scholars such as Foucault, Durkheim, Weber and Arendt have in past centuries described the functional and epistemological limits of Western modernity. More recent anthropological investigations of ‚modernity at large‘ have shown capitalist modernity to be de-territorialised, hybridised, contested, uneven, heterogenous, even multiple, or in terms of conversing with, engaging, playing with, processing modernity (Escobar, 2004, p.212). According to Santos, there exists today an increasing incongruence of ‘functions of social emancipation and social regulation’ that imply the incapability of modern capitalist regulatory structures to cope with reality (Escobar, 2004, p.209). Appadurai argues that ‘electronic mass mediation and transnational mobilization have broken the monopoly of autonomous nation-states over the project of modernization’ (Apadurai, 1998, p.10). Social acceleration appears as the fragmented compression of social intercourse, as increasing the ‘dynamic or moral density’, in the sense of Durkheim (Rosa 2005, p.94-95). Castells furthermore describes the resulting change in the social perception of time (timeless time) as an emerging space of flows which dissolves time by disordering the sequence of events and making them simultaneous, thus installing society in eternal ephemerality (Castells, 2010). As a result, Latour suggests that with such a temporality we are no longer forced to use the labels of archaic or advanced, adding that the ontological modern chasm of nature/culture disappears as well (Latour, 2011). He advocates the creation of new, alternative patterns of thinking able to deal with the overwhelming diversity of today’s social processes and suggests a transcultural term for collectivity. Collectivities would thus increasingly relate through a network of, what Deleuze and Guattari called, rhizomatic character (Deleuze & Guattari, 1976). In the face of liberal advocates of modern globalization, it was especially the particular approaches of non-western scholars deconstructed the myth of universality, decentering “the West” as the primary interlocutor of modernity. Underlining the origins of Western modernity in 1492 and the inception of colonialism, they particularly focus on the ‘historical knot between modernity and coloniality’ (Welsh, 2012, p.13). Thus, modernity is opposed by self-organizing, counter-hegemonic and subaltern social movement networks within modernity’s various peripheries. Rather than modern universalism, ideas of splitting, distribution, participation, sharing, communication, discord, division and assignment are re-enforced. ‘This increasing opposition therefore entails a conversation of place-based and regional processes with ever-changing dynamics of capital and culture at many levels’ (Escobar, 2008, p.1). These transformative practices of local dissidence, activism and modernity/coloniality negotiation create new horizontal realities that offer epistemological and socio-political alternatives to the current dominant condition. They break with the conventional rationalities that were established by Euro-Andean modernity and assert their intrinsic and heterogenous difference. In this context of modernity/coloniality, in the following two sub-chapters I shall discuss some evidence of the Gezi 2013 movement’s representation of local place-based and subaltern realities in opposition to the by now established Turkish variant of imperial globally through neoliberal capitalism. The next sub-chapter will first elaborate on the neoliberal implications for biodiversity and city life in Turkey and consequently its impact on the perceived freedom of Turkey’s local population. The final sub-chapter will then try to relate the potential of popular struggle and rage which manifested itself during the Gezi protests to Turkey’s general state of imperial globality.
3.2 Spatial fix: Landscape transformation & Urban Gentrification
Neoliberal transformation of political economies since the 1980s often implied serious impacts on the environment and urban living conditions. The crippling effects on public spending and planning included city governments. Henceforth predominantly focussing on finance, insurance, and real estate they became more entrepreneurial in their orientation (Heckworth, 2013, p.80). The overdevelopment of city centers (‘islands of renewal in seas of decay’) serving as high-tech investment drains while suburbs remained under-developed, meant the creation of a violent spatial fix. ‘The spatial fix was an intersection of capital, policy, and individual preference on the urban landscape. […] In particular, the inner city became restructured by niche real estate, service sector employment, tourism, and other replacements for waning heavy manufacturing’ (Heckworth, 2013, p.80). This policy became especially widespread after the early 1990s and the aforementioned acceleration of neoliberal processes. One of the earlier spatial articulations of neoliberal policy in Turkey was the Black Sea Coastal Highway Project, initiated in 1987, in order to increase access to and economic activity with the Black Sea region. ‘The objective of the project was to construct an uninterrupted highway from Samsun to Artvin, including 6 coastal cities. […] The project was completed in 20 years’ (Ejatlas, 2014) In Ordu, protests over its ecologic damage ‘disrupting and destroying the city’s access and connection to the shore’ erupted in 1994 (Basic Data, 2014). As the project was based on a short-term high-profit policy, the life span of the highway constructed by filling the sea has been considerably corrupted in recent years. Also, ‘although the costs and time consumption of inland road construction are higher (i.e. many more tunnels), the long term environmental effects would have been less and more controllable’ (Ejatlas, 2014). Since the beginning of Turkey’s AKP era, more megalomanic projects of the sort have been initiated. According to Aktar, ‘the landscape has been literally transformed by roads, bridges, airports, public housing, shopping malls, pipelines, hydroelectric power plants, and soon, two nuclear power plants’ (Aktar, 2014). As a result Istanbul’s new airport is supposed to stretch over 7,659 hectares of land after completion, implying grave ecological damage as 6,172 hectares are forest. The environmental effects assessment by the Ministry of Environment pointed to the risk of massive habitat and biomass damage for the flora and fauna, the destruction of forested areas and lakes that support 70 species of wild animals and natural ecosystems, the reduction of the Terkos Lake (among others) water collection capacity that supply most of Istanbul‘s drinking water, the increasing pollution through fouled rivers and streams carrying their pollution to dam reservoirs, and the increase in vehicle traffic by 120% in the region (Cengiz, 2014) Moreover, ‘657,950 trees will need to be removed, and 1,855,391 will have to be replanted [by the contractors] elsewhere’, although there is no sanctioning mechanisms in case they fail to do so. The subordination of ecological reasoning to a market rationale reveals itself especially when considering that ‘high traffic airports like [… ]Atlanta, which service some 95 million passengers annually, is built on just 1,900 hectares’ (Aktar, 2014). Another project in this category is the Kanal Istanbul, which would bisect the current European side of Istanbul and thus form an island between the Asian and European continents. The main purpose of the project is to reduce the marine traffic through the Bosphorus and minimize the risks and dangers associated particularly with tankers. But it could simultaneously carry disastrous consequences for the region’s ecosystem equilibrium. According to Saydam, ‘the Black Sea is like a giant pool fed by the Danube, Dniester and Don rivers. This pool can empty only through the Bosporus. […] If Kanal Istanbul is opened as a second outlet, the elevation difference between the Black and Marmara Seas will go down to 10 centimeters (4 inches) and the ecosystems sustaining these seas will collapse’ (Cengiz, 2013). The project was awarded after bidding to a consortium which has in recent years won a number of big contracts from the government. Two of the concerned companies, were targets of the second wave of corruption investigations that began last January. ‘All the police and prosecutors involved in that operation, however, have since been reassigned, and the details of this intricate economic web were never made public’ (Cengiz, 2014).
However, architectural transformation has also included gentrification processes. In December 2012 activists gathered in an attempt to challenge the destruction of the historic pastry shop, Ince Pastanesi, which had existed for almost a century. On April 7, 2013, demonstrations were held again, this time to protest the demolition of Istanbul’s historic Emek Theatre. In both cases, the buildings were to make place for shopping mall projects, and the demonstration were countered by heavy use of violent force by the police. This policy is proof of the degree to which the intersection of nature and culture, which acts as the centre of people’s livelihoods, has become a macro-economic playground for the managerial state administration. ‘The state administration itself becomes the legitimate representative of monopoly interests seen as the embodiment of “technological progress”, “industrial exigencies” or “economic might”, and as the foundation of “the nation’s greatness”’ (Poulantzas, 2011, p.225). Thus, Prime Minister Erdogan stated in a public announcement during the Gezi protests: ‘They don‘t care about trees, saplings or flowers. These people think they are leftists, environmentalists, nationalists, anti-capitalist Muslims and the opposition. But they have never understood that they are being used as pawns in an anti-Turkey offensive’ (Cengiz, 2014). Moreover, he stated that ‘certain groups in Turkey – under the pretext of protecting the environment and preserving ecological systems – are trying to block the major steps his Justice and Development Party government is taking to promote growth for Turkey and its economy’ (Cengiz, 2014) The erroneous connection between the ‘nation’s greatness’ and capital accumulation processes as well as the detachment from peoples habitats becomes clear herein.
As the neoliberal transformation under the AKP and earlier administrations had especially severe impacts on Turkey’s environment, landscape and cities, many Turks increasingly regarded the landscape transformation, gentrification and re-development of urban areas as an attempt of the government to expand its political, economic and symbolic hegemony inside society. This adds a layer of spatial violence to the previously evoked dimensions of political and economic violation. Escobar argues that ‘place continues to be an important source of culture and identity; despite the pervasive delocalization of social life, there is an embodiment and emplacement to human life that cannot be denied’ (Escobar, 2008, p.7). He considers the contemporary focus on the global space opposite to local, place-based attachment to be a result of modern globalization’s asymmetry. The Gezi movement seems to confirm this hypothesis. Earth iftars, the planting of trees as an act of resistance and the mentioning of governments deforestation plans hint at the enormous importance of territory, environment and biodiversity as a means of constructing identity. Escobar argues in this sense ‘that people mobilize against the destructive aspects of globalization from the perspective of what they have been and what they are at present’ defending the right to differ from dominant cultural, economic and ecological agendas with regards to the composition of their eminent place (Escobar, 2008, p.6). Illich and Habermas assume that activists want to defend the autonomy of their lived experience in the face of the domination of all aspects of life by global cultural industries and economic powers (Pleyers, 2011). Their movements represent a call for personal freedom against the logics of power and of production, consumption and mass media (Pleyers, 2011). In the final sub-chapter I will further assess the importance of place-based modes of life and their opposition to the state of imperial globality in Turkey.
3.3. Asserting Coloniality: Gezi 2013 and the political ecology of difference
Some of Istanbul’s art galleries not located in the city centre on the European side, hosted exhibitions on the aesthetics of resistance during the Gezi protests, while various publications compiled the movement’s productions across all music genres. ‘From Boğaziçi Jazz Choir’s protest hymns to Dubstep anthems, the music in those playlists was challenging, irreverent of dull categorizations, almost always full of caustic humour and most importantly, re-defining the boundaries of protest music in the Turkish climate’ (Yetkin, 2013). The band Kardes Türküler featured a song called Tencere tava havası (Sound of Pots and Pans), singing: ‘Enough with inconsistent remarks and bans, enough with headstrong decrees and commands’, adding ‘they couldn’t sell their shadows, so they sold the forests. They knocked down, closed down cinemas and squares. Covered in shopping malls […] What happened to our city?’ (Girardot, 2013). Equally, the band Duman contributed the track Eyvallah to the resistance movement, in which it sang: ‘Attack me shamelessly, tirelessly, my eyes are burning but I don’t bow, nor do I lessen I am still free I said to you, I am still human I said, do you think I would give up?’ (Girardot, 2013). Furthermore, the Anti-Capitalist Islamist movement organized the first “People’s Iftar” or “Earth Table” during Ramadan 2013 in font of Galatasaray High School, in the middle of Istiklal Avenue, only a 15 minutes’ walk from Gezi Park. Throughout the evening, people from across the political spectrum continued to arrive, spreading out newspapers and taking a seat side-by-side on the ground. ‘The goal [was] to reach Gezi Park, where the iftar organised by the local Beyoğlu governorship [had] been set up with pomp and ceremony’ (Girardot/Dziedzic, 2013). All of these groups refer to the constitution of alternative spaces of living untouched by the aforementioned global Gesamtkunstwerk as a motive for defiance and resistance and as a means for the carving out of alternative spaces and subject constitution. While Kardes Türküler’s song lyrics directly related to the intransigent policies of the AKP’s static authoritarian regime, the group’s use of only pots and pans for instruments in public non-formal settings also opposed the power bloc’s formal, high-society and big-business discourse metaphorically, similarly to the ACI’s symbolic ‘earth iftar’. Immediate material expression is used here in order to defy the transcending ideological umbrella of globality. Antonio Negri relates to this as ‘a material religion of meaning’, which operates through language, technology and other means of creative expression, separating the multitude of local ontologies from all vestiges of sovereign power (Hardt&Negri, 2004, 477). Cultural expression is perceived as ‘inseparable from the present moment, from special circumstances and from the making […], the act of expressing is a use of language an operation on it’ (Certeau, 1990, 56). Duman’s song, on the other hand, mirrors the activist’s intention of direct confrontation and involvement of the entire person ‘her thought, of course, but also her body’ and emotions. For most direct action strategies, it is the body which is put into play to defend the occupation of a building or block access to international summits (Pleyers, 2010, p.36). Holloway suggests furthermore that ‘that which is oppressed and resists is… not only particular groups of people who are oppressed but also particular aspects of the personality of all of us: our self-confidence, our sexuality, our playfulness, our creativity’ (Holloway, 2002, p.157). The assertion of one’s humanity in the face of dominant violence therefore also serves one’s own alternative identity constitution. According to Yetkin, the Gezi activists attempted to show ‘that there was a specific room in the urban reality, in the contemporary era we live in, for genuine, defiant and fresh art that does not seek to be amplified by global agendas or governmental ambitions’ (Yetkin, 2013). They created their own ephemeral political ecology of difference. Their spontaneous tactics opposed the top-down strategies of the neoliberal state administration based on a managerial rationale. Hardt and Negri state that ‘everywhere, it is a matter of “posing against the misery of power, the joy of being”’ (Hardt&Negri, 2000, p.496) And Pleyers adds that ‘against the commodification of culture, pleasure and experience by global corporations, they assert their creativity and their subjectivity […] to develop and express one’s own creativity, to construct one’s own existence’ (Pleyers, 2010, p.35/36). Opposite to the vertical realities of class and state related hierarchies, Gezi also promoted the building of horizontal ties and connections, transparent, free and open information circulation, non-hierarchical and direct mechanisms of decision-making via decentralized coordination and self-directed networking between groups, movements, organizations. The Gezi activists represented ‘self-organizing, decentralized, and non-hierarchical „meshworks’ (Escobar, 2008 p.11). Yetkin suggests that the protests ‘did not come with a manifesto or aesthetic dictum of [their] own – Gezi was rather an alliance of the unhappy cemented by feelings of mutual respect and solidarity’ (Yetkin, 2013). ‘The struggle is [therefore] not merely against the enemy. It is also a struggle for hearts and minds, specifically a democratic struggle to include within the movement other demands’ (Laclau, 2005, p.123). A struggle to deconstruct hierarchies and establish an ephemeral utopia which turns suppressed democratic and personality-assertion needs inside-out. Osterweil thus considers the logic of difference to be a means to widen the political space and increase its complexity. ‘The articulation of struggles across differences may lead to the deepening of democracy – indeed, to questioning the very principles of liberal democracy, if conceived from the perspective of the colonial difference’ (Escobar, 2008, p.15).
In the face of an ever increasing permeability of life and its violent penetration and colonization by free-market forces, Gezi 2013 can be considered an expression of coloniality and a struggle for decoloniality. According to Mignolo coloniality is ‘what the project of modernity needs to rule out and roll over in order to implant itself as modernity and – on the other hand – the site of enunciation where the blindness of the modern project is revealed, and concomitantly also the site where new projects begin to unfold’ (Escobar, 2008, p.12). ‘It is a space of negotiation located on the edges of modern capitalist expansion, where subaltern groups attempt to reconstitute place-based imaginaries and local worlds. It is a platform of pluri-versality, of diverse projects coming from the experience of local histories touched by western expansion’ (Escobar, 2008, 12). Facing neoliberal totality, the Gezi activists asserted a specific subjective and place-based coloniality through protests, artistic performances and instantaneous manifestations of creativity and solidarity in Istanbul’s public spaces. While the authoritarian statist regime operates through the vertical and centralized implementation of force, the Gezi grassroots movement operated through horizontal paradigms. Through the expression of local subaltern knowledge and cultures it created a momentum of decoloniality. Gezi attempted thus to constitute an alternative ontology based on the multitude of local meanings, opposing the oppressive power structures of Western modernity’s neoliberal policies. It moreover represented a transformative act of local dissidence, activism and modernity/coloniality.
Although, it is not possible in this dissertation to account for the totality of interests and motives which led to the Gezi uprisings, it seems safe to say, that Turkey’s capitalist transformation in recent decades accounts for bigger parts of discontent. The Gezi movement can to a greater extent be considered an eruption from below against the government’s decade-long imposition of a uniformist modern neoliberal Zeitgeist coated in a discourse of Islamic authenticity as a result of Turkey’s peculiar class formation. This policy expressed itself in various forms of violence including economic precarization of labour, anti-democratic incentives and intransigent landscape transformation and urban gentrification projects. Altogether they became part of an oppressive modern globality which was continuously challenged by the efforts of local, subaltern activism and which condensed in the 2013 Gezi uprising. Accordingly, in this dissertation I establish and argue the following.
- Turkey’s transition to neoliberalism happened by the means of a simultaneous reformation of the state and the national economy after the 1980s military coup and a decade of class struggle. During Özal’s presidency the state executive branch became increasingly strong and permeable to exterior neoliberal agents, while the legislative branch got weakened. Military dictatorship and neoliberalism proved deadly for leftist movements, which following the Özal years never recovered. Policies of labour market deregulation, privatization and market liberalization moreover created violent economic conditions on the ground.
- The radical chasm between the Anatolian pious bourgeoisie which emerged especially in the 1960s and the secular urban big-business bourgeoisie created a state of un-governability by the end of the 1970s. A rupture in the distribution of power was necessary in order to assure the continuous efficiency of accumulation processes. In this context, neoliberalism was perceived as a means to transcend class conflict based on different ideologies. The power bloc based on the state and the dominant capitalist classes in Turkey meant a deepening of an overarching totalizing and systemic power structure under a neoliberal pretext.
- The AKP’s emergence by the end of the 1990s and early 2000s accelerated Turkey’s pious bourgeoisie’s career and fostered the abovementioned power relations. Opposite to previous, rather reactionary Islamist movements, it continued Özal’s legacy of neoliberal policy and Western integration, coated in a discourse of Islamic identity. Neoliberalism, identity and radical centre politics established the AKP during the 2000s as a post-modern Leviathan, uniting Turkey’s dominant capital fractions, while privileging capitalist models of life over local diverse economies. This meant a new state of imperial globality.
- Neoliberal transformation under the AKP and earlier administrations had an especially severe impact on Turkey’s environment, landscape and cities. Megalomanic projects such as the Black Sea Coastal Highway, the new Istanbul airport, Kanal Istanbul and various gentrification measures have impacted and will further impact the rich biodiversity in Turkey and the quality of life of Turkey’s population. The 2013 Gezi protesters regarded the landscape transformation, gentrification and re-development of urban areas as an attempt by the government to expand its political, economic and symbolic hegemony inside the society. The essential significance of place and surrounding territory as linked to people’s identity becomes clear therein.
- The increasing colonization of life by market forces, as well as the oppressive globality of space over place and modes of universality over subaltern pluri-versality, were manifested during the Gezi 2013 protests. Artists and activists created counter-hegemonic spaces of horizontal, non-hierarchical communication and place-based expression which directly opposed the centre/periphery configuration of the economic system and the top-down approach of Turkey’s state administration. These efforts of dissidence, resistance and negotiation can be considered attempts at decoloniality in the modernity/coloniality set-up. The Gezi movement can in this sense be understood as the symptom of an accelerated state of political, economic, cultural and spatial violence since the inception of a neoliberal regime in Turkey, new constellations and implications of imperial globality, and as an effort to resist and articulate alternative realities; realities of difference.
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