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Turkey cited as part of emergent ‘wave’ of global protest 15 juin 2014

Posted by Acturca in Istanbul, Turkey / Turquie.
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Today’s Zaman (Turkey) June 15, 2014, Sunday, p. 9

Matthew Hamilton,  Istanbul

The recently published 2014 State of Civil Society report by CICIVUS, a global alliance for civil society organizations (CSOs), characterizes Turkey as part of a global “second wave of dissent” that began in the past year.

The report describes a series of national protest movements as cumulatively forming the next stage of an “era of mass protests. »

It cites Brazil, Malaysia, Ukraine and Venezuela as other countries where similar movements have begun. These hotspots of global protest are mostly “larger middle-income countries,” where reactionary “state pushback against civil society” often accompanied the outbreak of protest.

CICIVUS states that these protests are neither a byproduct of stalled economic development nor formal anti-democratic behavior. Each of the nations referenced are democracies with overall gross domestic product (GDP) growth in recent years. Such patterns align with Turkey’s own political and economic climate. Rather, in these countries, illiberalism is manifest in subtler ways.

A deep wave of dissatisfaction with politics and economics that advance elite interests over the general welfare is presented as the main catalyst of protests. “A growth in Gross Domestic Product and an opportunity to elect a president every four or five years are not enough for increasingly restless populations,” says the report, adding that such successes are overshadowed by the catalysts of recent mass discontent: “rising inequality and declining civil liberties.”

Data from the World Bank confirms CICIVUS’s conclusions. In spite of successful economic growth, declining income inequality in Turkey remains elusive. In 2003, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began his tenure, the richest 20 percent of Turkey controlled 49.3 percent of wealth. By 2010, this number fell to 46 percent. The so-called burgeoning middle class – the 40th to 60th percentile of income earners — saw only an increase of 1.3 percent of the distribution of income in the same period. Economic growth has not yet guaranteed the decline of inequality in Turkey.

An erosion of civil liberties is also part of a much-discussed narrative in post-Gezi Turkey. Last year, for instance, US NGO Freedom House labeled Turkey as only “partly free,” citing a decline in freedom of press and protest.

CIVICUS researcher Ciana-Marie Pegus elaborated further on the meaning of the Turkish protest movement. According to Pegus, Turkey demonstrates that “the institution of democracy is a failure without efforts to encourage civic institutions and space.”

Many in Turkey, she says, are now responding to this failure, adding, “There has already been an important awakening for civil society in Turkey.” A 2011 CIVICUS report cited “lack of civic participation” as a major worry for 87 percent of Turkish CSOs. The past year of protests reflected an awakening.

The question that now presents itself for Turkish civil society is how to overcome the gap between what the CIVICUS report deems as “conventional politics as expressed through voting” and “new politics as expressed through mass discontent.”

To understand how to bridge this gap, Pegus points to the necessity of understanding its origins, saying, “Citizens often lack access to key governance institutions.” A strong and independent civil society offers a scaffolding. CSOs, she says, can usually access and influence top decision making institutions, whereas much of the citizenry lacks similar capabilities.

“Through strengthened cooperation, civil society organizations can incorporate that energy and push those voices into the corridors of power,” she says, which is a process she calls a “careful dance” requiring a balance between “preserving the integrity of CSOs while not co-opting or de-radicalizing protesters.”

Dr. Markus Ketola, a faculty member at Ireland’s University of Ulster whose research focuses on Turkish civil society, warns that such a precarious balance might be difficult for Turkish CSOs. Since the Gezi protests, the government has “effectively divided civil society into supporters and traitors.” This obstructs the efforts of civil society to represent increasing levels of civic engagement within the Turkish government.

According to the report, one such means to strengthen civil society and link it with protesters is by working across national borders with other CSOs. Civil society can buffer domestic challenges to its independence, such as government crackdowns, through the sharing of “good practice” with other civil society organizations. The development of international solidarity is another way to strengthen civil society; a process that requires effective institutions of global governance to monitor governments and raise international awareness of their failures.

Ketola, though, warns that civil society does not fit a one-size-fits-all template. In Turkey, CSOs “play a much more complex role in relation to the democratic process” and solely implanting other international models will not simply “create democracy.”

Download full report (Format Pdf)

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