Saturday, 1 June 2013

Focus on Turkey's freedoms as #OccupyGezi hits the world's media

As soon as I think of Turkey, I think of how George Friedman describes its potential in his book The Next 100 Years. Here's a summary from The European Institute:
“The European image of Turkey is fixed at around 1960 as a vision of impoverished, semi-literates coming to do construction work.” In reality, says Friedman, Turkey has the largest and most competent army in Europe. It has influence in the Baltics, in the Caucasus and in Central Asia. “I know of no European country that is acting as confidently and as unilaterally as Turkey,” says Friedman. “Turkey is not a future power,” says Friedman. “Turkey is a power.” Accession to the EU – which is unlikely to happen – is important to the secularists in Turkey who want “to nail down secularism.” But much of the country, including Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogen, can “take it [the EU] or leave it.” Friedman says Turkey was lucky NOT to be in the EU during the financial crisis, since it has recovered much more quickly and robustly than Europe.
Yet, freedom of speech and press issues have been looming especially large in recent months. In April 2013, top Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say was accused of denigrating religion via Twitter and given a 10-month suspended prison sentence. Freedom House has more information. Obama's trip in mid-May (ostensibly focused on Syria) brough further focus on the region and its administration. A report published through the Center for American Progress at the same time (while naturally biased) has some very interesting points.
"The issues of press freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey have for several years attracted a great deal of attention and provoked extensive debate both in Turkey and in other Western countries. Dozens of journalists critical of the government have been jailed, and hefty fines have been levied against media outlets seen as opposing the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. The perceived deterioration of the situation has raised concerns about the course and character of Turkish democratic development."
Protests today seem to revolve around polarization and against a perception of increasing authoritarianism. Saturday June 1st's New York Times leads with...
"The police action was the latest violent crackdown by the government against a growing protest movement challenging plans to replace a park in Taksim Square, Istanbul’s equivalent of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, with a replica Ottoman-era army barracks that would house a shopping mall. But while the removal of the park, which is filled with sycamore trees and is the last significant green space in the center of Istanbul, set off the protests at the beginning of the week, the gatherings have broadened into a wider expression of anger against the heavy-handed tactics and urban development plans of the government and its leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His party, now in power a decade, is increasingly viewed by many Turks as becoming authoritarian."
Back to the American Progress report and we find a complicated picture, especially regarding the press:
"But the blame must not be placed solely on the government, which is laboring under an outdated constitution and must deal with a stubborn opposition that mistrusts its intentions. Turkish politics must continue to address the wider problem of a political culture where the line between personal insult and outdated notions of honor and legitimate criticism or debate is blurred. Turkish society has also not fundamentally decided what balance of security and freedom of expression is right for their country—should reporting on bombings or carrying the statements of separatists be considered criminal? The question of media ownership is also thorny, with no indication that the trend toward consolidated ownership of news outlets by large conglomerates is slowing." 
The story is unfolding (and with that come the inevitable fake photo RTs). Follow the #occupygezi and #direngeziparki hashtags. Live streams come and go, check Twitter for the latest.

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