Lessons in democracy - Monocolumn | Monocle


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7 June 2013

In the course of a week, a peaceful demonstration in Istanbul’s Gezi Park has turned into a "crash course" in how to protest, equipping Turkish citizens with a new set of skills. The most important item to remember on this survival guide is how to deal with excessive amounts of tear gas. The suggestion is to wash your face with two tablets of alka seltzer dissolved in water. The police department, however, recommends lemon juice rather than milk as an antidote to stop the burning. As a courtesy, please do remember to refill the plastic bottles stored on the street corners by fellow protestors containing these remedies. Your protest backpack should include goggles, a facemask and at least two lemons. An ability to maintain balance while a TOMA tank sprays you with water is also a skill you pick up along the way.

However, it’s not all fun and games in the life of a protestor. You have to mentally prepare yourself for the idea that in the midst of the protest you might be tackled down to the floor by plain-clothed policemen, beaten around a bit and held in custody without charge for a minimum of 23 hours, where you will share a windowless cell with 30 fellow protestors.

The rising star of this upheaval has been Turkey’s 19 million previously apolitical youth, described, until now, as “careless”, “sheltered” and “uninterested” by opposition leaders, journalists and political analysts. After years of being urged to join Turkey’s political discourse, I’m happy to say that the nation’s youth has found its voice.

Spread across 41 districts throughout the country, these protests are neither about pushing a secularist agenda nor constraining religious beliefs. It is about conveying an increased frustration with PM Erdogan’s method of handling public reaction – among many things, calling demonstrators anarchists and looters. Not only has his attitude affected the political vision AK Party had set for 2023 but it has also damaged his prospects of achieving his penultimate goal, becoming the president of Turkey.

Alexandra de Cramer is a researcher for Monocle 24


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