In Turkey a new wave of protest is spreading through the country. This time, it comes from the capital Ankara, in particular the campus of METU, the Middle Eastern Technical University.
The underlying motives for revolt are still the same. Resistance against savage capitalism and against a dictatorial style of government. Similar to Gezi, the direct stakes are a few hundred unsuspecting trees. Trees on the university campus, to make way for a road, as ordered by mayor Melih Gökçek.
Students at METU generally don’t like long time mayor Gökçek, and they like his party colleague Tayyip Erdogan even less. Plus, METU students have a reputation for being fierce warriors in battle.
Last December, Erdogan came to METU to monitor the launch of a Turkish military satellite built by the Chinese. He brought with him an army of 3000 police officers, 8 water cannons and dozens of ‘scorpions’ as a testimony to the students’ militant valour.
Although outnumbered three to one, a brave detachment of black-clad students clashed with riot police in the woods of the campus until late at night. At the costs of dozens of wounded, of whom one serious, they stood their ground until Erdogan was gone.
The regime struck back in the following days by rounding up the ‘leaders’, using anti-terror laws. A week later the students admitted that they had been rightfully demonized by the government press, and that they were, in fact, the root of all evil. Hundreds of students marched over the campus wearing masks of Darth Vader. The most malicious among them was carried by his fellow Vaders on a shield, right to the entrance of the campus, where the press was waiting for an evil statement.
The killing of the Kurds, the censorship of the press, the exploitation of the workers, the sell-out of public space for private gain, and more. For all these things he claimed responsibility, and for all these reasons, the METU students represented the embodiment of evil.
Let me tell you something about the stories surrounding the legendary Darth Vaders of METU. In the first few months of the Gezi uprising, they would go clashing with police every single night, on principle. The repression had been especially hard in the capital where authorities wanted to avoid insurgents from establishing an autonomous zone at all cost. Still, the Darth Vaders tried. Hell knows they tried.
Gradually the confrontation changed. It went from being about conquering a space, to just being there to be there, and to resist. Thousands of people, every night. On a rare occasion the cops wouldn’t show up. They’d be tired or something. Then the rebels would call the police. They’d say: “We’re here, you lazy bastards. Come and get us.” And they would keep calling until the cops finally came. Then tear gas and pepper water, rubber bullets, casualties, and chanting “Everywhere Taksim! Everywhere resistance!” Until late at night, when one or both parties would go home, and only the streamer would be left to film the smoldering barricades.
A few comrades from METU came to visit us at Kadıköy in July. And so I asked: “Why?” And one of them said: “What else can we do? We can’t give in. We must fight.”
Now the Ankara mayor tries to cut down trees right on the campus of METU. And what’s more, those trees were planted by the students themselves, many years ago. Like planting a dagger in the evil veins.
So METU rose up. That was two weeks ago. The resonance of the clashes in Ankara was nationwide, and when Ahmet Atakan was killed by a police officer in Antakya, it went out of control.
Not coincidentally, in Kadıköy there is another Gezi park situation going on. No trees this time, but the idea is the same. On the wave of the current real estate bubble in Turkey, the old train station in Kadıköy is to be transformed into a luxury hotel with a private pier. Not everyone is happy with that.
Today, as protests in solidarity with METU are flaring up again througout the country, people on the European side in Istanbul Istanbul had organized a Beşiktaş Tea Party. The idea was to take a thermos, come to the seaside, bring family and friends, and drink tea on the public pier.
Police arrived in full riot gear. There were tensions, but the people didn’t back down. They kept drinking their tea defiantly. Police hesitated. They didn’t know what to do. They made some arrests and retreated.
Before going after them to demand the immediate release of the detainees, the people finished their tea in triumph.
[edited on the basis of comment below]
Madrid, September 18
There’s a loud buzz behind the big panel with the world map. It’s the buzz of information. The newswire, the twitterfall, the blogosphere, the socially engaged media, the press agencies, the big networks, etc.
At some points along this information flow there are people monitoring and analysing the situation. These are nodes. Interconnecting nodes you have a network. Through a network you can have quick access to information anywhere. Sometimes, you have a real person on the ground.
M-team of Barcelona International was present at last week’s protest in Poland. The demo made it to newspapers far beyond the Polish borders, but for M it was more of a subsidized exhibition by the unions rather than a real grassroots protest for social justice.
In other parts of Eastern Europe, protest continue. In Romania for a few weeks now, in Bulgaria for more than three months.
There are a couple new entries that have lighted up on the map lately. Cambodia, Ireland and Greece.
In Cambodia, the situation came to head when police dispersed an opposition demonstration by force. The opposition has been peacefully protesting alledged fraud during the general elections in late May.
Ireland was on the street today to protest against austerity, and for a better future.
A few days ago, in Mexico, the Zócalo square where protesting teachers had been camping out for weeks was cleared by police in view of Mexico’s national holiday. Today, the teachers marched again, thousands strong, against the government reform of education. They have set up a new camp at the monument for the revolution, and they have been joined by students from one of the city’s universities.
The big news comes from Greece. Yesterday evening, together with friends, local rapper and left wing activist Killah P was watching a game of football in a bar. They were spotted and recognized by local Golden Dawn militants. A call was placed, and soon after Killah P and his homies left the bar, they were surrounded by a fascist gang. A car arrives, a man steps out and stabs Killah P through the heart. Eyewitness accounts say police stood by and watched. The killer got arrested. And today, as expected, the country was on fire.
In Athens, Patras, Thessaloniki, on Crete and in many other Greek towns Golden Dawn offices got attacked and burned down. Demonstrators clashed with police wherever possible. Tear gas was shot abundantly. Barricades were erected. The last time an activist got killed in Greece (by the police in 2008), the riots lasted for a weeks, and in some neighbourhoods of Athens not a stone was left in the pavement. Dozens of police offices were burned. One of them even three times in a row. Solidarity actions took place all over Europe. Today as well, there was a solidarity demo against fascism in Barcelona.
Then there’s Turkey of course. I’ll get to that soon.
Finally, there was an unidentified rumour about the Swiss people taking to the streets for social justice, which was quickly denied. For the moment, everything is quiet in Switzerland.
Madrid, September 15
I do not thoroughly follow the daily convulsions of Spanish politics, but I am aware of the major issues and the most prominent players. And it strikes me. There is something about them. I’ll get to that.
In Spain, gender stereotypes used to be very strictly defined, and in some cases they still are. The man is the boss, the woman obeys and bears responsibility for the household and the children. Especially among the elder generation that grew up under the Franco regime, many men still consider a woman to be subordinate. Gender violence is a persisting social problem.
So what strikes me here, in the capital of this macho state, is that women seem to dominate politics on all different levels. And they too dominate the macho party that incorporated Franco’s heritage. They take the headlines, they fill the news, they arouse the rage of protesters.
For one, there is the alcaldesa, Ana Botella. She is the current mayor of Madrid, wife of former prime minister José Maria Aznar, and a leading figure of the party.
For two, there is the delegada del gobierno, Cristina Cifuentes. She is in charge of police repression in Madrid. As such she is a frequent target of activists. In particular because many people have been fined a ridiculous amount of money for participating in protests. She is involved in a series of court cases over this with the Legal commission of Sol.
For three, there is the vicepresidenta, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, spokesperson and ‘número dos’ of the government. But next to someone like Mariano Rajoy, who prefers not to take questions and hide behind a screen when times are tough, it isn’t all that clear who is the real number two.
There’s more. It goes all the way over the top.
There is Esperanza Aguirre, ex president of the senate and of the capital region of Madrid. The first time I encountered her was two years ago at Callao, Madrid’s modest version of Piccadilly Circus. She was dressed as an angel, against an all white background, looking down on me from a mastodontic billboard, intimating me with her cold eyes to vote for her. Aguirre is a leading figure of the party’s right wing, a champion of classic free market liberalism. She is also a countess and one of the so-called ‘Greats of Spain’.
Meanwhile, on the movement side there are no leaders. That was one of the founding ideas. But there are a few faces. The best known of them, and the most respected, is Ada Colau. Everybody in the movement loves Ada Colau.
She is the spokesperson of the Mortgage Platform (PAH). And although the Platform is not officially part of 15M – it existed before – they are fighting on the same fronts.
While the leading ladies of Spanish politics are mostly operating from Madrid, Ada Colau is from Catalonia. In fact, the Mortgage Platform was founded in Barcelona in 2009. It is a decentralized assemblary organization that operates all over the territory of the Spanish state.
The PAH is a good practical example of diversity of tactics. They use political pressure, legal pressure, eviction defence and direct action to achieve their objective of decent housing for all citizens, as defined by the Spanish constitution. Mrs. Colau has earned a lot of credit with the humble and eloquent way with which she has presented the PAH to the public.
I haven’t mentioned the one woman who is arguably the most powerful of all. You won’t find her name in the headlines. You won’t see her on tv. Me, I only heard about her from the peasants in Andalusia, a part of Spain which she happens to own, up to a large extent. The peasants speak of her with a mixture of reverence and fear. And when they do, they lower their voices to a whisper as if she were some kind of evil spirit.
She doesn’t engage herself personally in something so vulgarly bourgeois as parliamentary politics. She is five times duchess, eighteen times marquise, twenty times countess. She is one of the Greats of Spain fourteen times over. She reigns over numerous lands, estates, villages and palaces at home and abroad. She carries so many and so distinct titles that according to some, even the king of Spain himself is required to bow his head in her presence.
She is María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva Falcó y Gurtubay. More commonly known as the Duchess of Alba.
I shivered when the Andalusian peasants told me about her, because I know her kind. Her far predecessor, the infamous Duke of Alva, was sent to the Netherlands by king Philips II to quell the Dutch War of Independence in the late 1500s, and to root out protestantism once and for all. He figures as one of the greatest villains in the history of the Lowlands. His name has become synonymous to blood and terror.
That was a long time ago. They say that many Spanish nobles still reside comfortably on their ancestral lands, but that might not even be true, who knows? Maybe the house of Alba has fallen a long time ago, and all that’s left is a dynasty of impostors. Maybe even the impostors are not real. Maybe the Duchess of Alba doesn’t exist after all. Or maybe the Andalusians are right, and she really is an evil spirit.
Madrid, September 11
I still haven’t created my big interactive world map yet, like the one in Dr. Strangelove. But you can imagine it on the wall of Global Revolution HQ. It’s a map with countries lighting up where there’s unrest, turmoil, rebellion or all-out revolution, depending on the colour code.
After a quiet late summer, a few countries are lighting up now. Columbia, Mexico, Romania, Poland, and once again, Turkey.
Let’s start with Turkey. Last Monday there was a demonstration against police violence in Antakya (Antioch), in particular against the assault on a 14-year old kid who had gone out to get bread in Istanbul in June and was hit by a tear gas cannister. He has been in a coma ever since. Bitter irony has it that one protester in Antakya, 22-year old Ahmet Atakan, was killed by a tear gas cannister himself. Reportedly, he was shot from five meters distance, which would amount more or less to a summary execution.
The day after, yesterday evening, Turkey was ablaze. In dozens of cities around the country people took the streets. Barricades were built in Istanbul, Ankara, Eskişehir and elsewhere. There were fierce clashes, police employed teargas, toma’s and rubber bullets. People responded with stones, molotovs and chants. Unfortunately I couldn’t participate in the mayhem, but it sure brought back some sweet memories of the summer gone by.
In South America, farmers have paralysed Colombia since last month until last week to protest against American and European agrobusiness dumping their produce at such low prices that they are unable to compete. Five people died in the protest.
In Mexico, there has been an enormous encampment of teachers in front of the cathedral in Mexico City. They are protesting against the Mexican president’s education reform, which would force all teachers to be reevaluated. There are simultaneous protests going on against the proposed sell-out of the national oil company Pemex to foreign investors.
Romania has seen two weeks of protests almost every day against what would become the biggest mining project in Europe at Rosia Montana. In a situation very similar to that of Skouries in Greece, the state plans to sell off mining rights for gold, silver and other valuables to a Canadian company in exchange for only a minimal part of the revenues. The principal reason for people to protest is the project’s tremendous environmental impact, caused not in the least by the use of cyanide.
It’s kind of a déjà-vu for the Romanians. Nineteen hundred years ago the territory was called Dacia and would become the last major conquest of the Roman empire. The Romans left their name and their language, and they took all the gold they could dig up. The empire thrived, but over time the precious metals would be flushed away to the east over the Silk Route in exchange for luxury products from far away China. Once the gold was gone, the economy of the empire collapsed and never recovered.
In Greece, the government doesn’t hesistate to send heavily armoured riot police to the Skouries site to attack demonstrators whenever there’s a protest, but in Romania, after one more big demo last weekend in Bucharest, the government is seriously considering to give in.
Today, in Poland, it was the beginning of the ‘Days of Protest’, organized by trade unions and anarchists, under the motto “Enough of neglecting society.” For more on this, check here.
Finally, in Spain, hundreds of thousands of Catalans formed a human chain all through Catalonia to demonstrate for independence. They were inspired by the ‘Baltic Way’, a human chain of two million people that connected the three Baltic Soviet republics in August 1989.
The immediate objective of the Catalans is to draw international attention to their cause. Because only very few people outside of Spain are aware of the brutal repression and persecution that the Catalan people – and their language and their culture – have to endure at the hand of the Spanish dictatorship. Palestine, Kurdistan, Tibet, Kosovo. All of those unfortunate nations have been mentioned to describe the inhuman suffering of Catalonia. But they all fall short of the tragedy that is taking place right here along the Costa Brava. The cry of the Catalan people cannot be ignored. The time has come for the international community to stand by Catalonia in its longing to be free…
Don’t bomb Syria. Bomb Spain.
They say that Madrid has only two seasons. “Tres meses de inferno, y nueve de invierno.” ‘Three months of hell, and nine of winter’, courtesy of its position in the centre of the Spanish Highlands.
Hell is still reigning implacably over Madrid. Only since a day or two, in the very early morning, you can feel a first hint of coolness, to indicate that September is at the door.
From a revolutionary point of view, the city is in ruins. The movement has splintered. The United Citizens Waves have been subject to internal power struggles and disintegration. Enthusiasm has vanished from the streets. Many activists have become disillusioned and disconnected. Many youngsters who have no future in Spain have already left the country.
Symbolic of the situation is Sol itself. This is where the whole Spanish revolution took off in 2011. This square, for a short while, was the light of the world. Now, as if to mock the 15M movement and to savour its demise the city council has sold off the name of the Sol metro station to a telecom company. The central node of the Madrid metro is now known as ‘Vodafone Sol’. The signs are there – on our square! – as if it were normal. And the saddest thing is that nobody has had the decency to vandalize them.
Last year on September 25, the Spanish parliament was besieged by an impressive crowd. The action had been planned for months. People were talking about it, the press was talking about it. It was going to be big. This year’s September event is ‘Jaque al Rey’, the King in Check. It will most likely be a flop of insignificant proportions. And not just because the king is beside the point at the moment, but because the whole action is incredibly uninspiring and naive.
Firstly, it’s organized by the so-called ‘Coordinadora 25S’, the same group of people who had organized the action last year. I was rather displeased to find out they still existed. They failed last time. And in any serious movement, you don’t get a second chance.
So why was 25S a failure? Not because of all the people who participated, which were many, from all over the country and beyond. It fizzled out because the organization had no idea what the action was really about. At first it was called ‘Take Parliament’. Then the right wing press started crying wolf about an imminent coup d’etat, and the organizers watered down the whole thing by calling it ‘Surround Parliament’. It was an a priori admission of defeat.
There was one vague idea connected to the action. It should lead to one or more ‘Constituent Assemblies’, for the drafting of a new constitution.
Every now and then there is still some talk about these constituent assemblies. They are the pinnacle of 15M’s naivety. Do we really think that if you sit around in a circle with 30 perroflautas, somehow a new Spanish constitution will be drafted that has some sort of legitimacy? I doubt it. And besides, the current constitution of Spain is not so bad. It includes all the basic rights to health care, education, and housing. The problem is not the constitution, it’s the government who fails to respect it.
The one question that I never heard with regard to the constituent assemblies is: constituent of what? The city, the region, the state? It seems many people are seriously talking about a new constitution for all of Spain. But what is Spain? The Basques don’t want to be a part of it, the Catalans don’t want to be a part of it. The whole idea of a nation-state is outdated. As revolutionaries, we shouldn’t even be concerned with it. If we really want to constitute a space, then first we need to conquer and control it.
So this year’s flop will be directed at the king. Unlike last year, hardly anyone is talking about it. There will be a demonstration on September 28 which will culminate on Plaza de Oriente in front of the Spanish royal palace. After that, who knows? Some people say they might camp in the square ‘indefinitely’. Others, undoubtedly, are dreaming of occupying the palace.
In fact, the Spanish royal palace in Madrid, with well over three thousand spaces, is uninhabited and ready to be squatted. It would make a great social centre. Plus, it comes with a huge green area which can be used for anything ranging from an urban vegetable garden to a Woodstock-style rock festival.
The occupation of the palace – as a space for evicted families, as a free clinic for immigrants who are denied health care, as a soup kitchen for the poor, as a cultural and political space for the movement, and as an example for similar occupations – would really be a republican and revolutionary statement. But no-one really dares, not even to place the call.
The Spanish uprising in 2011 was marked by widespread popular support and participation. But ever since the beginning, it has been extremely naive, also when compared to similar resistance movements of the last few years.
The indignados did not have a clear objective like the Egyptians had when they demanded the fall of the regime. Neither did they have the determination of the Turks and their capacity to bring sworn enemies together. The Occupy Wall Street movement was just as naive as the indignados in a certain respect, but at least the Americans had a very strong public relations strategy.
So what the Spanish movement really needs is better ideas, better propaganda, and more balls (‘cojones’).
I don’t see all this happening. As a movement, on the streets, Spain is going nowhere. But far away from the limelight, the struggle continues. Last week I encountered a comrade from the March on Brussels, ‘Route Commission’. He was on his last week of work in Madrid. As from next week he will be full-time occupying an abandoned village in the mountains which was squatted last May. They are in six, working hard on the main house to prepare it for winter. Theirs is but one of many similar projects. And there are still lots of abandoned villages left to be reoccupied.
Another branch of the struggle that keeps going strong is the PAH, the Mortgage Platform. They are particularly strong in eviction defence, they have good communications, and they make effective use of diversity of tactics to further their broad political strategy.
But the most interesting revolutionary front is not in Spain right now, nor anywhere else. It’s on the web. The daily revelations from the NSA vault that embarrass the agency, and the U.S. government, and the internet giants, have caused a lot of consternation and hilarity. It also opens up possibilities. Knowing what they know that we know is very useful knowledge in creating encrypted, anonymous, decentralized social media on a large scale. We have been on this for some time. Such a system will be vital to organize revolutionary action, and to report on it safely, anywhere in the world.