- The Gezi Park Protests as a Pluralistic “Anti-Violent” Movement
a new era of public protest began in 1999 with the Seattle World Trade Organization (WTO) demonstrations, and continued through the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests and the 2013 Gezi Park insurrection in Istanbul. This new era of demonstrations differed from movements that had come before in the understanding of politics employed by the protesters, reconstructing popular imaginations about the future, bringing about a reconsideration of politics, its domain, and time itself.
This article investigates the Occupy Gezi movement that began in Gezi Park and led to the occupation of Istanbul’s Taksim Square. I examine the events through Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the Hungarian Revolution. Arendt’s five criteria for evaluating the status of the Hungarian Revolution as a “true event” help shed light on the politics of Occupy Gezi (Arendt, “Totalitarian Imperialism” 5). In spite of the two movements’ similarly unprecedented, spontaneous, non-ideological, and un-hierarchical characters, the Gezi Park protests differed from the Hungarian Revolution in important ways. This is particularly true of the reaction of the protesters to the violence to which they were exposed. In refusing to react in kind to the state’s violence, the Gezi Park protesters created a new public domain for confronting the state. It is possible to consider this movement to have been an anti-violent rather than a non- or counter-violent resistance. Important political conclusions follow from this distinction.
Drawing on Étienne Balibar, I show that the Occupy Gezi movement was not a peaceful “non-violent” insurrection, but an “anti-violent” resistance. When the protesters did not respond in economic, ideological, or doctrinal terms to state violence, they developed new forms of resistance drawing on the resources of humor, irony, and pluralism. This revolutionary pluralism is a site of another important connection with Arendt, who writes: “[W]e [End Page 247] are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live” (Human Condition 8). For this reason, the Gezi Park movement can be called a pluralist “insurrection of dignity” (İnsel, “Haysiyet ayaklanması”; İnsel,“Tek adam günlerinde otoriter tahakküm” 12–17).
It is worth noting that my approach, in which I compare the recent occupation of Gezi Park to Hungary’s 1956 revolution against a totalitarian regime, risks anachronism. While the Hungarian Revolution was an insurrection against a totalitarian system, the Gezi movement was one against an authoritarian and neo-liberal, but not totalitarian, government. The article will thus have to examine the new forms of violence applied by the government against the protesters and the protesters’ response to this violence. While there is that distinct difference between the two, the contrasting contexts of the two movements help in assessing their original features.
1. Comparing the Hungarian Revolution to the Gezi Park Protests
According to Arendt, the Hungarian Revolution was an authentic, unprecedented event that cannot be categorized in terms of victory or defeat (Arendt, “Totalitarian Imperialism”). What happened in Hungary, where the citizens were subject to the domination of the Red Army that had delivered them to the Nazis, was unique in that it did not occur to any of the other Soviet satellite states at the time. Furthermore, the insurrection in Hungary was not a coup d’état, a conspiracy attack, or an organized insurrection, but a “spontaneous revolution” in the tradition of Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt (Arendt, “Totalitarian Imperialism” 8; Luxemburg)1.
When Arendt analyzes the Hungarian Revolution, she primarily examines its historical condition. After Stalin’s death, the USSR was occupied with the internal conflicts that arose as part of the issue of Communist Party succession. Yet even if Russia did not return to its earlier Stalinist ways, this does not mean that the totalitarian system had ended, but merely that the regime had become a relatively less harsh one.2
Arendt cites the words of a Hungarian professor to describe the main characteristics of the Hungarian Revolution: “It was unique in history, that the Hungarian revolution had no leaders. It was not organized; it was not centrally directed...