Deja vu: bloodshed in Berkeley and Istanbul

Notes from Underground

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For both Berkeley and Istanbul, 1969 was a year filled with bloodshed. On Feb. 16, 30,000 people marched to Taksim Square to protest against the government; two were killed and many were injured by the police. Almost three months after Turkey’s “Bloody Sunday,” 6,000 Berkeley dissenters, protesting against the university’s plan to develop People’s Park, were met with cruel opposition from the police. One man, James Rector, was killed, another blinded, and many were critically injured or jailed. May 15, 1969 became our “Bloody Thursday.”

Now, it seems like history is about to repeat itself. Berkeley already experienced a relapse in violence during the 2011 Occupy movement. At present, Turkish protesters, especially those gathered at Taksim Square to oppose the government’s urban-development plan for Gezi Park, have been treated to endless doses of tear gas and water cannons.

The government, both then and now, remains unsympathetic to the people’s voice. “If there has to be a bloodbath, then let’s get it over with,” declared Gov. Reagan in 1969 as he sent in additional National Guards to patrol Berkeley. Like Reagan, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hardly sees the need for a dialogue between the government and its people. Instead, he favors heavy-handed methods that unnecessarily endanger lives and solve nothing.

Yet we must not forget that Erdogan won by a landslide — for the third consecutive time, to boot — in the 2011 election. President Reagan, known as “the Great Communicator,” was also wildly popular with the public. So what went wrong?

Unsurprisingly, the answer lies in the fact that politicians like Reagan and Erdogan have too much unchecked power in their hands. Reagan was the first governor to directly interfere with the UC system. He promptly fired UC President Clark Kerr after he was unable to persuade the latter to expel dissenting students from the university.

Since his first term in office, Erdogan, whose party enjoys a 50 percent majority in the popular vote, has been largely oppressive. He continually tries to introduce conscientious legislation (e.g., criminalizing adultery and prohibiting alcohol consumption) into a country that is officially secular. Under his leadership, Turkey has jailed more journalists than Iran, Eritrea or China.

Erdogan exemplifies his recalcitrant attitude when he dismisses the protesters as “vandals and looters.” He also blames the foreign media for the dissenting campaigns, which is ironic considering how the media is prohibited from entering Gezi Park. Furthermore, while protesters are beat by police, Turkey’s news channels air nothing but cooking shows and penguin documentaries (read article here). Not to mention at least 25 Twitter users have been arrested by the government for “spreading untrue information.”

Nevertheless, a recent poll by the Washington Post shows that Erdogan still remains popular in Turkey. If no major opposition rises against him, there is a high chance that he will expand the president’s power before running for the position himself in the next election. And if he wins —  another likely possibility — then we shall have another Ronald Reagan in the world.

Anh Thai ponders about insidious world problems in her Tuesday blog. Contact Anh Thai at [email protected].