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Christians in the Muslim World

Experiencing the limit in Turkey

Experiencing the days of protest in Istanbul, in which the noise of the tear gas and the suffocating smoke even reached our churches, made me reflect on the sense to be given to the events that are characterising the life of a country that has been following the way of true democracy for decades. There has been a multiparty system in Turkey since the 1950s and, theoretically, everyone can be represented in the Grand National Assembly. The clearest proof of this is that in the secular Republic since the 90s, the political parties of Islamic inspiration have managed to get into parliament, including the party in office, the AKP. Everything therefore is oriented towards participation and democratic dialectic.



But the past weeks have shown the limitation of political participation and above all of political representation. Many of the movements that were sitting – like in a big parliament – in Taksim Square were claiming a ‘green’ area for this place, the symbol of the sacredness of the Republic of Mustafa Kemal, called Atatürk (died 1938). Whoever, like myself, experienced the days of greatest tension had the sense of limit. Of what limit? I could pinpoint at least three. The limit of information, to be able to access the true reality. Many of the Turks, of one ‘front’ as of another, condemned the means of communication for not having been up to their profession in reporting delicate facts and events, essential and even serious insofar as a part – big or small will be seen over the next months – of the country itself. The malcontent for not being able to access or reach the truth of the facts gave rise to strong criticism to such an extent that more than one TV channel or newspaper information editor felt it their duty to consider their possible resignation.



The limit is not only methodological (the information), but involves also and above all the reason for the protest. The protesters – most of whom exclude violence - demand greater attention to urban and therefore ecological issues and thus also social ones, contesting all those massive intervention policies. The big projects in the pipeline are astounding and really ambitious. One just has to think of, besides the now much debated shopping mall (AVM) in Gezi park, the third airport of Istanbul, which aims to become the largest in the world, bigger than the one in Atlanta, with millions of passengers every year.



The Turkish people has all the potential and the credentials to achieve the desired objective. But these very projects have a limit, that of the participation in the decision-making phase. We are here at the experience of the second and third level of limit: the limit in the contents, in the intervention contested by a part of the population and in the methodology to achieve that very content, otherwise definable as democratic dialectic. For this reason the Prime Minister quickly spoke of a referendum. These events in Turkey could really constitute a huge potential on the way of the complete experience of democratic dialectic, which involves and entails a deep exchange among the parties.



Undoubtedly, the party in office is legitimate and can and must legitimately rule according to what it deems opportune. Very rightly the Prime Minsiter Erdogan stated “we are a conservative party, they cannot ask us to be different from what we are”. What he stated is a fundamental part of democracy that cannot radically change people and the social partners, but this requires above all the dialectic of the interested parties. This is what the protesters are asking for, who, moreover, are not politically represented. Hence a further experience of the limit of participative democracy, experienced also in other recent situations in countries of Europe and North America.



The protesters do not ask to take up the reins of the country – the protest movements are not always revolutionary – but for greater attention to projects and the sharing of decision-making. Hence, the gezi park protest was taken as a symbol of a vaster criticism and tension against the Prime Minister and the government, somewhat mixing up all the motivations that rebounded in the media creating even more confusion. Just imagine Turkey in the grip of a fierce conflict between laicism and Islamism or between liberals and socialists, or even between conservatives and progressives. In part it is all this at the same time, but it is perhaps more greatly so a conflict on methodology and democratic dialectic.



This experience of limitedness could hide a huge potential in the process of full maturity of democracy. Every limit, in fact, is a call to go over it and whoever, like myself, lives in this multi-faceted country, prays and hopes and the democratic dialectic is increasingly developed – because it already exists in part.