05 June 2013

Aldeia Taksim

Having heard rumors that a new breed of white elephants had emerged in Turkey, I took to the hunt. To my surprise, I encountered with Brazilian consultants and architects who had perfected the murky techniques of pachyderm insemination.  While promising that the Brazilian variety (loxodonta brasilense) would bring infinite returns for those who financed them, these same professionals had mastered the art of depoliticizing the authoritarian use of public money to ensure private profit. These post-modern fakirs go to great lengths to disguise the wrapping of concrete and steel in high-tensile, translucent membranes (manufactured and maintained by foreign companies) as a necessary passage towards modernization and return on investment. Public space has no apparent financial returns and could be used more profitably if given to developers so it is “natural” that this happen.

Except it isn’t natural at all.

After the conference as I walked around one of the great football and stadium cities in the world, I came across the Hippodromo where 30,000 chariot fans were once slaughtered for being on the wrong side of a political debate. In the Byzantium city of the Greens and the Blues, Circus Factions could determine the fate of Empire.  1500 years later, the fans of Beşiktaş welcomed the rival fans of Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray as they organized to protest the Erdogan government in the streets around their stadium


Don`t cry for me...Brazil?
The battle for Taksim Square is as much about symbolism as it is about the functional use of public space and the future of Turkish democracy. By eliminating one of the few remaining green spaces in central Istanbul, The Turkish government wants to rebuild an Ottoman-era (read: pre-secular Turkey) military barracks that will then be transformed into a shopping mall. There was no public consultation and the NGO established to preserve the park was violently ousted by riot police. This kicked off the larger protest that has engulfed Turkey over the last week.

As the Rio state and city governments showed in the struggle for the Maracanã, the Turkish state has shown itself willing to use maximum force to eliminate peaceful, public dissent and the right to public assembly. That both police forces use tear gas manufactured in Brazil is an ironic coincidence. That these struggles have as their flash points the authoritarian appropriation of public space and culture to produce symbolic spaces dedicated to conservative and consumerist ideologies is sadly consistent with larger governmental trends in both countries.

Putting down the violent rebels in Istanbul
...using the same perfume and good sense as in Brazil. 
We can see in the recent history of the Aldeia Maracanã he same kind of struggle being played out over Taksim Square. The major difference is that in Rio, no larger protest emerged over the loss of the city`s most iconic public space. Reading the news reports of the Maracanã‘s official opening (Brazil x England) I saw no mention of the years’ long struggles to keep the stadium in public hands. As we know, once the lights are on and the ball is rolling, no one remembers the past. This is a major genetic flaw in the White Elephant.

The extent to which the state will use violence to protect the interests of private capital has been demonstrated time and time again as Brazil prepares to host the World Cup and Olympics. Istanbul, until last week, was the leading candidate for the 2020 Olympics and Turkey will host the U-20 World Cup in July of this year. The Turkish state has demonstrated quite clearly that they too are willing to intercede violently in the pursuit of conservative consumerism. We will find out in September what impression this leaves on the IOC.

As the Turks battle for their public spaces and democratic rights, Brazilians (and everyone else) should pay close attention to what is happening. Brazilians should remember that there is always a chance to raise a collective voice over what has happened in the name of the same kind of governmental regime that the Turks are fed up with. This is especially true in Rio where the mayor reacts to public criticism through personal acts of violence (he punched someone in the face after being called a piece of sh*te). The mayor`s personal actions are a perfect expression of the way he handles the government and this should be reason enough for large-scale protest.

For those with the stomach of an elephant the following shows disturbing scenes from the last week of protests in Turkey.



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