ISTANBUL - For days now, people from every social circle are in the streets of cities across Turkey protesting the government’s plans to bulldoze Taksim Gezi Park. Among those I have observed are Kemalist nationalists, conservatives, anti-capitalist Muslims, Peace and Democracy party supporters, the Grey Wolves and other ultra-nationalists, homosexuals, transvestites, elderly people, and leftist groups from many factions.
It is clear that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has committed a fundamental error in judgment in dismissing demonstrators as extremists who don’t represent the mainstream. Once again, he is simply tone deaf. These people are not marginal hoodlums, and they are not soldiers or representatives of pro-military factions. In fact, many have university degrees, and they are decent Turkish citizens.
What they have in common are shared beliefs about how their government and their leaders should function. A detailed list of demands was submitted by protesters Wednesday evening, but here is what they want to say to their government in four simple points:
1. A majority of votes alone does not give an administration the mandate to do whatever it wants. Changes to Taksim Square should not happen without consulting the people who use it. That is among the fundamental principles of a participatory/pluralist democracy. Even if you are going to transform the Taksim Gezi Park into a more beautiful place, the people must be consulted.
2) Because governors are assigned by the state, and not elected, they are not acting in the people’s best interest. This should change. Let governors either be elected, or abolish the governorship institution and give their authorities to mayors.
3) It is a crime in every developed country in the world to spray water and throw gas bombs at peaceful protesters. It should be a crime here too. The police should not practice violence or use batons and armed vehicles against people who are practicing their constitutional right to protest.
4) The prime minister should immediately tone down his rhetoric and adjust his views. He should acknowledge that not every drinker is an alcoholic, not every woman who goes out at night is a whore, not every transsexual is a prostitute, not every Kurd is a terrorist, not every leftist is marginal, not every book reader is a pseudo-intellectual, not every democrat is spineless, and not every liberal is pro-government.