As argued convincingly on this blog and elsewhere, there appear to be significant dissimilarities between the ongoing Turkish protests and the revolutions collectively known as the Arab Spring. But there is one clear similarity: the breathless Western media coverage.
In this way, as Reagan would have it, “here we go again”. The West always likes to buy high on rebellions featuring masses of Western-looking 20-something year-olds, bravely standing up for such abstract goods as ‘human rights’ and ‘freedom’. But oftentimes the political successes of such rebellions fall well short of Western expectations; moreover, they fall short in entirely foreseeable ways. Witnessing Egypt’s Tahrir anyone could have known that most of Egypt does not live in the ‘facebook-galaxy’ that Egypt’s youth took itself to live in, and that the predictable political developments following Mubarak’s departure would be Islamist in nature. Likewise, we should ask: what is likely to actually come of Turkey’s protests?
One of Heinz Guderian’s great innovations in Panzer tactics was the “Schwerpunkt”: the maximal use of force applied to a maximally concentrated target. In politics, too, it is the “Schwerpunkt” that often carries the day; simply put, one has to know what one wants, and go get it.
In this light, one of the more apt comparisons for Turkey’s protests may be the so-called “social justice” protests that took place in Israel in 2011. As is the case with Istanbul’s Gezi Park, the initial aim of these Israeli protests was small: to lower the price of popular Tnuva dairy products. But as in Turkey, the crowds and concerns quickly grew: the price of housing! crony capitalism! the lack social justice! I mean, do we even live in a democracy anymore?!
So what ultimately happened? Two things.
First, the Netanyahu government ultimately “caved” and set up the s0-called Trajtenberg committee in order to, you know, ‘investigate the people’s demands’, and ‘make practical recommendations’. Naturally this gave Israel’s politicians the time to carefully select policies they could tolerate, and quickly bury any others in the depths of democratic wheeling and dealing. Today it remains unclear whether anything of genuine significance has ultimately come from Trajtenberg’s recommendations.
Second, the ‘social justice crowd’, concentrated among the secular elites of Israel’s coastal towns, did play a decisive role in Israel’s subsequent elections. Except, instead of voting for the socialist policies ostensibly at issue in the protests, the crowds brought to power the unknown secular populist quantity of Yair Lapid. Naturally Lapid, in fact being a moderate rightist rather than any sort of leftist, quickly proceeded to disappoint his social justice backers by in no way advancing economic equality in Israel, and leaving untouched the status of Israel’s influential crony capitalists.
What lesson does this teach about Turkey’s protests? It teaches that, barring sudden crystallization of the program being advocated, the prognosis for current events actually profoundly altering Turkey’s political make-up should seem weak. The opinions currently coming from the urban crowds on Turkey’s streets display all the familiar vague coherence and self-importance that was present in Israel as well, pertaining to everything under the sun, from social justice to ‘dictatorship’ to public spaces. But what is the protestors’ “Schwerpunkt”? I don’t think they have one.