He is “duran adam”—the standing man. On Monday, Erdem Gunduz stood still for hours in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, staring at a public portrait of Kemal Ataturk, to protest the latest ban on demonstrations. Others joined him, as the image went national and then global. Police moved in: he was able to walk away and escape arrest, others didn’t.
As pointed out in a previous post, we should pay attention to Turkey because it is so special and so different than our preconceptions of what the world is and how it works. It is certainly a democracy today, but has not always been, and not quite what we think of as a democracy. It is certainly a Muslim country, but has not always been, and not quite what we think of as a Muslim country.
Whether Prime Minister Erdogan has been too long in office, whether he is taking Turkey in directions that defy many citizens and the ideals of Ataturk, whether he is truly a democrat, are things to be determined.
It is clear that he has crossed the line between firm response and heavy-handed overreach. It is clear that he is facing the quandary of all reformers, real or putative: your practice of reform is never the only game in town, and others have very different ideas. Most of all, Erdogan, like many leaders, seems to have no idea what he is dealing with, so he is under the impression that power is always the trump card.
He is half right. Power is always the trump card, but it is hard to know exactly which kind of power you are talking about or having to deal with. Is one man standing a power? What about a thousand people, or a million? History tells us that you can jail the thousands and even kill the millions. But as long as there are witnesses, might still is forced to co-exist with right, even when might wins.
The difference between witnessing and watching is a fine line. As this spreads, we will see if the media have the courage to cover a bunch of people just standing still. The media seem to like their reality shows with a little more action. Fortunately, the people’s media, the social media, may have more tolerance and a longer attention span. If you look long enough, standing still starts looking like moving forward, and that gets people really excited. It is how for millennia, from Christian origins through Gandhi through the civil right movement and on and on, nothing seemed to turn into something—because it was always something.
It was a standing man, that would not be moved.