REPORT FROM THE ISTANBUL SOCIAL FORUM ON ESF-PARIS
13 December 2002
The Success: Greater and More Representative Participation
The second European Social Forum was a great success for us. First of all, we were able to expand the social forces which participated in the preparatory period. The Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) and the Union of Architects and Engineers Chambers (TMMOB) participated in the process and played an active role in it. The anti-war movement and some of the most important of its activists took part in the Forum and supported the preparations. In short, we brought together many social movements, from Islamists to socialists, from Greens to the gay-lesbian communities, and from social democrats to the trade unions.
In the past year, representatives of the Istanbul Social Forum (ISF) participated in the preparatory meetings of the European Social Forum, and we also had good discussions and many open meetings in Istanbul on how to develop and expand the ISF.
As a result of this work, 77 people, included the president of KESK, the president of TMMOB and the Istanbul branch general secretary of the Union of Doctors, attended the ESF in Paris under the banner of the ISF. Compared with organised attendance from Turkey at previous Europe-wide events (zero in Genoa, 11 in Florence), this was a considerable step forward. It is also good that, while we had one speaker from Turkey in Florence, this time, because we were able to take a more active part in the preparatory process, there were 5 speakers and 4 moderators from Turkey.
The organisation of Turkish translations at some of the meetings in Paris was also a step forward, although more would have been better. While architects, doctors, etc., generally speak a foreign language, many of the students and particularly the trade unionists do not. At a meeting about Paris which we organised for trade unionists upon our return, one trade union activist who had come to Paris said that he could smell the atmosphere of the ESF in Paris but couldn’t understand in any detail what was going on. We clearly need to take the issue of translations even more seriously.
The Problems: Visas and Finance
Another important problem is posed for us by the issue of obtaining visas. The French Consulate rejected nearly half of our applications. While some of these applicants may not have been able to come in the end because of financial problems, our attendance would have been above 100 people if not for the problem of visas. This was also a problem in Florence (where, again, we lost nearly half of our contingent to the whims of the Italian Consulate), and it is going to be an even more serious problem, perhaps even insurmountable, next year in England. As a result of the bombings in Istanbul, the English Consulates in Turkey have now completely stopped issuing tourist visas to Turkish citizens. It was always difficult, now it has become impossible. If we cannot solve this crucial problem, the campaign which we have already started to mobilise for England will be disrupted. We would like this issue to be considered carefully by the English organisers.
An additional problem for us in Turkey is finance. We would urge the organisers to consider reserving financial help for the travel expenses of those who attend from Eastern Europe in the budget which will be formed for general expenses. Some of the organisations which participate in the ISF now cover many of our expenses (and the ISF is now better off than it was at the time of Florence), but the flights, airport taxes, visa expenses, etc., are truly prohibitive, given that the minimum wage in Turkey is well under 200 euro per month.
Working with Islamists
Many of the participants from the ISF in Paris noticed that the issue of Muslim students wearing headscarves to school was very much in the news in France. This is also an important issue in Turkey, where the state has been attacking and hounding ‘political Islam’ constantly for the past 10 years and, exactly like France, female students wearing headscarves have been refused entry to their school and university classes and to government offices. The Turkish state has used the issue of Islam not as a racist stick to beat ethnic minorities as in France (obviously, given that 99% of the population in Turkey is Muslim), but as a way of artificially dividing and polarising society between ‘secularists’ and ‘Islamists’.
One of the important successes of the anti-war movement in Turkey (and to a lesser degree, the ISF) has been to overcome this artificial division and bring together Islamic and socialist organisations, Islamists and trade unionists, etc., together in joint activity. There is no doubt that if we had not succeeded in doing this, the anti-war movement would not have had the success it did.
We succeeded in Turkey first in stopping the government from allowing US troops to be stationed in the South-eastern border with Iraq last March, and then from sending Turkish troops to Iraq in October. We could not have achieved this without substantial participation by parts of the Islamic movement.
Now, after the bombings in Istanbul, the state is again targeting Islam as the enemy (and, by implication, Bush as a friend). It is therefore even more important that the anti-war movement and the ISF resists this and continues to work closely with Islamic parties, human rights organisations, etc.
Looking Ahead: NATO and Bush in Istanbul in June
One of the most important forthcoming events for us, which we have already started organising for, is the NATO meeting planned for 28-29 June 2004 in Istanbul. The meeting will be attended by several leading warmongers, possibly including George Bush. We plan to organise as big a demonstration as possible to turn this meeting into a showpiece not for the warmongers but for ordinary people who are against the occupation of Iraq.
We would like to make this an international demonstration, with participation from across Europe. We propose, therefore, that the third preparatory meeting for the ESF is held in Istanbul in June. Such a meeting would symbolise the co-operation of the international movement and the local movement in Turkey, and the Europe-wide opposition to the warmongers.