One of the things that always strikes me when I travel, is how uptight we are in Australia about some things.
We like to think of ourselves a country of laid-back, easy-going, she’ll-be-right-mate shelias and blokes, but I wonder how true that actually is.
Maybe it’s true if your only point of reference is the Brits and Americans. But the anglo-sphere is nervous, twitchy
… and regulated.
It really becomes obvious when you’re travelling around the Mediterranean, and continental Europe.
If you want to see laid back, try buy anything in Spain around siesta time!
And right now, I’m writing this blog from the famous Cicek Pasaj (The Flower Passage) in Istanbul. It used to be a flower market around the turn of the century, but now it’s a bunch of tasteful cafes and restaurants.
Outside is the bustling Istikal Avenue. And I don’t mean bustling in a Lygon street kinda way. I mean bustling in an Istanbul-city-of 20-million people kinda way.
Some days in summer they can get a million people through in a weekend! The paved street, some 30 metres wide, is wall to wall with the young and old, turks and tourists.
And right through the middle of it, is a great big tram!
I’m amazed there aren’t more accidents. There’s no guard rails. No warning signs. No flashing lights, no high vis vests. Just a cute little bell the driver constantly rings to say, “Hey old lady, you’re about to be squashed!”
And young boys run along behind, jump up and swing from the side, enjoying a free ride and the warm breeze in their hair.
And the driver doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t stop the whole show. He doesn’t call the police.
Rather than regulate, the Turks seem like they’d rather let people take responsibility for themselves. In this case, it seems to be working.
And I think it makes for a happier, more alive people. Sure, you’ve got to take a bit of extra responsibility for yourself, but you don’t have the state breathing down your neck all the time, having a say about everything you do.
Not that Turkey is a citizen’s paradise, without a care in the world. Just down from here, at the end of Istikal Avenue, is Taksim Square.
Through June and July, Taksim square was filled with hundreds of thousands of protestors. It started with a small protest about turning some of the last remaining green space in the city (trust me, there isn’t much), into another shopping mall.
There must be 2,000 shops along the 2 miles of Istikal Avenue. Seems like it probably wasn’t a great planning decision.
However when the government used the heavy hand of the police to break up the protest, and when the Prime Minister hurled a few insults at the rabble (what was the PM doing getting involved in a council planning process?) the small mob ballooned into a civil uprising.
There’s no tear gas here today. The worst thing I’ve got to worry about are the hawkers and pick-pockets
…or getting hit by tram.
No, apparently today the tear gas and the protestors are down the coast a little way at Silivri.
In a special built (and heavily defended) court house, verdicts were handed down against the people allegedly behind a James Bond evil genius style of plot to overthrow the government.
Some 275 people – including former generals, parliamentarians and journalists – were charged with forming a clandestine nationalist “terrorist” organisation called Ergenekon. Ergenekon’s alleged goal was to feed social unrest through a number of high-profile assassinations and terrorists act, and ultimately bring down the government
… and defeat the Autobots once and for all.
It’s a turning point in Turkish politics. But the people I’ve spoken to are sceptical, and divided.
On one hand, military coups are relatively common in the history of the modern Turkish state. For a long time, the military has seen itself as the ultimate defender of a secular and democratic Turkey – a precious gift handed down to them from modern Turkey’s founding father, and military commander, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
And so some see the trials as a coming-of-age for Turkey, and the end of military domination of political life.
However, as the Taksim uprising showed, not everyone is that trustful of the government either.
There’s a perception that the levers of politics are actually being pulled behind the scenes by what people call ‘the deep state’. In the mid 90s, a senior politician, a wanted criminal and a police chief ended up in car crash together, and some of the connections between business politics and the criminal underworld make people nervous.
And people are also nervous about a perception that the government is becoming more authoritarian. Add “Islamist-leaning” to that picture, and you have a dangerous recipe for a repressive religious state.
Nearby Tehran in Iran was once known as the Paris of the east before the revolution crushed those ‘infidel’ freedoms. It’s an example that weighs heavily on the minds of Turkey’s freedom loving youth.
And that’s just scratching the surface. This is just the picture I’ve pieced together from talking to a hotelier, a cafe-owner, a tour-guide and some guy on the train.
But it makes what goes on in Australian politics seem like a boring bed-time read.
And you know, maybe it’s because political life in Australia is so vanilla, that the government feels a need to butt in on everything you do – just to make you feel like they’re relevant.
But from here, it’s over to Greece. And boy, if you want to talk about political dramas, Greece has a full pantheon full.
I’ll drop you a line from there.