Conversational interview inspired by scholar Matt Feinberg’s article “From cigarreras to indignados: Spectacles of scale in the CSA La Tabacalera of Lavapiés, Madrid,” published in the International Journal of Iberian Studies (26.1-2, 2013). Approached simultaneously at the urban, regional and national scales, topics include the interconnection between economy, labor, protest, culture, and selling urban space. Discussions also fold in notions of produced authenticity centering on the figure of the tobacco-rolling cigarrera, zarzuelas, and tourism during the Franco dictatorship. [LINK TO ORIGINAL PUBLISHER]
I dedicate this piece to those who lost their lives, limbs and loved ones during the Gezi Uprising in Turkey…
Turkey was in the frontline of news in June 2013, due to a series of unpredicted events, in a country with a tradition of obedience culture, summarised by the well-known proverb “Let the snake that doesn´t touch me live a thousand years”. The events started with a very naïve sit-in in the GeziPark, a public park in the midst of Istanbul nearby Taksim Square, where large left-wing demonstrations were held during the 1970s. The sit-in was organised through Facebook and Twitter to invite people to gather and camp there. The sit-in aimed at protecting the park from being regenerated, one of the few green areas of Istanbul covered with grown trees, which later transformed into large-scale street demonstrations aiming at freedom and equality.
Taksim and Beyoglu: The Western Face of Istanbul
Before I explain how we came to this point, I will provide the reader with a sense of the spaces which will be mentioned in this piece, being GeziPark, Beyoglu, and Taksim Square, all located in the largest city of the country, Istanbul. Until the June 2013 uprising, Gezi Park, instead of a place of destination, was a neglected and in-between place connecting work and education amenities. Its neglect was also fuelled by the proximity of Beyoglu, Cihangir, and Galata, old neighbourhoods with a cosmopolitan city life, including night clubs, cafes, restaurants, exhibition and art centres. Istanbul has always been a city of neighbourhoods segregated on the basis of a particular identity and way of life. In this respect, Taksim and the main district to which it belongs, Beyoglu, have been known for centuries as the western face of Istanbul, due to the non-Muslim and Levantine populations who lived in the area involved with trade and especially banking during the Ottoman Empire. These people were early adopters of a bourgeoisie lifestyle in the Ottoman Empire who brought a westernised way of life with particular consumption habits. Beyoglu has various non-Muslim places of worship (synagogues and churches) and is characterized by a built environment reflecting a European taste. After Non-Muslim populations gradually left Turkey during the Republican Era, Taksim and Beyoglu experienced periods of neglect, leading to the inflow of migrants from Anatolia. However, the area is still dominated by beautiful buildings and a mixed population of tourists, locals and passers-by, becoming more popular due to its gradual renewal and gentrification since the 1980. Similarly, Galata and Cihangir also experienced gentrification, and are preferred as a place of residence especially by artists, intellectuals and academics, being two neighbourhoods famous for their night life, arts and cultural events, cosmopolitan way of life, and old built environment. During the Republican period, the secular nation builders were clever to transform Taksim Square into a symbol of modern Istanbul. Taksim Square, where GeziPark is located, is also home to the AtaturkMonument, erected in 1928 to commemorate the Independence War and its heroes, including Ataturk, the founder of the TurkishRepublic. Since then, it has become the symbol of secularism and later of socialism during the 1970s, hosting large left-wing demonstrations, to commemorate 1st of May, Workers’ Day. The area was closed off to the public for left-wing demonstrations by the 1980 coup d’etat starting a neoliberal period of oppression. The Square’s modern identity was complemented by the Ataturk Cultural Centre, built in 1969 and then rebuilt in 1977 after to a fire, as the main centre for classical music concerts, opera and ballet performances until its closure in 2008, all of which make Taksim Square the “door to the modern Istanbul”.
The Taksim Square: AtaturkMonument is located in the round area, with GeziPark in the upper right of the picture, the green area. The large block to the right is the Ataturk Cultural Centre, closed to the public since 2008. The Square is in the middle of the picture which became the site for left-wing demonstrations during the 1970s. The picture is taken from Google Earth.
Justice and Development Party: From Aspiration to the EU into a Society of Fear
Here a couple of sentences are needed on the Justice and Development Party, the ruling party of Turkey since 2002 which adopts neoliberal economic policies but uses populist and conservative discourses to win over the masses, discussed also in recent blogs written by Taskale (2013) and Dikec (2013). The party can be regarded as the melting pot of different right-wing ideologies and is supported by the Islamic capital and denominations (Tanulku, 2012a). Its main supporters are the immigrant masses living in large cities lacking in cultural capital, and unconcerned about the arts/culture (high culture) and the protection of heritage and environment. The Justice and Development Party’s populist discourses identify with the masses, who felt isolated and exploited, economically and socio-culturally in the face of an established secular urban culture. The party also Continue reading
As a scholar of literature and culture with an interest in urban cultural studies, mutual (re)production of the material and the metaphoric is always of interest to me. On Saturday, the events associated with the first anniversary of the Indignado movement in the Puerta de Sol in Madrid began. They are scheduled to run through the night of the 15th with scheduled events occurring in both the Puerta de Sol itself as well as other smaller plazas around the city, around Spain, and, in fact, around the globe. Yesterday standing amongst the Indignados composed of young children, teenagers, university students, pensioners I reflected on how the metaphoric qualities of this space have been a part of its powerful presence in the cultural imaginary of activists in Spain and in other parts of the world.
“Esta noche el Sol va a salir” [Tonight the Sun will come out] read one of the banners carried by the crowd. The conflation of the physical place and its namesake natural phenomenon inserts a symbolic and poetic quality into the discourse that one just does not find in Zuccotti Park (for example). It is in Sol at the Kilometer Zero where this has happened, is happening; it is literally the official center of Spain. With the Real Casa de Correos as a backdrop the Indignados make reference to other hisotrical moments. It is from the balcony of this building where the Second Republic was declared. Its basement dungeons sequestered political prisoners. In this context, the flags of the Republic waving in the crowd gain greater significance.
Because May 15 is also the day of San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid, this “Spanish Revolution” has an associations with Madrid that cannot be forgotten. There were plans to tie global protests in London and other locations to this anniversary of #15M, as if to launch the start of “Occupy” season and inspire another summer and long autumn of protest and resistance. It is from Sol, perhaps, that these global circuits of resistance will find renewed energy.
The #15M movement is so highly embedded into the scale of the urban, but because of its metaphoric possibilities has soared into the popular imaginary across Spain and across the globe. After protests in London, in Wisconsin, in New York, in LA, in Oakland, and of course Tahrir Square, it is in Madrid where perhaps the Kilometer Zero of the Global Occupy Movement seems to have settled. As always, that old slogan from the Franco era seems to be relevant again: Spain is different.