It’s the summer marching season once again and the ordinary and the extraordinary all around the world are doing their bit for the cause (when they’re not being ostracised, abused, brutalised, beaten, jailed or murdered, that is). It was Gay Pride in Istanbul at the weekend (the largest in the Muslim world) and thousands of people marched along İstiklâl Caddesi (Republic Street), Istanbul’s jugular, carrying aloft a giant rainbow flag. Turkey’s po-faced and increasingly unhinged Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, muttered a few words of disapproval which is a good enough reason as any to shake your booty, out and proud, along the famous street. Unlike some Istanbul demonstrations in recent times, the march ended without incident from the trigger-happy tear-gassers. As the crowd dispersed peacefully through the side streets, some may have passed by the British Consulate, a grand Italianate-style building and once the potent symbol of Nineteenth Century imperial virility. If they looked up, they will have seen the rainbow flag flying out and proud above the building. We Brits often get things oh so wrong (just look at Iraq these days) but now and again, we get things oh so right.
The Eurovision Song Contest is like herpes. There is no cure. The overblown glittery bandwagon pulls into Copenhagen this year, no doubt costing the Danish economy more than the Nazi occupation. Reduced to back-slapping bonhomie between neighbours and century-old foes, the songfest has been given an extra political frisson this year by the nasty homophobic laws in Russia and Tsar Putin’s annexation/repatriation (delete according to taste) of the Crimea; continued unrest in eastern Ukraine might earn Kiev a few sympathy votes from other former Soviet Republics and old Warsaw Pact nations. In a strange twist of fate, the people of Crimea can vote for Russia because the telephone service hasn’t yet switched sides, so it could be douze points from Ukraine. They may be the only points Russia gets. We can only hope.
Last year, Turkey threw a hissy fit and withdrew from the competition. It hasn’t entered this year either but nobody’s noticed, well apart from Liam who is terribly upset. In any case, Prime Minister Erdoğan’s probably banned the extravaganza along with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Alan Carr’s Chatty Man. Britain’s entry is Children of the Universe sung by Molly Smitten-Downes. No, me neither. We could enter the Teletubbies for all the difference it would make. Our money’s on the Austrian drag queen if only to get up the noses of our more reactionary cousins east of the Oder-Neisse Line.
The lead up to the show always causes a flurry of excited emails between Europhiles and Eurosceptics. This year was no different in the Scott-Brennan household. Here’s a small selection:
“Talking of Eurovision, your thoughts on Molly’s effort? We like Sweden, and there are a few anti-Russian efforts which should add to the event. I’m sure the TV sets in Moscow will go blank when the first bars of Austria’s entry wail in. We can only hope. Really looking forward to the annual camp-fest. Oh, I’m such a cliché.”
“Actually, we’re not quite in the Euro groove yet – we’re fashionably late this year with our research. Yes, we have heard the Brit entry- bit of a screamer who’ll probably sing flat on the night. They always do, you know. So what’s the Russian entry this year? Orthodox nuns with Kalashnikovs trying to reclaim the Kattegat?”
“For the record, my votes go to the Albanian diva and the Austrian drag queen. Not that I’m gay or anything. And I haven’t got a clue why the awful Armenian dirge is hot favourite. Especially looking forward to the Irish muscles boys and their out-of-sync diddly-diddly dancing, the Latvians on how to bake a cake and possibly the worst song ever presented to Eurovision, a misguided torch song massacred by a fat Belgian. It’s gonna be a corker.”
If ever there was cast-iron evidence for limiting the number of terms in the top job, it’s the Prime Minister of Turkey’s current spat with Twitter, an unedifying squabble that makes Erdoğan look autocratic and self-serving. Is the Twitter ban on or off? Who knows? Are the tweets about Erdoğan accurate? Who knows? Twitter is in good company. Lazy censorship is the norm in Turkey. A ban on YouTube has been on and off for years. Facebook may be next. Erdoğan doesn’t like selfies. It’s all rather pointless as anyone with a little technical savvy can circumvent the ban with relative ease.
Something dangerous happens to those who sit at the big desk for too long. The seduction of power can be unhinging. Like the absolute monarchs of old, some start to think that they personify and embody the nation they’re supposed to serve and to insult them is also to insult the nation (something that is a crime in Turkey). Erdoğan doesn’t respond well to criticism and uses politically appointed judges to punish those who cross him. And it’s not just Turkey. This imperious tendency can happen even in so-called mature democracies. Think Margaret Thatcher and how she became more regal and dictatorial with every year of her reign. God knows how Her Maj coped with those weekly chit chats. Who was giving an audience to whom?
Wiser heads know when to leave the party. Take Nelson Mandela, a great example of a dignified exit and even the ever-shrewd Tony Blair knew when the game was up. Not so for our power-crazed Erdoğan. In 2011, he won an unprecedented third consecutive election making him the most popular and successful Turkish leader since Atatürk. But there was a problem. The Constitution barred him from serving a fourth term as Prime Minister and that historic victory could have been his swan song. But the wily old Erdoğan wasn’t about to let the small matter of a Constitution pension him off, he simply changed it.
In August, Turks go to the polls to choose a directly elected executive president and guess whose name will be at the top of the ballot paper? The chances are Erdoğan will win, maybe by a smaller margin, but with a majority nonetheless. I don’t expect today’s local elections to upset the political status quo either. I do expect more authoritarianism and more paranoia, a prospect that doesn’t augur well for political pluralism in Turkey. And so back to the Iron Lady. In the end, it was her own who got rid of her, not the electorate. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a lesson here for Erdoğan.
Perking the Pansies recovered from a difficult birth at the murderous hands of the Turkish censors, thrived through the terrible twos and survived the transitional threes, ending the year with 60,000 hits for the last twelve months. Thank you to everyone and anyone who’s passed by and glanced at my random witterings. Most blogs burn out after two years so I must be living on borrowed time.
As the sun sets on 2013, in the best Hogmanay tradition, I give you the year’s top ten – a pick ‘n’mix treat of bum cleavage, Turks at the barricades, a shot in the arm, a tender coming out story, a sexy rugger bugger, a book to send you to sleep, an old-time boozer, an olive tree planted in a foreign field and a scratched itch.
Image courtesy of Occupy Gezi on Facebook.
One for the Ladies
The Art of Blogging at St Margaret’s Church of Art
And what of 2014? All I know is that Turkey Street, Jack and Liam move to Bodrum will be out early in the year. Will it be as successful as the first one? Who knows? Not me. Whatever happens, come rain or shine, a happy and prosperous year to all my pansy fans. Thank you for staying the course and for your remarkable support. I’m touched but then, I have been for years.
The marching season has got off to a splendid start with Istanbul Pride throwing down the gauntlet with tens of thousands of people (some reports suggested 60,000) parading along Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s main thoroughfare. This is where Istanbulers come to meet, drink, shop, party and demonstrate. The brave souls carried a giant rainbow flag and, in an unprecedented show of unity, held banners demanding justice and LGBT rights in Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian and Arabic. And for the first time there were also Pride marches in Izmir and Antalya. One of the most popular slogans was “Where are you, my dear? Here I am, darling!” Will the increasingly repressive Turkish Government led by the dour and autocratic Erdoğan listen? Probably not. But, following hot on the heels of the vicious crackdown of the Gezi Park protest, Istanbul Pride goes to prove that it ain’t over ‘till the fat drag queen sings.
As a rainbow of protesters re-occupies Taksim Square after it was once again cleared with tear gas and water cannon by the Turkish police, how will it all end? I hope for the best but fear the worst. Prime Minister Erdoğan’s increasingly paranoid nonsense about foreign devils and domestic subversives attempting to wreck the Turkish economy may play well to the party faithful but global capitalism has no morals and abhors instability. As foreign investment takes flight to safer climes, he may be forced to eat his words as the crisis starts to hit his big business cronies where it most hurts – in their pockets.
In the meantime, some people may be put off by what they’ve seen and heard and are rethinking their travel plans. Please don’t be. Despite the troubles, Turkey remains one of the safest holiday destinations around. Tourism in free fall will hit the livelihoods of countless small family-run businesses that rely on the summer rush to see them through the whole year. It will cause genuine hardship and won’t make one iota of difference to the shiny suits in Ankara. If Liam and I weren’t already booked for sunny Spain, we would be parachuting in to Bodrum to show our support.
Our former foster home is covered in a veil of tear gas. What began as a peaceful campaign against the destruction of a city centre park to make way for yet another shopping centre has spread to a wider national protest against the creeping authoritarianism of the current Turkish Government led by the charmless bruiser Erdoğan. Watch out, my Turkish friends, he’s not exactly noted for his listening skills. Is the ruling AK Party determined to implement Islamism by stealth? I don’t know. But telling women how many babies to have, branding all drinkers as alcoholics and demanding that the Dutch Government removes a baby from a lesbian couple (because “homosexuality is contrary to the culture of Islam.”) isn’t liberalism either. Erdoğan is the most popular leader in recent Turkish history, freely elected. Democracy may be a flawed political system but it’s probably the best we have. A word of warning, though. Be careful who you vote for. It might not be quite what you had in mind. This image says it all: