Police were withdrawn from Istanbul’s main Taksim Square on Saturday of last week, following five days of protests.
This was the government’s first major defeat in 11 years.
The place immediately turned into a festival area occupied by tens of thousands of ordinary people.
The massive explosion of anger took the government completely by surprise—and the protesters too.
Resistance to plans to restructure Taksim Square and turn the adjacent Gezi Park into a shopping mall had never quite taken off. They have looked like a construction site for many months.
That changed last week when police launched a barbarous attack on a few dozen people who had organised a sit-in to protect trees which were to be cut down.
As the news spread, the protests turned from defence of the trees to a mass movement against police violence.
They spread throughout Istanbul as well as Izmir, Ankara and other cities.
Police attacked demonstrations large and small and crowds simply refused to be beaten back by a constant barrage of pepper gas.
Spontaneous protests broke out everywhere. People gathered in their own streets, banging pots and pans, blowing whistles and shouting for the prime minister to resign.
Local residents and shop-keepers came out to help those attacked by the police.
They gave them refuge, food and lemon juice to combat the effects of the gas.
Finally, victory belonged to the people. Taksim Square had remained police-free for three days as Socialist Worker went to press.
There had been quiet and simmering discontent with a spate of neoliberal policies.
These range from the proliferation of shopping centres to last month’s legislation to ban the sale of alcohol after 10pm and the frequent heavy-handed use of police against protests.
The government under-estimated the people’s anger and determination—and is now paying the price.
The mass movement has influenced and even mobilised some of the ruling AK Party’s electorate.
This may be the beginning of the end for the government.
For that to happen the movement needs to spread, rather than become limited.
On the one hand small groups of people wrapped in Turkish flags have been fighting street battles with police (see below, left).
This risks excluding and alienating ordinary people.
On the other hand, a strike by a public sector trade union confederation called some time ago for this Tuesday turned into an act of solidarity with the movement.
This is the way forward in the struggle for freedom.