Filed under: event, the city | Tags: gezi events, istanbul, istanbul 2020, olympics, opposition, resistance
On May 31 2013, I was watching the break of events in Taksim on the Internet. A Swedish TV Channel was broadcasting live from the Taksim Square, and Turkish TV Channels were not even showing the notorious penguins: a beauty contest on one of them, two serials representing the police as loveable patriots, and some other nonsense. Unable to predict what lied ahead, I almost wrote an open letter to the members of the International Olympic Committee, urging them not to vote in favor of the Istanbul 2020 bid. I was going to tell the committee how the people of Istanbul were forcefully denied a say about the city they live in. I was also going to ask them if they would let such government undertake organizing the Olympics, an event committed spreading sportsmanship and peace despite its problematic components like its Eurocentric conception of humankind, and racist flag. I must have forgotten what the Olympics actually are.
I never wrote the letter. I took a bus to Bodrum the morning after, and started working in a remote holiday resort on the following day. My friends clashed with the police throughout the month of June, giving a strong message to the government, and the international audience. I am not sure if any of them got the message correctly, but this is not our topic.
What really makes me think is actually personal. When did I become this person? When did I grow apart from the child who watched every Olympics with tears in his eyes? For me, the Olympics used to be the celebration of humanity. I still remember how my heart almost exploded when the arrow touched and lit the torch in Barcelona 1992. I don’t know how many times I watched the opening ceremony of Beijing 2008, and of course, a torch crown on fire, rising from underwater in Sydney 2000 is never to be forgotten. The tree metaphor of Athens 2004 was neat, and the torch of Atlanta 1996 is still the coolest thing I have seen in the Deep South.
You see; it is always the spectacle I fall, or fell, for. That’s probably why London 2012 was the only games I missed so far, mostly because of its horrendous opening ceremony. But wait… there are also those readings I did about urbanization, and gentrification, and urban displacement, and neoliberalism, and all the other evil you can encounter. Is this growing up? Is this the real enlightenment? Is this “luck?” I don’t know. The spectacle just lost its edge for me. And I couldn’t care less about the Olympics in Istanbul or anywhere else. But I am glad it didn’t hit Istanbul last night.
I thought of the letter I wanted to write as a form of opposition to the government, and later a form of resistance. Now, I think that letter, though never written, was being a part of a larger movement, and worldview. The government supporters or pro-Olympics circles are blaming people like me for being merely political. Yes, it is political, but fairly larger than AKP and its success narratives.
The Olympics are nothing but public masturbation of power holders; they are flashy masks of profitable gentrification projects in the host cities; they are new ways of inscribing (neo)colonial points of view to the host communities; they are the twin brother of what was on Turkish TV on the eve of the Gezi uprising and violent government crackdown. If you still believe the Olympics spread sportsmanship and peace, please explain the rising racism in the Premiere League, the ghost town aka the Olympic village in Beijing, which is one of the most crowded cities in one of the most crowded nations in the world, the situation in front of the banks in Athens, the wars Australia participated in the last 13 years, or maybe just tell me where Atlanta is. Not wanting the Olympics in Istanbul is not, and never was, only a blind opposition to the Turkish government. It is opposing a way of life, which is largely driven by a colorful spectacle. But just like the flag itself, the spectacle is ugly, and it belongs to an old world.