The social and political movements of the 60s led people to believe that they could challenge the existing social roles, offer alternatives to mainstream ideologies and institutions, and transform not only the places they live but the entire world. Was it by coincidence that the Tet Offensive, the Prague Spring, the May Events in France, the student protests in West Germany, the assassination of Martin Luther King and the takeover of Columbia University all occurred in the same year?George Katsiaficas, The Imagination of the New Left: A Global Analysis of 1968 (Cambridge; Massachusetts: South End Press, 1987), p.4. And what was Turkey’s position in this “contagious” global uprising?
Based on interviews, Nadire Mater’s book “Sokak Güzeldir: 68’de Ne Oldu?” [Street is Beautiful: What Happened in 68?] (Metis, 2009) attempts to give a realistic account of the year 1968 in Turkey, and deals not only with Turkey’s 68, but also with that of the world. We have interviewed Nadire Mater, both a witness and a researcher of the period, and asked her about “the year that marked the 60s,” Turkey in 1968, the political fault line that have emerged since 68, the nostalgic “aesthetization” of 68 and the “utopias that slowly fade away – and yet remain alive.”
68 has been widely discussed and written about. However, the curiosity it provokes is never satisfied. The question you also posed in your book, “what happened in 1968,” is a never-ending source of curiosity. Why does this topic attract so much attention? Why is 68 continuously remembered and reminisced in our times? Why does it hold an exceptional place in our memories?
Well, that is because it really is exceptional. Such a global uprising was never seen before in history and it continues to be the only one of its kind. In our world where neo-liberal/globalist policies prevail, where invasions and wars occur in the name of “democracy,” the 68 rebellion becomes more and more important in terms of resisting, forming opposition movements, questioning life and transforming the world… The questions “why” and “how” also become our keys in learning and understanding what has and has not happened in 1968. 68 rebels, who are now around their sixties, are in politics (though they hold very few seats in the parliament), the media, the feminist movement, the environmental movement and the struggle for rights. They are among the key actors of the new social opposition movements. We should also note that not all the people who were young or were university students in the year 1968 were 68 rebels, and not all of the rebels retained their “rebellious” spirit. However, let us add that even if they are now engaged in very different fields and have quite different lifestyles, they, in some way or another, bear the traces of 68. There is no single answer to the question “what happened in 1968?” and it keeps being asked, arousing more and more curiosity. Since 68 cannot be summed up in one event, everybody has their own experience of it. I believe that there are as many 68s as there are 68 rebels. Both in Turkey and in the world… So, the special place it occupies in our memories is what keeps the 68 rebellion alive, while its power makes the rebellion retain that special place.
Despite its unique place in our memories, why is there a lack of academic research on the subject? As a journalist, what do you think about that?
A lack? In fact, there are quite a number of 68ers in the academic world. I personally know numerous scholars from various disciplines who reflect their “rebellious” spirit both in their lives and in their studies. I also know that often they are not given seats in administrative boards or decision-making organisms… As far as I know, academic studies on 68 have recently started to grow in number. The time is becoming ripe for the “event” to be addressed academically. Works on 68 are mostly in the form of memoirs. In addition to the books written by the 68 rebels themselves, we can also mention the books penned by journalists, most of whom were among the young rebels of 68. The works of journalists differ from the academic ones in that journalists recount their experiences, whereas academic studies place the “event” in its historical context, explore it through a theoretical framework and connect it to our current lives in that sense. I know of some master’s and doctoral dissertations on 68. In fact, as people outside the academic world, it is hard for us to keep up-to-date with all the research going on. For that reason, we would very much like to have broader access to academic works and see the studies reaching beyond “the academic walls.” More comprehensive, analytical and comparative doctoral dissertations need to be written on 68. In fact, the available materials, which are mostly in the form of memoirs and narratives, will be helpful resources for academic research. Some questions have to be addressed to clarify the social, cultural and economic aspects: Who were those people? How did all that happen? What were the different motives that mobilized people? What were the results? Since there are ongoing questions and discussions regarding 68, academic studies will continuously develop. For instance, Eric Hobsbawm regards it as a “cultural revolution” especially for France. For Immanuel Wallerstein, “1968” stands out as one of the two world revolutions, the other being the revolution of 1848. The idea behind his remark is that, though unsuccessful, both revolutions did manage to transform society. That holds true for Turkey as well. The rebellion was not futile. The struggle did bring about some results. There were many changes in universities and some of the demands of the rebels were fulfilled.
Well, if we consider the example of Turkey, could it be said that the impetus behind the ongoing questions and discussions is integrating Turkey’s 60s into the 68 of the West, or rather, comparing that period in Turkey with the 68 in the West? Or, perhaps an effort to secure a distinction between Turkey and the West in terms of 68… (For instance, in your book, Ertuğrul Kürkçü says: “68 cannot be regarded as an after-effect of a European movement.”)
In the context of 68, “Western Influence” primarily means the influence of France, which was truly far-reaching. In Street is Beautiful, the 68er interviewees also repeatedly point out to this fact. It is evident that France has influenced not only Turkey but the whole world on different levels; however, assigning France as the sole cause of the 68 uprising in Turkey and in other parts of the world would deprive us of a clearer view of the big picture. I believe that it is important that we first take a look at the world scene in the year 1968. 1968 marks the end of the first half of the Cold War, which, as a period, lasted for forty or forty-five years. There was an intense rivalry between the two super-powers – the United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) – to dominate the world… It was a rivalry between capitalism and “socialism.” Espionage, ideological propaganda, the armament process, the NATO and Warsaw military pacts and military bases… Although the opposing powers did not engage in close combats, they were in a proxy war through third parties. And the main issue was fighting against communism. So, “socialism” sought to maintain itself. In such an atmosphere, with its geographical position right next to the Soviet Union, Turkey was an important ally for the US. It has been claimed that the then-US intelligence service gathered one fourth of the information on the USSR through its bases in Turkey. It was also a time when dictatorships and military regimes became commonplace around the world, including Europe. Especially in Africa, many colonies had gained their independence, but there were still wars going on. And some countries were going through civil wars. Especially with the momentum gained after the Second World War, capitalism now had a strong position. The advent of communication was an important factor enabling people to have broader access to what was going on in the world. Looking back from now it may seem quite naive and strange; however, the news, though still not one click away, traveled around the world more quickly in the 60s thanks to television and radio, which was already a popular means of communication. Being informed about what other people are going through is highly important. What is going on, where? Young people inevitably ask this question and start looking for some answers. That was how the “contagious” character of the rebellion was nourished; the world youth influenced each other. The “World in 1968″ section of the Street is Beautiful takes a look at the year 1968 in various countries and continents, covering a wide range of topics, from fashion to wars, assassinations to cinema. Just like today, the media of the time often reflected the “Western,” or, to put it more correctly, the American perspective. In that sense, the Soviet side was somewhat walled off from the rest of the world. Nevertheless, some news broke out, as was the case when Soviet tanks entered Czechoslovakia. As for the global scene, the independence/liberation war called the “American War” by the Vietnamese people and the “Vietnam War” by the Western-oriented world was going on. This war was the embodiment of imperialism and highly influenced young people in Turkey. In the US, the Black Power and civil rights movements had become quite effective. The feminist movement was about to take off. So, the political pot was boiling. However, we should also add that the term 68 does not signify a simple calendar year running from January 1st to December 31st. It sure had a background and an aftermath. Nowadays we talk more about the year 1968; that, however, was a part of a process. It is often said that 1968 was a year that marked the 60s. People influenced each other. Also in the Soviet Block, young people started to take some steps under such a repressive administration and within the protective system created by the Cold War. There were similarities among countries in terms of the reactions formed, but at the same time, each country had specific problems. So, somehow there were overlapping and interaction between these issues. In fact, there was a significant activity in the Turkish social and political scene, starting from 1965. In France, they say that 68 actually started in May, at the end of April. Well, it always makes me happy to point out to the fact that in Turkey the first protests of 68 were held in January by middle-high and high school students, who kind of gave a message to their elders. Given the atmosphere prior to 1968 and the growing momentum of the rebellion in Turkey, we cannot simple say “It all happened in France and had reverberations in Turkey.” Throughout the world, invasions, boycotts, anti-war protests, the search for a better world, and the struggles against imperialism on the road to the revolution, all influenced each other, proliferated and snowballed into a strong global movement. If we get back to the question, all the aspects we have mentioned are significant factors that make us remember 68, and in Turkey we don’t really need an exterior motivation. So, how could we ever forget it?
The next question is one you have also posed in Street is Beautiful and I am sure you have come across it many times by now: What were the common and distinctive aspects of 68 in Turkey and in the West?
There is a somewhat interesting example. When young people in France first revolted, their first demand was that university dorms were made unisex. In fact, back then, at the Gazi Education Institution in Ankara which was under the auspices of the Ministry of Education female and male dormitories were in the same building. This was also true for the Faculty of Political Sciences. In Street is Beautiful, Işık Alumur recounts that though there were separate stairs the girls and boys used the same elevator and they “could pass freely” from one dormitory to the other in the Faculty of Political Sciences, and adds: “At the faculty, we were already ahead of France.” So, as Alumur says, the students did not need to make such a demand as they already had that right. The most important commonality between Turkey and the West was anti-imperialism. Anti-imperialism and the Vietnam War… Sure, those two issues were interrelated and they reinforced each other. For example, the “Vietnam War” was also a significant factor shaping the rebellion in England, which was considered to host a “Quiet 68” in terms of the struggle concerning the problems at universities. During those years, many activities and protests about Vietnam took place in England. However, in terms of similarities/differences, let us also say that, compared to the struggle of the European youth, in the US, the main tenet of the struggle regarding the Vietnam issue was to protest the war and conscription since young people in the US could be sent to Vietnam and lose their lives. And that actually happened; they went there and lost their lives. Well, even for those who managed to survive, life was not the same… However, for the youth in England that was not the case; there, it was more about protesting against the US and supporting the Vietnam People’s Army and the Vietnamese people. And the situation was quite similar in Turkey. The “Vietnam” issue was certainly mentioned in every march, protest or gathering, as a solid manifestation of the struggle against imperialism and the US hegemony. As for the similarities between the countries, despite the different stages of the development of capitalism in these countries, during that period in all of them there were efforts to train university students for jobs in the industry and to adapt the academic programs in order to meet the needs of the industry. And in that framework, (as I have also observed in my hometown) young people who, until then could not even dream about going to college realized that higher education was now a real, solid possibility, and they, at once, found themselves in classrooms. Though differing in frequency and scope, this was what happened in many parts of the world, including Turkey. Young people from towns flooded the big cities to experience a striking change of environment. For instance, having grown up in rural areas and traditional costumes, young Japanese people, all of a sudden, found themselves in jeans, enjoying the opportunities of the consumer society, and they soon started to blame themselves for easily being swallowed by the capitalist way of living. This feeling of guilt is considered to have contributed to the anti-capitalist reactions. Stuck in between their families in the towns or villages and the deceiving splendor and comfort of capitalism, the tension felt by young people from various parts of the world including Turkey seems to be one of the underlying factors that, in varying levels, provoked the rebellion. Longing for a world without exploitation… In Turkey, the anti-imperialist aspect of 68 was quite highlighted as there were 30,000 US citizens working at the military bases, and the Turkish-American relationship was regulated by 55 special agreements which were not open to the public. It was said that there were 21 US bases/facilities in Turkey including İncirlik. We should also remember the atmosphere created by the 6th Fleet which visited the harbors. There was a feeling of siege. I should add that in 1969 the number of US citizens in Turkey decreased to become around 7,000. Of course, the struggle against US imperialism and presence in the country was effective in bringing about this result. In the end, the 6th Fleet could no longer enter the harbors in Turkey.
In the context of anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism, what do you think about the “accusation” of Turkey’s 68 for being nationalist?
Looking at those who call themselves nationalists today, we can see what happens if you are only against the US. So, there is a really thin line between being an anti-imperialist and being a nationalist. This thin line has affected Turkey’s 68 by the zigzags it formed. In Turkey, before 1968, we had gone through the Military Coup of May 27 in 1960. Back then, I/we did not see the Coup of May 27 as we do today. In the Coup of May 27, a “bad” government had been overthrown by the army to bring “freedom” to Turkey. We were being introduced to socialism. Marxist classics were being translated to Turkish. Books were being written and published. As kids from rural areas with a thirst for knowledge, we were reading all the time… And there were discussions, meetings, oppositions, protests… In such an atmosphere, it took us years to see how horrible it was that two ministers and the prime minister were executed by the orders of the emergency court during the Coup of 1960. In those days, we all were, to some extent or another, under the influence of Kemalism. This, however, does not mean that we were necessarily nationalists in the current sense of the word. In discussions which have become more and more intense in the recent years 68ers and 68 have been labeled as nationalist from a unilateral perspective that leaves out the differences. I think that people seem to rush to conclusions without sufficiently examining 68, its past and consequences, which can be misleading. On the other hand, the “nationalist” tone is quite explicit in the texts from that period. We thought we were “internationalist” since “being nationalist” was a characteristic of the right-wing. We felt we were so “internationalist” that in 1968 there were no “Kurds,” but rather people from the “east.” We understood only very late what it really meant that the two co-presidents of the Invasion Committee of Students at İstanbul University were Kurd and Laz. It took us years to understand that those whose mother-tongues were Kurdish or Laz language were more active in bringing up demands of invasion since they were not successful in the oral exams at the law faculties. As for the difference between Turkey and Europe… For example, when Soviet tanks entered Czechoslovakia, although some people placed black wreaths before the Soviet Union Consulate in Istanbul to protest the invasion, in general we, the 68ers in Turkey, could not stand up against the tanks. We now know what internationalism truly means; you have to be against invasions wherever they might be. That is why the US invasion of Iraq is a concern for us. Some groups did discuss the invasion of Czechoslovakia, but it did not become a predominant theme. Let us also remember that the Soviet tanks had divided the Turkish Labor Party as well. Young people in Europe, however, did resist. We were rather a traditional “left;” and in France, for instance, they were discussing different things. There they had Marcuse, the anarchists, Trotskyists… Soviet-style traditional communist parties were being protested, and a new “left” was emerging. We were not really informed that inside the Soviet Block, for example in Poland and East Germany, there were protests against the tanks. Or, perhaps we could not see through the events. We thought that the opposition in the Soviet Block was rather an uprising against socialism. The 68ers in Turkey neither had enough information, nor were sufficiently equipped to see the big picture in detail.
Why don’t we leave the West on one side and compare the 60s in Turkey with the neighboring countries? Is it the West’s superiority in all areas including knowledge production that renders the 68 in the Middle East, the Balkans, the South Caucasus or North Africa invisible? Didn’t these regions live through a 68? Or, being on the periphery of the world, did these regions stay on the periphery of 68 too? Or, is the concept of 68 itself an invention of the center? Are there any sources you could refer us to on this subject, that is to say, on the “excluded 68ers”?
At the time in almost all parts of the world, from Asia to Africa, Japan, India, Ethiopia and Latin America, the youth had complaints about their schools, the political regimes of their countries, capitalism, imperialism, and the state of the world. The rebellions did not start all of a sudden on 1 January 1968. This becomes clear as we examine the events one by one, for instance if we look at the rebellions of 1967.
Mark Kurlansky, the author of 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, visited the İstanbul Book Fair in 2008. Turkey’s 68 was not mentioned in that book. When he was asked the reason during a workshop the author said that he could not find any sources. Of course that’s not true. A simple research, let’s say, through the archive of The New York Times would yield news articles about Turkey. It is all about the mindset. As history is being reconstructed, people seem to take note of what they prefer to see, and minds work in a “West” oriented way. We need to shake the minds awake. We constantly learn all that is going on in Germany, France and in the US; but the countries on the periphery get global attention only through coups d’état, natural disasters or earthquakes. The centers stand out, rendering the other parts invisible. For example, in Turkey the center is İstanbul (the Bebek-Taksim route!); it is in the news all the time. But the other parts of the country make themselves into the news in so far as something “unusual” happens. In the aftermath of the Erzincan earthquake, we heard of some villages, which, till then, passed unnoticed. So, it takes a natural disaster for us to learn something about these villages. That applies to the women’s rights/gender issue as well. It is a male-dominant approach that excludes the local and gazes at the center from the center… Though it is hard, someway or another, this gaze has to be dismantled. That is what we learn from the feminist movement. The media has a significant role. We know that there is more to life/world than what is shown in the media; there are things the media doesn’t show or renders invisible. To understand what the countries outside the “West” has gone through, we need access to original studies conducted in these countries. Everybody continues to write their own 68.
What about the Middle East?
In the Middle East the Palestine-Israel conflict was heating up after Israel took over the Gaza Strip, Western Bank and Jerusalem in the Six-Day War (Arab-Israeli War) in 1967. Revolutionary young people from Turkey went to Palestine, fought together with Palestinian guerillas, and were trained on guns. In Egypt, university students invaded the schools when they realized that the real intention behind the education reform of the government was to prevent social activism. The invasion was quelled by military aircrafts, and there were students killed and injured.
In the Middle East young people from Palestine, Lebanon and Syria followed what was going on in the world and expressed their opposition and protest. They were influenced by the discussions going on around other parts of the world, especially in terms of their daily lives and the relationship between genders.
We hear the word “generation” whenever one mentions the 60s or 68. Each narrative of 68 says something about the 68 generation. Generational conflict seems to be at the heart of this generation. They formed a reaction against the older generation. On the other hand, they also accuse the younger generation of being selfish/individualistic/apolitical. So, who are the 68ers? And why is a greater significance attached to their youth?
Instead of calling them a “generation” I prefer to use the term “68 rebels.” In Turkey, some of the people that had participated in the student protests before the Military Coup of May 27 took part in the 68 uprising. As we have already mentioned, the college students were now not only from the center, but also from rural areas. We had gradually differentiated ourselves from our parents. Of course there would be conflicts; however, rather than the conflicts, we should perhaps talk about the deep feeling of trust in the 68 youth. I still cannot figure out how that bond of trust was developed. I was 17 when my family sent me to Ankara. Almost all my friends in the dormitory were from small cities and towns, and nobody from their hometowns had done this before. For example the dormitory doors were locked every night at 9 PM. We protested against that procedure, asking for the doors to be open until midnight at least on Fridays and Saturdays. The dormitory management sent letters to our families, which said: “Your daughters are asking for permission to go to bars and night-clubs on Friday and Saturday nights. What would you say to that?” My father replied, saying: “My daughter can judge what is best for her,” and in his letter to me he wrote about this, so that I would know. So, in general the families had trust in their children. Then came the times when people were imprisoned and got married in prisons… Of course, the families were greatly disappointed and they got angry; however, they supported their children at all times.
The term 68er is generally used to refer to those people who are now around their sixties and were university students some time before or after the year 1968. Of course we cannot reduce it to being a college student at the time. This is more the approach of those who seek to highlight the “nostalgic” aspect. I prefer to see it in terms of resisting/rebelling against life. It is the “revolutionary” spirit that matters.
While the student youth rebelled in most parts of the world, worker/unemployed and peasant youth were also in revolt. And in Turkey, even in 1968 there were strikes and worker-peasant demonstrations. The June 15-16 Workers Riot did not occur out of the blue; the agency of 68 was the driving force behind the 1970 events. And in the later years, the youth movement evolved into a struggle involving workers and peasants. And workers and peasants were also present among the members of the Dev-Genç (Revolutionary Youth Federation), People’s Liberation Army of Turkey (THKO), and People’s Liberation Party-Front of Turkey (THKP-C).
If we go back to the question, I believe that even the term “68 generation” creates hegemony. And it affects the youth today. This approach represses the younger generations. And this is exactly what leads to the “aesthetization” of 68. But I think we should regard 68 in terms of the possibilities it presents us. There is no point in idealizing 68 and labeling today’s youth as apolitical. Who do we refer to when we say “youth” anyway? If it is the rebellion that matters, the biggest of rebellions has been going on in Turkey since 1984. We say that 40,000 people have died in a war that has been going on for the last 25 years. And almost all the people who lost their lives were young. We cannot judge how political/apolitical they were since they were there in the combat zones doing their obligatory military service whether voluntarily or not. Kurdish young people, however, do not go up to the mountains to have picnics; they are rebels. In prisons, there are over 10,000 people who have been sentenced for political reasons. They are, or they were, also young, and they are aging in the prisons. Despite the changes and amendments made, life in universities is still trapped between the Constitution of 12 September 1980 Coup, probably one of the world’s most “successful” coups, the Higher Council of Education (YÖK), a major consequence of the coup, and the discipline regulations. Freedom of political organization is vital. Still, universities make their voices heard. The students who marched on the streets to protest the anniversary of the founding of YÖK on every November 6, or who said that “there should be Kurdish electives” at universities found themselves before discipline councils or in prisons. It is not easy. Let us not forget the struggle of the workers, the latest one being the Tekel Resistance. There they had many young people too. I think nobody would say that the youth of 68 was of greater worth; I believe they should not. Let’s not make a comparison on this basis.
And what would you say about women’s role as members of the 68 generation?
Back then, around 18% of the university population were women. Today, there are more women than men at the universities and the number is increasing. Women also took part in the movement. However, it was kind of a “ghostly presence” when decision-making was concerned. I cannot even say that we had hit the “glass ceiling” (back then we did not know such terms) since there was not such an awareness. We discussed and criticized everything, but we could not criticize our own organizations. Women such as Şirin Yazıcıoğlu (Cemgil) were among the founding members of the Federation of Idea Clubs. TİP (Workers Party of Turkey) was somewhat ahead in that sense. Behice Boran was elected as the party leader and there were some women in the borough councils. In Dev-Genç, women were present only in the local units. Our boyfriends and lovers did not want us to participate in the protests that they found too dangerous; however, they would put guns in our bags. And at the beginning, the police did not take women seriously either. We were more like back-up power. Back then, we did not know how to discuss these issues. Women did not talk much during the meetings. For example, Mahir Çayan would be speaking during a forum. How would you stand up and say something to Mahir? But things were quite different in some schools. For example, at the Social Services Academy, where I was enrolled, there were 200 students, half of them being women. All of us participated in the discussions in the forums. Women who were later put on trial and sentenced to prison were not few in number… So, women also had their share.
We now see that we actually had a “secondary” role in the revolutionary movement. However, we were quite ahead of other women that did not take part in the movement, or of the women in society in general. We were much freer. During vacations I would go back to my hometown, and, for instance, it wasn’t an issue for me to go out on my own after it was dark. Because we were university students. But if it were a friend of mine who wasn’t a university student there would be rumors about her.
In the world, the second wave feminist movement emerged in 1968. There were many protests including the bra-burnings. 68 gave rise to a worldwide feminist movement.
We followed Lenin’s words “no revolution is possible without the participation of women.” So, we took the road to revolution. As women, we did whatever we could do. Women’s liberation also depended on the revolution. Back then, we were not aware of the feminist movement. When, after the 1980 coup, people started to talk about the “independent women’s movement,” some men and even some women made kind of sarcastic remarks by saying: “independent from what or who?”
The feminist movement was belated in Turkey because of the military coups of 1971 and 1980. And when, after 1980, the feminist movement took off, the leaders were again the women from the 68 generation.
From what you have just said and from the interviews in Street is Beautiful we understand that everyone who has gone through that period has a 68 of their own. For instance, Çetin Uygur calls 68 “a ‘school term’ where people were engaged in politics 24 hours a day.” Esra Koç says, “those were the years of resistance and hope; when we could opt for the beautiful.” Hatice Yaşar says that they enjoyed “a mind-shaking atmosphere of freedom, where they could question everything.” And you call 68 “a promise of freedom.” Could you say more about that?
School of politics, hope, resistance… This is all true. Transforming the world, revolution… We believed that we would become freer. The more we discussed, questioned, problematized, opposed and went out to the streets, the freer we would become. We all had a dream that we would, sooner or later, “bring on the revolution.” Some people thought we were almost there. For some, we were on the way. And some of us believed that the time would certainly come, but we did not know when. I also had these kind of thoughts wandering in my mind. The notions of “a better world” and “transforming the world” can only be explained with liberation. That is what I think today too. The street is where you can seek freedom; it is freedom per se… For instance, last night (March 8) women were out on the streets in Beyoğlu until 3 AM. They were there for freedom, in its most general and specific sense; and because of their continuous liberation.
The conclusion I have drawn from all that I have read and heard is that in the 60s there was a general critical attitude flourishing in the conditions of the day, which, in turn, helped questioning the very conditions that gave rise to it. Through a criticism of the system, we can find the means to create utopias. By “utopia” I mean realistic, down-to-earth alternatives for a different life, not vague dreams. Perhaps we can also consider your definition “promise of freedom” in this context. It reminds me of a question posed by Frederic Jameson (Archaeologies of the Future: The desire called utopia and other science fictions, Verso, 2005): “Why do utopias flourish in one period and dry up in another?” What is behind the critical attitude of the 60s? Especially compared to our times…
Well, isn’t utopia a fictive journey beyond the realm of the real, engaging primarily with the “non-existent”? It is a bit problematic for alternative imaginations of existence to be “down-to-earth.” Therefore, the famous slogan “Be realistic demand the impossible” is the best expression of 68. And it is also about the “promise of freedom.” When you go to university, you set on a journey to “explore” life and the world. As you witness/observe/experience oppression, injustice and inequality you start questioning and looking for some answers. An “exploration,” a “search,” necessarily involves “a critical attitude;” and inevitably, opposition and rebellion is what follows. A great energy came out as the number of people questioning life increased. And about what Jameson says, let us not forget the army, which often intervened in the Turkish political scene: on March 12, September 12, February 28, April 27… All to destroy utopias… Well, that is right; utopias do dry up, but only to blossom again. Otherwise, there would be no point in living.
Perhaps 68 itself should be criticized. For instance, some people argue that the concept of 68 was manufactured in the 80s, commodified, popularized and incorporated into the culture industry. And some claim that neoliberal capitalism has turned the counter-culture of the 60s into a “commercialized nostalgia”… What is your opinion?
Of course. We have been critical and we should be. That is what the people are trying to do in Street is Beautiful. Still, the criticism should take into account the atmosphere of the period. Back in 1968, we of course did not know that year would become so “special” and turn into a “symbol.” They try to make 68 a part of the culture industry. It makes sense why the ruling powers try their best to deprive 68 of its proper meaning; they have their reasons. And in return, we strive to recount what happened. So, it is unfair, to some extent, to say that the whole concept “was manufactured in the 80s.” 1968 is a solid truth that does not need to be “manufactured.”
How about the use of the symbols or images of 68 within the system?
We often see this happening in the advertising sector; enthusiasm, the street, rebellion… I remember a stocking commercial from years ago, I think that was the first time we were filled with anger. In the commercial there are women, because they are the target audience, and they march on the streets as if they were in a demonstration. Looking at the women who look down on them from the windows of the houses on the streets they walk by they cry out the “slogans”: “Throw your old stockings away, buy new ones.” Some of these commercials were made by 68ers. For instance in the Mavi Jeans commercials they say, “This is a revolution.” The aim is to exhaust the meaning of the rebellion, to erase every trace of it.
And, is it really different for politics? A couple of years ago, the then-Minister of Power Hilmi Güler from the Justice and Development Party had said: “As the 68 generation, we are used to ‘continuous revolution’. We are leading an on-going revolution” as he was talking about their achievements. So, it is that simple; with a couple of words he becomes a 68er, and the term “revolution” is deprived of its meaning. He does not think for a moment that it was during the rule of his party that there were attacks to the graves of the murdered revolutionaries and court cases were filed against memorial days. They try to turn Deniz Gezmiş into a “kind” “nationalist” boy, denying the fact that he had said, “Long live Marxism-Leninism! Long live the fraternity of the Turkish and Kurdish peoples! Long live the workers and peasants!” right before he was executed. As for Mahir Çayan, they try to position him on the opposite edge. Well, let that be! “History” is no longer conceived as that boring lesson taught in schools. Our curiosity is not limited to 68. The question “what actually happened from the Ottoman period to our times?” introduces us to a new “history.” It is a long journey from curiosity to refusing denial, from struggles to facing the truth and to “apologizing.” The rebellion lives on!
Translated from Turkish by Gülin Ekinci
|George Katsiaficas, The Imagination of the New Left: A Global Analysis of 1968 (Cambridge; Massachusetts: South End Press, 1987), p.4.