This year's coolest xmas party: Occupy London's thank you gig

Guests including Thom Yorke and 3D from Massive Attack took to the decks.

The Occupy London movement received a well deserved thank you last night (December 6) in the form of a secret gig with appearances on the decks from the likes of Thom Yorke, 3D from Massive Attack and Tim Goldsworthy from UNKLE.

The press gang met up a few hours before, most still unaware of exactly what was going to go down. The only information we all seemed to have was that something big was going to happen at the occupied UBS site, the 'Bank of Ideas'. Ironically as we left, spokesman Ronan McNern noted that our pub of choice was also hosting the 'real' UBS Christmas party, one of life's pleasurable little coincidences that really makes you think everything happens for a reason.

As we walked to the location, McNern explained that the gig was kept secret not because of any notion of elitism, as some critics have already accused, but driven by genuine security fears (the small east London basement where it was held could fit, at most, 100 people) after Yorke had to cancel an earlier appearance at Occupy New York when the news got out too soon.

The idea was that the night would be the protesters' very own 'UBS xmas party', a chance to relax and enjoy an evening of entertainment. 'This is not about making something wild', McNern stated, 'this is a thank you for all occupy has done'. Indeed, after almost two months of occupation in London, a much needed rest was welcomed by all those of have worked so hard for the movement. But the night was not all relaxation and fun, the gig also served as a platform for today's launch of record label Occupation Records.

One of the men behind the organisation of the label, Adam Fitzmaurice, explained to me that artists like Thom Yorke and Massive Attack initially reached out to occupy to find out what they could do to help, 'They didn't want to make this about them, they wanted a way they could contribute', he says. He goes on to reveal that several other bands have already got involved with the movement's radio station, Occupy Radio. Bands such as The Strokes and The Libertines are amongst those creating playlists to be aired.

Over the next few weeks, several albums will be digitally released in a 'pay what you want' format, championed by Radiohead with their In Rainbows album. Artists have come together to write and records songs supporting the worldwide protests, but little was revealed about exactly who was involved. The first album to be released will be a recording of the night, featuring the sets by Yorke, 3D and Goldsworthy as well as a DVD recording of the poetry and dance performances that went on throughout the night. Funds will help finance the movement, not only in London but also all over the UK.

As everyone danced and had a good time I had the chance to speak to some people, in general the feeling was one of excitement, however the nearing court case listed for a December 19 start was at the forefront of everyone's minds. One protester, who has been out at St Paul's since the first day of occupation (October 15), expressed his fears about fair representation and certain 'elasticity' in the laws that might favour local businesses over the right to peacefully protest. He will be representing himself in court.

Another occupier seemed to feel more optimistic; she said she knew it would be hard but that she was proud of what they had achieved so far. Also out since October 15, she often does long shifts at the UBS building, which is open during the day as a community centre. I asked her about the authorities and whether they had tried to evict them from the building, 'I don't think they can really, not whilst the court case is going on' she answered. 'They have been quite understanding, we tell them they're more than welcome to come off duty but we'd rather they not come in on duty, you know?'

The level of organisation throughout the night was outstanding. Security was tight and the technical capacity exceptional. As 3D began his set, the crowd got to its feet and rushed to the front and suddenly I was no longer in the basement of an occupied building, but at a gig, arms in the air and with a jig under my feet. Clichéd as it may sound, there was a genuine sense of community here, kitchens open to everyone for a chat and a coffee, smoking areas crammed with people huddled together for warmth sharing ideas, and quizzing each other. I was welcomed with ease and proudly taken around and introduced to people with many stories to tell.

The next month and a half will be extremely busy for the occupy movement in the UK. Four albums are set to be released in quick succession, the radio station will be launched in full vigor, Occupy Everywhere will be underway and the court case on the 19th will decide the fate of the protestors camped out at St Paul's. But whatever happens next, the movement is optimistic that they are making a difference and are determined to do whatever it takes to continue to do so. 'We are the 99%', they chant, 'and the 99% will be heard'.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue