The upcoming annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, scheduled for October 6-8 in Istanbul, is managing to bring right and left political forces in Turkey together.
Already, a shoe was tossed at IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn during an October 1 appearance at Bilgi University in Istanbul. But that may be just a preview of larger-scale mischief to come during the meeting itself. A veritable rainbow of political forces and interest groups are planning to air their views in a variety of creative ways when IMF meeting participants are in town.
The approach of the IMF annual meeting has had a surprisingly strong unifying effect in Turkey. For instance, the conservative Nationalist CHP party finds itself in an alliance with the Turkish Communist Party (TKP) under the banner of an ad hoc coalition, dubbed "the Union Against the IMF and World Bank."
Elsewhere, socialist and radical groups have joined forces in recent months to plot strategies for protests against international financial institutions. These protests will not aim to bring about a shift in the IMF's and World Bank's practices, but to raise awareness among Turks about the influence of global lenders on the Turkish economy.
"People know the IMF is not good, but not why," suggested one anarchist protest plotter, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We need to first explain why we are against the IMF and then why the people should be against them too."
The IMF's mission statement says the organization seeks to "foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty."
Protest organizers, however, perceive the IMF as fostering economic stratification in Istanbul and elsewhere. They have dubbed some of the IMF's past initiatives in Turkey as "gentrification programs" that have forced poorer Turks out of some central Istanbul neighborhoods to make way for redevelopment.
Even though he is the ostensible host of the gathering, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have had misgivings about dealing with the IMF since his 2007 reelection. Over the last decade, a period that encompasses Erdogan's entire tenure in office, Turkey has been the IMF's biggest client, borrowing roughly $43 billion.
But as Turkey tries to claw its way out of the financial hole created by 2008's global financial meltdown, Erdogan's government has appeared reluctant to take out new loans. He evidently does not want to be constrained by IMF austerity mandates that would be attached to any loan package. In addition, Erdogan's desire for Turkey to play the role of regional economic and political power is motivating him to keep international lenders at arm's length.
As some groups plan the final touches of their upcoming protest actions, they are taking extensive precautions to evade detection. The anarchist leader, for example, said that at any gathering, participants leave their mobile phones outside the room so that security services can't use them to eavesdrop on conversations. In arranging to meet a EurasiaNet correspondent, the anarchist leader insisted that an interview not take place near his home or the group's office. Instead, he chose an ironic meeting point -- outside the Benetton store on Istanbul's busy shopping thoroughfare of Istiklal Caddesi.
Jonathan Lewis is a freelance reporter and photographer based in Istanbul.
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