'Standing man' sparks a static social revolution


In a public square that has seen so much hostile protest recently, the sight of a man simply standing still, silently staring ahead, was unremarkable at first.

But the mute, non-violent form of protest started by choreographer Erdem Gunduz in Istanbul's Taksim Square soon gained its own momentum, as even the authorities accepted that standing silently could hardly be described as illegal activity.

Gunduz, swiftly dubbed the "standing man" on social media, now has sparked a following across Turkey as hundreds of others follow his lead to take, quite literally, a stand against the government.

Gunduz's protest began on Monday, shortly after Turkish police had used tear gas and water cannon to clear both the square and the adjoining Gezi Park of demonstrators and slapped a ban on public gatherings in the area.

The square had been the scene of violent clashes between police and anti-government protesters in recent weeks, after a police crackdown on a peaceful protest against plans to redevelop the park spiralled into nationwide demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, which has Islamic origins.

As night was falling on Monday, Gunduz took up his position in the middle of the square, facing a portrait of the revered founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, that hung from the top of the old cultural centre.

Eight hours on, he was still there, with his hands in his pockets and a bag and some bottles of water at his feet.

At first some were baffled by his actions, or lack of them. One man was seen posing for a photograph with him.

Police also were confused, and at one point tried to prod a response out of him. Gunduz remained still and ignored them. He did move once, to unbutton his pants in case the police wanted to strip search him.

But slowly, word spread online and others began to join what Gunduz later described to the BBC as an act of "silent resistance".

On Twitter, the hashtags #standingman and #duranadam (Turkish for "standing man") began to circulate, and hundreds of people approached the square to see for themselves.

By 2am on Tuesday, about 300 people had joined Gunduz's silent protest in the square.

For a time, the authorities left them alone. Some officers even took photographs.

But the police then moved in, arresting 10 people when they refused police orders to move on.

By Tuesday, similar vigils had been staged in other parts of Istanbul and beyond, including in the capital Ankara, and the city of Izmir on the Aegean coast.

Turkey's interior minister said on Tuesday that the authorities would not interfere in the protest unless it "breaks public order".

A ship's captain named Onur, 35, was one of the few standing protesters who agreed to break his silence.

"I don't think this act will change the government," he said. "I wish it would change the views of people who blindly support them."

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the "standing man" protests were "civilised," but warned against the possible health hazards of standing for too long.

"We should encourage such protests within the law," he said. "However, I think they should stand for five minutes and then go to their work or school in the sixth minute. Eight hours is too long."


This story 'Standing man' sparks a static social revolution first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.