A socialist newspaper that was born at the struggle of the working class of Turkey: Evrensel
“The labour is universal” – The main slogan of a working class newspaper in Turkey. The Evrensel Newspaper (The Universal) is the daily newspaper of the working class and oppressed people of Turkey, which has been published for almost 21 years. We thought that there might be something that the Universal newspaper, the voice of the working class struggle of Turkey, would also tell the world working class and its workers.
A week ago, we conducted an interview with the Evrensel Newspaper Editor-in-Chief Fatih Polat on the story of the Evrensel Newspaper.
At such a time when the masses of laborers have come to the streets with a longing for a new world, when misery, terrorism, war, racism and reactionaryism have spread, the prospect of the working class press has increased a great deal.
We have asked Mr. Polat some questions as to what role the Evrensel played in the working class struggle from the first time it emerged as an idea.
THE RED PHOENIX: Could you tell us some of the history of “Evrensel?” How did it came into being and how was first developed? Why did you need a daily worker’s journal?
MR. POLAT: The original idea for the Evrensel Newspaper came to mind with the need for a daily newspaper to wake up in the labor and labor movement in Turkey. The actions initiated by the public sector workers in March, April and May 1989 did not only play a role in the labor movement but, also played a role in the recovery of the social opposition. These mass demonstrations passed into history as the ’89 Spring Actions. The government had to accept an average 140 percent hike for the first year following its actions that mentioned about 40 percent wage hike. While demonstrations and labor wages have increased significantly, this trend continued into the 1990 and 1991 collective bargaining agreements. In the course of the spring actions, workers drilled the prohibitions of the ’80 coup d’état by creative methods they themselves had developed.
Following the ’89 Spring Actions’, which is a serious source of motivation for the compilation of the social opposition, the resistance of the miners in Zonguldak in 1991, and the Ankara march has opened the gate of a new period when workers adopted themselves as a class after years from the military coup of September 12, 1980. The Weekly Gerçek magazine (The Truth), which started publishing in the early 1990s, also played an important role in the struggle for democracy in the country while trying to be the voice of workers and laborers. By the mid-1990s, the idea of the daily working class press emerged as an idea to respond the needs of the working class instead of a weekly news magazine.
The Evrensel Newspaper, which started publishing on June 7, 1995, was a newspaper that contains various intellectual sections of the left, who had worked in different newspapers, with people from the tradition of Gerçek Magazine. Celal Başlangıç was the first editor. The chief of foreign news service was Ertuğrul Kürkçü. Faik Bulut was the editor of the Middle East news. Can Yücel was among the authors of Evrensel. We were working with a staff close to 250 in total.
However, some people, except those of the Gerçek Tradition, were separated by histo-incompatibility and a number of reasons. Unfortunately, different names in the left could be in harmony with a newspaper. But it didn’t happen for that period.
Q: What challenges did you experience in developing a working-class daily newspaper under the conditions in Turkey?
A: First, serious financial difficulties. Because you are publishing with a modest budget, which consists of the savings of the workers. There is no capital support behind you because you would not have accepted them politically anyway. This, unfortunately, obliges newspaper’s employees to agree to live with a modest salary. Serious cost challenges, distribution company costs, and a number of other factors are affecting you. For instance, the serious rise of the dollar against the Turkish lira in this period is seriously affecting you negatively because you have not increased the price of the newspaper to force the laborers. We have been receiving official advertisements for the last 7 years. However, we can receive penalties even with the application to the Press Advertisement Agency for official advertisements via Erdogan’s lawyer through our news about him.
While the announcements with serious promotional qualities are given to the affiliated press institutions, the announcement law, with us, is almost established as a relationship between punishment and supervision.
Q: What role does the Evrensel play in organizing the economic and political struggle of the working class? In particular, what is the function of organizing the working class as a party for the struggle of power?
A: The Evrensel is a newspaper that carried hundreds of workers’ resistance in Turkey, small or large, in 1995. If talks for the collective bargaining agreement or strikes in many sectors have resulted in favor of the workers, then the role of Evrensel cannot be discussed. The Evrensel is also broadcasting in a way of raising the political consciousness of the workers, taking into account the workers’ most recent perceptual worlds. Of course, we are ultimately trying to broadcast as the daily press of the struggle of the working class for power. For this reason, we are the target of the attitudes stemming from the bosses, the state, and the union bureaucracy.
Q: Did you experience censorship or repression on the part of the Turkish state authorities? How did you overcome these attacks
A: Yes, we were closed twice. On January 8, 1996, our workmate, Metin Göktepe, was taken into police custody while he was on duty and was beaten and killed in Eyüp Sports Hall where he was taken. Metin Göktepe’s case was followed by journalists, press organizations, workers and laborers who had been informed by Metin. This was a victimized case in which police officers were sentenced to prison for the murder of a journalist murdered by police officers in Turkey. The struggle for the Metin Göktepe case has a special importance in a case in which journalists and organized groups of the people, together with the right to receive news, defend the right to receive news. In our 22 years of publishing, thousands of lawsuits have been filed without exaggeration. I have been judged many times. But none of this has led to the slightest leaning in the Universal publishing policy, it does not.
Q: On the basis of your experience, what advice would you give American Marxist-Leninists on following your example and creating a proletarian/labor press in the United States?
A: First of all, in addition to the professional journalists who work in the offices of the newspaper, they must establish a voluntary reporter network in all major factories and the health and education sector of the country to inform them regularly through the news. As a newspaper that can not do this can not be a working-class press, its claims about Marxism can not exceed office journalism. Another point is that the Evrensel morning meetings and the headline meetings are the only newspapers, I think, where journalists and administrators of newspapers in Turkey are joining together. If the tea-maker of the newspaper wants to join these meetings, s/he can join. Our aim is to be able to express collective control over the news in the newspaper, to express the will of the reporters in all the processes up to the news pages, and thus to interlock the street and the political unit. On the other hand, the Evrensel has an important opposition position in terms of the struggle for democracy in the country, the struggle for science, press and culture, and art. Today, 13 of people from academicians for peace are our authors. They were investigated or exported from their universities because they signed a statement expressing their desire for peace in Turkey.
Turgay Olcayto is the author of Evrensel, the chairman of the Journalists’ Association of Turkey, which has the largest number of journalists. The Chairman of the Turkish Journalists’ Trade Union, Gökhan Durmuş is the employee of Evrensel. Mustafa Köz, President of the Turkish Writers’ Union, is one of the authors of Evrensel. In addition, Evrensel is a newspaper in Turkey has translators and editors for Arabic as well as English, German, French, and Spanish, which make a page called ‘Last Week in Arabic Geography’. No other newspaper in Turkey does such a page. Internationalism has a very important place in the publication policy of Evrensel. We are following, closely, even the slightest glimpse of the world working class movement. The historical and up-to-date accumulation of Marxism constitutes an important historical background that feeds on Evrensel’s publication policy.
Q: Is there anything you want to add?
A: In order for a newspaper to be a ‘collective organizer’ as Lenin expresses, two essential elements must come together: To be able to achieve a suitable ideological accumulation and to be a newspaper with a real sense of the workers, fed by their letters and news.