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Author and sociologist Pınar Selek’s new novel Cümbüşçü Karıncalar has been published in the recent days. The novel takes place in Nice, which is the “refugee of exiles and artists” where Selek has been living for the last two years. The book in which displaced people, solidarity and resistance are narrated in a fabulous way has signs from Selek’s life.
Having been tried for 20 years despite four acquittal decisions due to the explosion that occurred at the Egyptian Bazaar in 1998 , Selek has been living away from Turkey since 2009.
We’ve talked with Selek about her studies in Europe, social movements in France, academy and literature.
You have been abroad for years. You first completed your doctorate at Strasbourg University in France. Would you tell us a bit about your life in there? What have you been doing?
I lived in Strasbourg for 2.5 years before Nice, and before that I lived in Berlin for a while. There is a huge difference between Germany and France. I was an invitee of a club in Germany and I wasn’t aware how much the exile would last, I thought that I would return after a few months. So, I wrote more in there, I wrote articles, I completed my novel Yolgeçen Hanı. I was together with the feminists and I was more in position of a guest. We were speaking in English. When I realized that the exile would last long, I came to France because I speak French. I realized that I had to stop being a guest. Therefore, I put an end to waiting but of course, I am still waiting to return to my country and my case to be concluded.
When I came to France, there were already committees of solidarity here. When I left Turkey, my feminist friends, anti-militarists and LGBTIs in Turkey sent a message to the groups here: “Don’t leave Pınar alone”. I came in 2012 and I found myself in a constant struggle as soon as I came.
I am an active member of several women’s organizations. We even formed a new organization in Nice. We are 20-25 people in Groupe Réflexion Action Feministe (GRAF). Other than that, I was in the board of a lesbian-feminist organization called La Lune. I was also active in organizations such as Femmes Pour le Dire Pour Agir, Le Planning Familiale. Here, Le Planning Familiale is as important as Mor Çatı (Purple Roof).It is the symbol of struggle for birth control and right to abortion in France. It is an association that is struggling for women’s sexual freedoms.
I met the magazine called Silence as soon as I came here and I am in the publication team of the magazine. It is an ecologist, libertarian, feminist, anti-violence and alternative magazine. It exists since 1982. We don’t work with a distribution company but we have 6 thousand subscribers. We sell at least 10 thousand a month. Our local ties are strong. It is a highly political magazine, is like a discussion base of social movements. In addition to that, I have two pages in the magazine called Rebelle-Santé. I am not a health worker but I work with patients.
Besides, I am in the central committee of Ligue de Droits de l’Homme, I was elected. I am very active in that as well. State of Emergency, Rums, gypsies and immigration issue are our priority issues.
When Europe has turned its borders into a fortress, immigration that has been existing for a long time has become a crisis and the immigrants have been criminalized. Against that the groups that are very different from each other have become partners, almost Christian organizations have been included in these platforms. Social movements here have come to a new stage. Such rapprochements occur under oppressive conditions and here, it has occurred against the injustice. Solidarity networks are very wide especially in the immigrants.
A new law concerning policies against the immigrants in France is being enacted and deliver very harsh precautions. It is like there are people who have human rights and some others don’t. So, there is a big struggle about it, we are trying to prevent this law from being enacted.
We’ve brought various organizations together by means of the GRAF and launched a campaign because women immigrants are not visible, they are not included in any demand. 54% of the immigrants are women but they are not in the picture. GRAF works a lot about this matter.
There are various organizations. I’ve spoken with over 500 women last month. Their passports were confiscated and they are employed at wealth people’s houses for 10 Euros a day, it is an actual slave market. And there is prostitution too, some are raped, some are sold on the way…Thus, the women are enmeshed when they take out. In a period in which economy has been globalized, gender is being reorganized in the most traditional form of division of labor and the oppressed are oppressed more. Wild capitalism uses war, weapons, everything. Even in France which is the paradise of social rights of a social state, these rights are drawn back by Macron. So, a new era in terms of a struggle for social rights has begun here.
Those who struggle against the new law, students, those who are organized through immigration..There is a widespread struggle against unnecessary and imposed projects as in Turkey. Wherever you go, you see people being locally organized. They buy land, sell seed, produce local money.
I feel a new era is beginning. Bridges have been established between different struggles. Everyone have turned their faces to each other, feminists are also very active in this. So, I really don’t have much time to get bored.
I had this concern when I was in Turkey that how can we form a new life by getting out of family, conventional law of inheritance? I had seen that in Germany as well but Longomai has become a part of my life since I’ve come to France.
Longomia is a big community that has been continuing since 1968 and that consists of more than 13 cooperatives; these are the spaces that remove money, family and where children can grow up freely.
So, I am both being a part of it and trying, I’m learning a lot. I am following the developments in Turkey but one should be active where he or she is living. Everything is connected to each other. Development of struggles supports struggles in the other side as well.
The social struggles are transnational, interborder now, not international or interstate. There is a constant link between our struggles.
I came from Romania yesterday. We talked about not our experiences only but our analysis with the feminists coming from Serbia, Ukraine, Bulgaria for three days. Experiences, concepts easily travel now. Transformation of a movement supports another one. The states don’t have to be a medium anymore to cross borders. I think, we’ve dug our own paths like ants.
In fact, my latest novel tells all these experiences in a bit of a fabulous way. There is a woman talking to a dog, there is a group called paranoids, then they decide to be schizophrenic. I narrated by means of images but there is no lie in it, what is told is what I see.
When you look from there, how do you see Turkey? In the context of social movements, I mean.
We are in a difficult period, I do not have to repeat the dimension of the difficulties. I still have a hope inside me, this hope stems from this: After the 1980s, a new period, a new wave started within social movements and this wave started with the feminist movement. In the past, it was the revolutionary left that used to determine the character of the social movements. Now, there has emerged a new repertoire, which has started with the feminist movement and continued with the anti-militarists, greens and LGBTI. This movement was born under the most repressive conditions. It was renewed when the politics went through the most difficult conditions.
I think that social movements in Turkey resemble flowers growing out of the concrete. The Kurdish movement also emerged, but it is something different, it is an armed movement, it can do it by creating its own opportunities. But under the conditions where violence was intense, a great number of anti-authoritarian, anti-violence movements emerged and grew strong. Also, they came up with tactics so as to sustain themselves and institutionalize and not to become targets…
It is important to have this experience. Moreover, a lot of people from Turkey unfortunately have gone abroad. But these are not long-term exits, there are many people who have returned to Turkey after 1-2 years. People go to a number of countries, there are some people who have gone to the Middle East or to the Balkans. This mobility of people is something which prevents them from being bounded by the boundaries of a single country. These people also get in contact with the social movements in those countries and become a part of the transboundary movement that I have previously talked about. Of course, I am not referring to the difficulties, there is no need to repeat them, they do not bring us anything.
You are currently working as a lecturer at Nice Sophia Antipolis. How is this period that you spend with students going for you? Is being a lecturer enjoyable?
I am currently working at the university because it is a job that allows me time in terms of working conditions. I do not think that I will stay at the university for the long term, albeit in France. I am thinking of creating new alternatives, I do not know how to do it. But the universities here are being privatized and meritocracy comes to the forefront. No matter how well I get on with the students, no matter how well the lectures go and even though we produce many things together, I do not think that there is a need for universities.
For instance, I am working with a public education cooperative here, called L’Orage. People are enrolled to the courses, but we actually do not give lessons, we create knowledge by thinking together. We talk about how the experiences of the oppressed can be turned into knowledge.
In the meantime, we do research with my colleagues. Universities in France are freer, we can progress by using the opportunities as we wish. However, there is a hierarchy. Students address me with the informal “you”, but addressing a professor in France with the informal “you” is impossible, there is a rigid hierarchy, its centralist structure is very strong. I do not care about it, but, after some time, I think whether I am the good cop.
I am not in a hurry. I am a sociologist, a researcher, an author. I like giving lectures, but I think that to create the way of lecturing together means to share the knowledge. However, the education system in France is open to criticism and I do not want to become integrated to it.
Another thing that I am curious about the social movements in France is the language issue. French is a very masculine language. It is a language where even human rights are usually referred to as “droits de l'homme” (men rights, when translated literally). Does the feminist movement in France struggle against it?
There is a great struggle over this issue, this struggle has intensified for the last year. Eliane Viennot has published a book entitled, “Non, le masculin ne l'emporte pas sur le féminin!” (No, the masculine does not prevail over the feminine!). It is not just that; this issue is extensively debated. The expression of “Mademoiselle” is not used anymore.
Just as you can understand from the language of someone whether he or she is oppositional in Turkey, for instance, when he or she says “I am from Turkey” instead of “I am Turkish,” you can understand it here from the language, as well. I mean, a culture has started to take shape.
The grammar of French used to be different, it was changed by a law enacted in the 15th century. According to the old language rules, for instance, when you said “Ali and Pınar,” since Pınar is at the end, the feminine pronoun of “elles” was used. When you said “Pınar and Ali,” since Ali is at the end, the masculine pronoun of “ils” was used. Then, the rule “Le masculin va emporter le feminin” (The masculine shall prevail over the feminine) was issued. It was a political decision.
All in all, the relation between language and politics is extensively debated in France, but the difficulty lies here: French is not like Turkish; this relation has penetrated into the language, the language has been damaged to the core. Therefore, it requires a long struggle, I mean, a very long struggle has to be waged instead of attaching patches to something damaged.
We know you thanks to your works in sociology. Apart from that, you also have novels and fairy tale books. You also continue your academic work in the academia. How do the two go together? How did you decide to write novels and fairy tales?
Before I started with my sociology education, I was interested in literature, I wrote poems, I placed in a story competition. I had many questions on my mind, I wanted to insert these questions into the system, I wanted to understand the society where I lived, I needed new keys. That is why, I studied sociology.
But creating is something else. If sociological studies are my friend, literature is my love. What makes me happy the most is to write novels, to take notes. Writing Cümbüşçü Karıncalar was my happiest moments. To me, it is like a game, it is something that you build yourself and you build it in an extremely special area.
For instance, I do everything in French here, I only do literature in Turkish. It is a very important thing. It is really me. It is as though that book is me, it feels like I took something from inside me.
I wrote the House of the Bosporus in Germany as soon as I left Turkey. It was normal that I wrote in Turkish. As for Cümbüşçü Kadınlar, it is a book that I wrote living and struggling here (in France). The book takes place not in Turkey, but in Nice; however, it is me who speaks, it is my heart which speaks. Therefore, the book is in Turkish.
Lastly, what do you want to do first when you come back to Turkey?
It is actually a question frequently asked. I guess, I want to walk for hours with my hands in my pockets. (ÇT/TK/SD)