Freedom in times of corona – An example from Turkey

The Turkish association beraberce has been running the “Hatırla! Remember!” project in partnership with the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association (DVV International) since 2019.

The project aims to take a multi-perspective look at and exert an influence on the Turkish culture of remembrance through international and intra-Turkish exchange. Due to the corona pandemic, the project had to be redesigned.

The year 2020 is undoubtedly marked by the corona pandemic. The pandemic reached Turkey too at the end of March. Cafés, restaurants and stores were closed; curfews were imposed at weekends, and educational institutions closed their doors, as did most civil society organisations. It cannot yet be predicted how many of the numerous civil society organisations in Turkey will survive the pandemic, or how civil society will develop in a “post-pandemic period”.

The Turkish association beraberce (Turkish for “together”) has been running the “Hatırla! Remember!” project in partnership with the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association (DVV International) since 2019. The project, which is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, aims to take a multi-perspective look at and exert an influence on the Turkish culture of remembrance through international and intra-Turkish exchange, and to promote pluralism and democracy in Turkey by strengthening and training civil society players, municipal representatives and adult educators. The project was originally planned to comprise numerous trips and to involve direct contact: The “XChange” programme was to involve a total of 40 activists from Turkey visiting various places of remembrance throughout the world, taking part in discussions and activities, and reporting on them later on in workshops. Various educational opportunities were also planned, including summer schools, academies, peace camps and democracy workshops.

Designing learning processes digitally

The pandemic led to a radical transformation of the activities and working methods of the beraberce association and its largest project “Remember!”. beraberce was one of the first NGOs in Turkey to provide online activities during the pandemic. The association converted all educational activities into online formats. This worked extremely well, and resulted in a great response from civil society and adult education. In addition to freedom, responsibility and dealing with the difficult past, topics such as the work of the Turkish transgender movement were likewise addressed.

An online workshop with Efruz Kaya was held on 15 June. Efruz Kaya is a transgender woman who had visited the NGO TransgenderNL in the Netherlands. She is a social worker and student of law, and reported on the work of TransgenderNL, comparing it with the transgender movement in Turkey. The workshop was held during Pride week, and thus also made a statement against growing homophobia.

The summer schools and academies form a central component of the project. These also follow the principles of participatory and transformative adult education in online mode, and are organised as collective learning processes. These processes contain interactive units in which the participants are actively involved in what is happening, shape their own learning processes, and also set the pace. The learning process is structured around a “provocative text” designed by beraberce, which works to convey both knowledge and contradiction, and subsequently provoke learning processes. The methods used include free association, digital brainstorming, a learning diary, group work, case studies, creative writing, role-plays, and many more.

The summer academy dealt with the topic of “Freedom in times of corona”. In order to initiate the learning process, the following questions and statements, among others, were asked: “Does freedom have limits? Individual freedoms and social necessities”, “A new concept of freedom – freedom does not come about through struggle, but by living it”.

Attendee at the summer academy, 29 years old, teacher:
“I have been thinking a lot about freedom in the last few days. I owe that to the summer academy of beraberce. In this process, the academy has moved me to understand freedom. We have always tried to understand freedom within certain limits, but freedom has never stayed within these limits, and has escaped from them. It was very difficult to put freedom into words; we became confused. I have learned to understand the different circumstances of freedom and the universal. One does not think so much in other circumstances, since there is always a certain hierarchy and order in educational programmes. We usually do not allow our thoughts to become confused, and we are not encouraged to reflect. I am very glad that we had this freedom here.”

Using new opportunities to strengthen civil society

The pandemic gives us the opportunity to rethink previous working practices. Does it really make sense to always organise international exchange as a physical exchange? Can humanity afford to travel around the world on low-cost airlines for any occasion? The pandemic has forced us to look for new ways to discuss and share knowledge. It can be assumed that the pandemic will change the ways in which we work and live our everyday lives in the long term. This also applies to places of remembrance and museums, which will probably increasingly offer online exhibitions and virtual tours that can be visited independently of real space and institutional timeframes.

These and other illustrations were created as part of the project and commemorate various events in recent history.

Even if the lack of direct social contact is (still) difficult to overcome, stepping into virtual communication also opens up great opportunities. This meant that the training courses were attended not only by interested people from all over Turkey, but also by people from France, Syria, Spain and Germany. Each further training activity is now basically a supra-regional, and even an international one; participation is determined by language.

Furthermore, online educational activities offer a certain anonymity which facilitates discussions and expressions of deviating opinions. While each classroom event is subject to social control, online education can be organised in such a way that discussions can be conducted anonymously. In this respect, the switch to the virtual world offers great opportunities, especially for civic education with multipliers, and can generate greater impact with relatively few resources.

Most of the project will take place online until the end of 2020, and this will continue into 2021. In doing so, beraberce and DVV International would like to build on the positive experiences of the last few months, and to reach even more civil society players through the newly-gained possibility of digital communication in order to further advance the process of democratisation in Turkey, despite the adversities caused by the corona pandemic.

Video podcast with Ayse Öktem, Director of beraberce: New opportunities for civil society arising from the Corona pandemic.

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