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The main street of Antalya, Turkey is flooded with children dressed in red and white, or in the case of the very young, costumes to fit their imaginings.  Middle School units set the pace with drum corps; young and old are hawking the national flag to accompany the spontaneous ebullience of the moment or to sign approval of the latest exhortatory speech.

Antalya Drums on Children's Day

Of course this isn’t a children’s day with centuries of tradition, purely to celebrate the sweetness and aspirations of the young, as in Japan. It was created by modern Turkey’s founder, Kemal Ataturk, who combined it with commemoration of the opening of the first Assembly after Independence from its post WW I occupiers, England, France and Italy.

Though attaching itself to UNESCO’s Year of the Child in 1979 and urging other countries to join the Day of the Child, it remains from its conception, a political –not to say indoctrination– patriotic celebration.

Following the 1980 General’s Coup the gatherings were guided from the streets into large stadiums for more concentrated “enthusiasm.” According to reports of a recently passed law, today will be the last such stadium celebrations.

April 23 celebrations, which mark National Sovereignty and Children’s Day, are being held in stadiums for the last time today as part of new regulations on national day celebrations, the Sabah daily reported on Sunday.

In January the Ministry of Education cancelled festivities for May 19, the anniversary of the beginning of the War of Independence, in stadiums, citing disruptions in education. Following this decision, the presidency held meetings attended by officials representing various ministries to discuss the introduction of new regulations to all national day celebrations.

A consensus was reached to change the law that governs all national celebrations to get rid of what are widely considered totalitarian rituals introduced during the 1980s junta, to generate a more peaceful and civilian atmosphere during the celebrations.

Today’s Zaman

Everywhere we turn we are quite struck by the Turkish people –in the process of becoming a nation they have not yet been.  The push and pull of secular vs Islam, or Ataturk’s legacy vs the claims of now are sometimes pubic and visible, more often subtle and only lightly marked changes of attitude.  We often see a daringly dressed young woman holding hands with her modestly covered mother, laughing and strolling down the wide pedestrian avenues, or fully covered women pushing strollers with a child dressed like any western kid, pacifier included.

Whether the move to return the neo-authoritarian stadium rallies to more spontaneous and decentralized celebrations is an honest one, carried out by representatives aware of the dangers of mass events, or is a move to weaken the ties of secular patriotism to eventually be replaced by religious enthusiasm and a return to the stadiums won’t be known for another election cycle or two.  But, at least we see a grappling with the reality of mass events and the dangers inherent in them.

When, in the United States, will there be a discussion, much less laws passed, about our mix of patriotic praise of military might with large sporting events?

Flags for Sale