Turkey is a country with extreme social differences. If the inflation rate rises, the lira tumbles and price stickers in supermarkets are rewritten daily, which means those who already have little can afford less and less. The current currency crisis is making the poor even poorer. But it will not spare the rich for long, because many have long been financing their lifestyles or their company on credit, with cheap loans in euros and dollars, which are now becoming prohibitively expensive.
Turkey is also a country with its share of experience when it comes to crises, and solidarity is usually high in times of need. But this crisis will not unite the country, it will divide it even more deeply. After the recent lira crash — the biggest fall the currency has had on a single day for 20 years — Turkey is not only in a difficult financial situation. The crisis will become a political test for the new, already highly controversial presidential system that Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tailored for himself.
Contradiction and opposition are absent in the new Turkish system, and yet, the emergency already makes the first cracks appear, in the form of a family argument: Erdogan says that the interest rates must be further lowered, something that hardly any expert would recommend in a fight against inflation. On the other hand, the Turkish president’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, now the country’s finance minister, emphasises the independence of the Turkish central bank, which alone decides on the level of interest rates.
Erdogan’s great promise was that the Turkish people could live in prosperity as long as they were hard-working and kept him in charge. For a long time, he kept this promise. Incomes kept on rising, as did pensions and the minimum wage. But now, the escalator is no longer leading only upwards. Memories of 2001 come back to mind. That year, Turkey suffered its worst economic crisis since its foundation, with inflation shooting up to almost 70 per cent. We’re far from reaching those levels, so far. But the 2001 crisis was not only economic, it also showed the failure of the political system. Indeed, that is what eventually brought Erdogan to power. That’s why he won’t like recalling that memory.
Bad luck for Turkey, it has messed with United States President Donald Trump, which makes it absolutely impossible to predict how this dramatic situation will play out. Strength, pride and prejudice — these are words that the US president appreciates as much as Erdogan. Mutual mistrust has been weighing on relations between Ankara and Washington for some time, and the Syrian war has made things worse.
So did the failed coup attempt of July 2016. Since then, Erdogan has consistently accused the US of being partly responsible because of its hosting preacher Fethullah Gulen. That is why Turkey has imprisoned an American pastor, whose release Trump is trying to force by all means. True, the attempted coup was and remains a mysterious and strange event, which makes conspiracy theories flourish. But that doesn’t change the fact that we now have two Nato partners who trust each other so much they believe the other capable of any extreme of nastiness. How this will end is anybody’s guess.
— Worldcrunch, 2018, in partnership with Suddeutsche Zeitung/New York Times News Service
Christiane Schlotzer is deputy head of department of reportage at Suddeutsche Zeitung.