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    Turkey is losing hope

    Güven Sak, PhD02 April 2016 - Okunma Sayısı: 1595

    Nobody in Turkey talks about the 2023 targets anymore. Remember the days when Turkey had an ambitious, but doable plan? I do. I had much to criticize back then, but at least there were policies to criticize. Looking back, I kind of miss those days.

    Some called the 2023 targets a program; others named it a strategic vision. They were just a bunch of numbers, if you ask me – targets for per capita GDP, exports and what have you, to be completed by 2023, the centennial of the Republic of Turkey. But the mindset for setting targets to transform the country quickly created positive spillovers, as institutions such as Ministry of Education, TÜBİTAK and KOSGEB started deliberating on their own visions in order to contribute to these greater goals.

    Setting targets is useful for a country where there is no national policy coordination unit. But for targets to work, they need to be taken seriously. For that to happen, they have to be repeated through official documents and statements, over and over again. That does not happen in Turkey any more. We now have only 8 more years to go before the centennial, and instead of pushing the targets more, we are quietly forgetting about them. Turkey’s 62nd Government Program, published in September 2014, made reference to the year 2023 nearly 60 times. However, the latest Government Program unveiled in November 2015, refers to 2023 only 10 times. Coincidence? I think not. It’s high time that we start discussing what went wrong with the 2023 targets. Were the targets misidentified, or did we simply fail to execute the roadmap? If we don’t want to lose another five years chasing ghosts, we need to think seriously about these questions.

    The 2015 GDP figures were announced last Thursday. Turkey’s per capita GDP for 2015 is now set at $9,150. It was around $1,500 in 1980. Then it increased to around $3,000 around 2002. By 2010, we had reached 10,000 threshold. That was a proud moment. There and then, the per capita GDP target for 2023 was set at $25,000. But we have since dropped back south of $10,000, after having stayed there for six years. Whatever came with exchange rate appreciation has gone with the recent 40 percent depreciation. The transformation programs also fell short of delivering results towards the 2023 targets.

    If you ask me, Turkey has been losing its ambition to become a better country for some time now. It’s rather hard to put a finger on the exact breaking point, but I think things started gradually deteriorating after the 2010 referendum for constitutional amendments. Turkey was a more civil country back then. There was at least some hope in the air. Alas, Turkey today is now a joyless place.

    When we were imagining a Turkey with $25,000 per capita GDP, the Kurdish reconciliation process was still going at full speed. Its objective was to create a civilian body representative of the insurgency. Support for reconciliation was above 60 percent back then. No matter its deficiencies, the process was a great success, if you ask me. Turkey molded a civilian representative entity out of the insurgency to talk to at then end of the day. Yet look at where we are now. Aleppo-esque scenes in Cizre and Diyarbakır!

    So is this the end of the story for Turkey? I do not think so. But I confess that it’s all rather heartbreaking. Within a span of a few years, we were lifted up to high hopes, only to be brought back to the crushing weight of war. Turkey’s spotlight is fading into a faint glimmer and the people are losing confidence in the country’s future. In the past, the EU has been a beacon of hope for Turkey, but it no longer seems to have enough hope for itself, much less any to export to us. It was only the refugee crisis that forced the EU’s hand to regain interest in Turkey. That’s a start, if we can use it.

    This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 02.04.2016