The Great Purge in Turkish economic policymaking

The Great Purge in Turkish economic policymaking

During the Great Purge from 1936 to 1939, many Soviet officials were summarily executed or sent to Gulag labor camps, as portrayed in Nikita Mikhalkov’s Oscar-winning movie “Burnt by the Sun.” A similar purge has gathered pace in Turkish economic policymaking.

It has been a tradition in Turkish bureaucracy that high-ranking officials are replaced when a new party comes to power. Since it is difficult to fire state employees, the unwanted are passivized in positions without any authority. The Justice of Development Party (AKP), ruling Turkey since 2002, followed the ritual.

ATM bureaucrats, so called because their only job is to get their paycheck, were common in Ankara in 2005, when I returned to Turkey to work at the Ankara think tank TEPAV. One of our senior managers used to be one of the top guys at the Treasury before the AKP and was still officially employed there. His work with us was tolerated in return for not showing up at the Treasury to stir things up.

The mid-level managers and those below were usually tolerated for a while – until the AKP’s boys gained enough experience. A good friend continued his work in the Treasury for several years before he was assigned to a foreign post a couple of years ago after being summarily told by the undersecretary that they did not want to work with him anymore.

Another important development has been Gezi. Supporting the protests seems to have led to being blacklisted. Scores of people in the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund were abruptly dismissed during the summer. The purge has even hit the Central Bank, the ivy tower of economic policymaking.

Connected economists have been brought to top positions, and deserving candidates laid off, at the Bank for the past several years – a friend quit after he saw no prospects for advancement; he is now happily married and on a fast-track career path at the IMF. Several employees were recently charged with things like giving clandestine information to prostitutes (or transvestites in the case of a female worker) or using drugs. All were Gezi supporters.

An interesting case is the exchange Borsa Istanbul (BIST): The organization used to have 450 employees two years ago. They fired (or persuaded to quit) 200-250 since then. They now have a workforce of 650. So how many people did they hire during this time? I could tell you how the upper positions are filled by BIST’s chairman, but I am not in the mood for getting sued.

Since it was recently turned into a corporation, BIST does not face the same constraints as state firms on firing workers. Therefore, the most recent purged managers were, unlike the previous batch, not offered adviser positions. One was told to leave right away a Friday afternoon after two decades of service. Another was first exiled to a basement office with no windows and subjected to mobbing.

A comparable purge is probably going on in the rest of the bureaucracy as well. I only know the economic policymaking part, which could as well be just the tip of the iceberg.