Turkey is losing hope

Turkey is losing hope

Nobody in Turkey talks about the “2023 targets” anymore. Remember the days when Turkey had an ambitious but achievable plan? I do. I found 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 called them a strategic vision. If you ask me, they were just a bunch of numbers – targets for per capita GDP, exports, etc. to be completed by 2023, the centenary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey. But the mindset for setting targets to transform the country quickly created positive spillovers, as institutions such as the Education Ministry, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK), and the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Organization (KOSGEB) started deliberating their own visions 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 eight 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.

Turkey’s 2015 GDP figures were announced on March 31. Turkey’s per capita GDP in 2015 was $9,150. It was around $1,500 in 1980. Then it increased to around $3,000 around 2002. By 2010 we had reached the $10,000 threshold. That was a proud moment. At that point, the per capita GDP target for 2023 was set at $25,000. We have since dropped back below $10,000 after being stuck there for four years. Whatever came with exchange rate appreciation has now 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 quite hard to put a finger on the exact breaking point, but I think things started gradually deteriorating after the 2010 referendum on constitutional amendments. Turkey was a more civil country back then. There was at least some hope in the air. Alas, today’s Turkey 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 out of the armed insurgency.

Support for reconciliation was above 60 percent back then. No matter its deficiencies, I think the process was a great success for a period of time. After all, Turkey molded a civilian representative entity out of the insurgency to talk to. Now look at where we are. Aleppo-esque scenes in Cizre and Diyarbakır! 

So is this the end of the story for Turkey? I don’t think so. But I confess that it’s all rather heartbreaking.

Within the span of a few years, we were lifted up to high hopes, only to be brought back down to the crushing weight of war. Turkey’s spotlight is fading into a faint glimmer and people are losing confidence in the country’s future. In the past, the EU was a beacon of hope for Turkey, but it no longer seems to have enough hope even for itself, let alone to export to us. It was only the refugee crisis that recently forced the EU to regain interest in Turkey. That’s at least a start, if we can use it.