‘Where is that bridge-guy? Come quickly, quickly!’
Those words were uttered during the ceremony to lay the foundations of the third bridge over the Bosphorus. It was only May 29 of last year, but it feels like a very long time ago. Too many things have changed in Turkey since then.
The Gezi protests started two days after the ceremony and things have been speeding up ever since. The Fed’s tapering was just a cruel reality test for all of us in mid-December. The graft probe was the final straw. The country’s elite is in permanent shock and Turkey’s political landscape has changed drastically since. But I still remember a scene from that now long-forgotten past of ours, one that encapsulates the meaning of doing business in Turkey for Turks and foreigners alike. It goes to show why Turkey has not been able to break free of the middle-income trap in the last 10 to 20 years. Why is the country trapped in mediocrity? If you’re looking for something to learn about the rule of law in Turkey, just watch the video of that scene and read my transcripts today. It should all still be legal.
It is just an ordinary opening ceremony. The video of the event was still on YouTube the last time I checked, but you never know these days with the new Internet censorship regime that the government is trying to establish, mostly in vain. Anyways, you can find the video by googling the words “köprücü gelsin quickly quickly” and that is where the title of this piece is coming from: “Where is that bridge guy? Come quickly, quickly.”
Let me start with the opening scene. It was at the end of the opening ceremony. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asks for President Abdullah Gül’s permission for an impromptu change to the program. He said he would like to engage in new bargaining with the contractors, right there on the podium. He said that though the financial part was over, he did not like the idea of a three-year construction period. He asked the contractors to finish the job in two years. Not in 2016, but in 2015. Just on the podium. That’s when he said the words. “Where is that bridge guy? Come, quickly, quickly.” He was talking about the Hyundai representative, since it is Koreans who are responsible for building the bridge itself. Then the Turkish, Italian and Korean contractors were brought to the podium. Erdoğan reiterated his wish. What could they say? The Turks just said, “Yes, prime minister.” The Italian and Koreans were visibly confused. Erdoğan tried to reassure them that he would “make things easier for you, if you work not 12 hours a day but 24 hours,” as if that doesn’t change the financial estimations. Just like that. There is the rule of law à la Turca for you.
It was like a Fellini film. Surreal. There is a contract, but there is no contract. There is a legal framework, but there is also no legal framework. All parties knew that what they were doing on the podium was a breach of the contract, but they did it anyway. Not only that, people were laughing. No one appeared to be angry with this fait accompli. It was a farce, if I’ve ever seen one. Marx said it so many years ago: the first time is a tragedy, the second time is a farce. A farce in that long-forgotten day in the distant past. It is a moment in time capturing the “doing business” environment before the country turned upside-down. Now we have graft probes and tactical preventive measures, like the new law for the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). But for how long?