Winds of change in bosses club, too

Winds of change in bosses club, too

Opening another hundred universities may not be enough to foster innovative ideas, if you don’t have an atmosphere of freedom,” said Dr. Gökhan Hotamışlıgil, as he received the 2013 success award of the Koç Foundation on the evening of Feb. 25 in Istanbul. The hall interrupted his speech with applause.

Heading the Genetic and Complex Diseases Department of Harvard University’s medical school, Hotamışligil is working on a single gene that could be responsible for both Type-2 diabetes and obesity.
The result could be an incredible cure, and perhaps even bring him a Nobel prize. He believes that it would be much more difficult for him to carry out the same studies in the rather bureaucratic atmosphere of Turkish universities, if he had stayed in Turkey. However, the point is that Koç is Turkey’s biggest, and rather conservative, group of companies. The audience there giving such credit to a talk on freedom could not even have been imagined just 10 years ago.

Next morning, Feb. 26, there was a press conference, again in Istanbul, where the new head of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD), Muharrem Yılmaz, presented his new team and program to the press. With some 600 members, representing 4,500 companies, 55 percent of the added value to the Turkish economy, 55 percent of employment in the private sector, 80 percent of exports, and nearly all imports (other than energy), TÜSİAD is the “bosses club” of Turkey, no doubt about it. However, it has been engaged in a polemic with the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan for the last few years, not only over economic matters but on political issues as well. This is the reason why Yılmaz, a diary products producer from the Western Anatolian city of Bursa, with his diplomatic stance, is seen as a compromise solution between the bosses and the government.

Yılmaz has not only enlisted a Kurdish origin businessman from the town of Cizre, bordering both Iraq and Syria, but has also given full support to Erdoğan’s initiative to start dialogue with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in order to find a peaceful solution to Turkey’s painful Kurdish problem. He has also lent full support to the parliamentary initiative by all four parties to write a new and hopefully more democratic Constitution for the country.

That support does not have much to do with TÜSİAD’s wish not to get into another war of words with the government; they would probably find a way for their voices to be heard by the government anyway. It does, however, have much to do with the general political atmosphere of the country. If this were not the case, the club of bosses would not compromise their rather centrist and conservative traditional line, which has actually started to change toward a more liberal society in the last 10 years or so. Tarkan Kadooğlu, the new Kurdish origin member of the TÜSİAD board, who is also the youngest, said in yesterday’s press conference that if Kurdish peace was a “wedding,” then the business community would happily give the “wedding gifts.”

“We no longer want to compromise democracy for welfare, nor welfare for democracy,” said Yılmaz. “We know that Turkey needs both at the same time.”