The national carrier’s dislike of alcoholic drinks
President Abdullah Gül, by accommodating a packed delegation of businesspeople in his international travels, is trying to create an opportunity to develop economic-commercial relations with the host countries.
Actually, this is a tradition that was launched by former President Turgut Özal and continued by former President Süleyman Demirel.
In his latest trip to Latvia and Lithuania, Gül maintained this tradition, while a “first” was also experienced. This first was that MÜSİAD, Turkey’s Independent Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association, undertook the organization of the businesspeople delegation’s contacts in the host countries for the first time. In the president’s previous trips, these contacts were organized by the umbrella organization in the field, the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK) of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB).
Meanwhile, in this trip, I also came across an interesting practice that goes parallel with MÜSİAD’s involvement. Alcoholic beverages in the Turkish Airlines (THY) flight were served only optionally. The trolley bringing the food and beverages did not contain any alcoholic drinks; if passengers asked for alcohol, the stewardess brought it.
Over the last three years I have been travelling with the president on a number of trips, and I remember seeing alcoholic drinks on the service trolley. When asked, the officials President’s Office said this was not their practice, but rather a practice of THY.
An extension of this conservative theme took me inside the glasses last Tuesday evening, when toasts were proposed during the dinner given by Latvian President Andris Berzins in honor of President Gül and his wife Hayrünnisa Gül. It was birch tree juice inside the glasses.
On the second leg of the trip, in Lithuania, there was a different practice at the dinner of the female president of the host country, President Dalia Grybauskaite, for the Gül couple. After the speeches, when it was time for toasts, those who wanted to had white wine in their glasses; others had fruit juice.
There is a connection between the opera community in Riga and Turkey. THY, which has drawn criticism because of its gradually introduced alcoholic drinks restrictions, is the official sponsor of the Latvian National Opera.
THY’s opera sponsorship is only one of the examples of Turkey’s presence in the Baltic region. When the president’s plane landed in Riga, the plane staircase had the brand “HAVAŞ” written on it. A Turkish company also provides ground services. Likewise, all commercial activities of the Riga International Airport are conducted by another Turkish firm, TAV, which has become a global brand in its field.
A significant visit on the Latvian leg of the trip was the combined cycle plant building by one of Turkey’s outstanding contractors, Gama. The 320 million power plant was built in three years and will meet 18 percent of Latvia’s total energy needs.
During the official dinner given in honor of the Gül couple, while guests were introduced one by one according to protocol, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite had small chats with each guest, sharing jokes about their jobs and professions. An interesting moment came when some Turkish journalists were introduced to her. At that moment, the Lithuanian president pointed to Gül and asked, “Are you criticizing him?” before adding, “This is your duty.”
Was this irony, hinting at the troubles being experienced in Turkey in the field of media freedom? Or was the president of the host country simply joking? It was not very clear.
Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on April 5. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.