Turkey must save itself first

Turkey must save itself first

Modesty is a virtue. Vainglory on the other hand is not. As for praise, it is better when it comes from others, because self-praise reflects arrogance that is often not justified.

There is an unhealthy and disconcerting attitude of defiant denigration of the West in general, and the EU in particular, while boasting about Turkey’s supposed economic successes, which has entered the highest levels of the Turkish state and government.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is on record belittling the EU as a union that is in “total disarray and crumbling.” President Abdullah Gül’s recent remarks, in which he pointed to the current crisis in Europe and suggested while Turkey is moving ahead the EU is in a “miserable” state, is still reverberating in Brussels.

EU Minister Egemen Bağış, for his part, uses every opportunity to hit at Europe while suggesting “Turkey will be the EU’s salvation,” a highly questionable claim that was repeated only the other day by the Co-Chairman of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission Afif Demirkan.

Finally, we had Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan claiming during last week’s visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that Turkey will be the real economic winner this century and not the U.S. or Europe, indicating that in this world it is “the fast fish and not the big one” that wins. Biden was of course quick to point out his country may be in economic crisis but is 3.5 times larger than the next largest economy and greater than all of the four next largest economies, adding the U.S. is still “a whale in a sea of sharks.”

As a Turk I of course have no intention of belittling the progress Turkey has made over the past decades. It is clear a totally new Turkey has emerged compared to what it was 20 years ago. It is also a fact the country has a wealth in natural and human resources that will push it even further. These are things to be proud of.

But one must not look at the progress made over the past decade and get captivated by an unjustified vainglory that suggests Turkey has “made it” and it will be easy coasting after this. The truth is we are not there yet and have much yet to do.

Compared to Middle Eastern countries, Turkey may be years ahead in terms of its democracy and economy. But, measured against developed countries of the West, the real picture emerges clearer.

According to this measure Turkey is still a developing country in essence, as opposed to being a developed country in terms of its social, political and economic infrastructure.

Put another way, Europe and the U.S. will inevitably recover and continue on their paths after the current crisis is over, for all the pain it may have caused millions who have to seriously tighten their belts now and see a drop in their standard of living. When it comes to Turkey, though, it is still in the process of building and consolidating its modern social, political and economic infrastructure despite its economic successes.

Neither does the argument that Turkey is the 17th largest economy in the world do away with the fact the country still has a long way to go in terms of its economic and social development. We are still grappling with issues to do with corruption, social and gender inequality, exploitation of labor, the unequal distribution of wealth and unequal opportunities in health and education, etc.

The poverty in many parts of Anatolia, on the other hand, still stands out. Looking at these it seems Turkey has to save itself first before it can save others, let alone the developed countries of the West. So, a little modesty would serve us better.