What Thatcher told me about Turkey

What Thatcher told me about Turkey

The year was 1982. I was in London for business. While I was in my hotel room, the phone rang. It was former governor and former director general of public security Celalettin Tüfekçi calling. “We are here for a congress of the Union of Middle Classes. Mrs. Thatcher has invited the congress participants for tea. You should also come with us,” he told me.

I did not believe I would be attending a reception hosted by Thatcher, more precisely I did not believe Thatcher would attend the event, but I told him I would come. I met Celalettin Tüfekçi; we went to the address written on the invitation.

The reception was on the first floor of a building close to the palace. About 50-55 people from various European countries were standing in the hall. They gave me a name tag with “Turkey” and my name written on it.

While we were having our drinks standing, Mrs. Thatcher arrived. She shook hands with everybody. While she was doing so, she said a few words. When she came close by, I stepped up, introduced myself and told her I was from Turkey. She held my arm, pulled me aside. I was baffled. She said the following in general terms:
- I am very interested in Turkey. Developments in Turkey are positive, aren’t they?

- It was good that the military intervened; Evren is accepted by the Turkish public, isn’t he?

- Turgut Özal is a very talented statesman. It is very good that he is in charge of the economy, right?

- The practices of Özal (Özal was not the prime minister then but he was in charge of economy since Jan 24) are very successful, aren’t they?

- In Turkey, State Economic Enterprises (KİT) exert a huge load on the economy, don’t they?

I was very impressed by Thatcher’s knowledge and interest in Turkey, her trust and admiration for Turgut Özal, her approval of the military move and above all her style of speaking, where she appeared to be asking questions but was imposing her own views.

I cannot say I talked to Thatcher. She talked to me. I was only listening in surprise. When she was leaving, I watched her go. She got into a Jaguar with an official accompanying her. There was a small police car following her vehicle. That’s all.

When I returned to Turkey, I wrote about this encounter at length. Maybe because of this coincidence, I have always been under the influence of Thatcher. Whatever she did, I liked “in general terms.” I believe she did good things for her country. For this reason, this piece is not a neutral one.

What did Thatcher do?

The British economy had the most outdated enterprises with the lowest productivity in Europe. What did Thatcher do? She made a colossal change. She transformed Europe’s most statist economy into the most liberal economy. She turned the weakest economy in Europe into the strongest one.

- She minimized government intervention in the economy.

- She tried to make the government limit its efforts to setting targets in fiscal policies and monetary policies and meeting these targets.

- She broke the strength of trade unions.

- She lowered tax rates.

- She encouraged the closure, the collapse of any kind of business (be it public or private sector) that was unproductive and loss-making.

- She directed privatizations.

- She encouraged savings.

As a result of all these, productivity increased in the British industry and economy. British products became capable of competing in world markets; industrial capacity based on advanced technology in the UK grew.

Güngör Uras is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece was published on April 10. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

GÜNGÖR URAS - guras@milliyet.com.tr