|Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to win |
a third term in Sunday's election.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to win a third term in Sunday's election. His hunger for power may be bad for Turkey's democracy, but he has helped transform the country into an economic powerhouse. The once-promised EU membership seems increasingly irrelevant for the rising power.
Erdogan has achieved a lot. He has taken the fight out of Turkey's powerful military brass, demoralized the secular elites and straightened out the cotton kings and concrete tycoons who once amicably divided up the country with the generals. He has built up Turkey, traditionally a country of coups and crises, into a regional power. He is taken seriously as an important player in London and Washington, just as he is in Riyadh and Beijing. And even Israel -- with whom he has picked fights, much to the delight of Arabs -- follows his every step with great attention. Erdogan has provided the Turks, even those who can't stand him, with a self-confidence they lacked before.
The Ottoman Empire was once known as the "Sick Man on the Bosporus," but today's Turkey looks very healthy indeed. After eight years of Erdogan, it is much richer and more modern than the poor country that applied to join what was then known as the European Community more than 20 years ago. Its economy is growing three times as fast as those of other European countries. Driving from the western part of Turkey into the eastern provinces of Bulgaria and Romania, one wonders which side of the border the affluent part of Europe is actually on.
Young Turkish women in an Istanbul restaurant. The city
on the Bosporus is the most modern in the Islamic world.
The China of Europe
Turkey achieved a growth rate of 9 percent last year. Unemployment has fallen to 11 percent, inflation is now down to 6 percent, and the most recent figures showed total public debt at 41 percent of gross domestic product -- a figure that most European Union countries can be envious of. Per capita income has tripled since Erdogan came into office. The British magazine The Economist has dubbed the country "the China of Europe."
The large cities in western Turkey are no longer the only ones benefiting from the boom. Anyone who visited cities like Denizli, Kayseri, Trabzon and Samsun 10 years ago would hardly recognize them today. City highways, skyscrapers and new port facilities are being built, and the Turkish state railway plans to inaugurate a new high-speed line between Eskisehir and Konya at the end of the year.
Flocking to Istanbul
The Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, ranks Istanbul at the top of its list of the 30 most dynamic cities in the world. No one knows whether there are 15 million or perhaps already 17 million people living in the megacity on the Bosporus. New skyscrapers, each one more avant-garde than the next, are constantly going up in Istanbul's business districts, while the satellite towns on the outskirts are continually growing as more people migrate to the city. Most of these new arrivals are able to find work.
One of these children of guest workers is Nese Stegemann, 43, a doctor specializing in orthopedics and surgery, who is married to a German and characterizes herself as "about as German as it gets." When she flew to Istanbul with her family two years ago, Stegemann was overwhelmed by the wealth of cultural contrasts, the galleries, exhibitions, designer outlets, mosques and bazaars. She was offered a job in a private hospital. She accepted, and today she earns more than she did at home in Hanover.
Stegemann is just one of thousands. The number of Turkish-Germans returning to the country of their forefathers has long outnumbered the number of Turks heading to Germany. In 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available, they totaled 40,000. Many of them are highly qualified and extremely well adjusted to the globalized world, in which being rooted in two cultures is seen as a career bonus.
Cracking down on opponents
In 2008, a group of former senior military leaders were put on trial for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Erdogan regime in its early years. The so-called Ergenekon trial, named, like the group of conspirators, after the mythical ancestral home of the Turks in Central Asia, had a cathartic effect on the people. For the first time, the previously untouchable officers were facing charges in a court of law.
But the longer the trial dragged on, the wider the government cast its net, arresting professors, civil servants, attorneys and journalists opposed to the regime. In March, the astonished nation realized that what had been an important trial had turned into a vehicle with which the regime was eliminating its influential critics. That was when the police arrested and filed terrorism charges against investigative reporter Ahmet Sik, the journalist who had been one of the first to report on the Ergenekon group's alleged plans to overthrow the government, but then also looked at the pro-government Islamist network. Sik, along with 67 other journalists and dozens of professors, is still in prison today.
In his self-aggrandizement, the premier who introduced historic change to Turkey, could become a growing liability for his country. His critics say that there is now little difference between Erdogan and Russia's strongman, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
It's more likely that the Europeans and the Turks will continue to spend years talking at cross-purposes, but without expressing the two truths that everyone knows by now: that Europe doesn't want Turkey -- and that soon Turkey will no longer need Europe. - Der Spiegel