Since our last post was about Greece, balance demands that we ought to say something about her neighbour, and long-time competitor, Turkey.
This huge country has one foot in Europe and one in the Middle East. Despite the fact that 97% of her land is in Asia, the eyes of Turkey’s political and business classes have been looking more and more to the West in recent years. The West has paid her little attention in response. This is a big mistake.
Turkey is a gigantic business opportunity. Her economy has been modernising at a furious rate. The in-flight magazine on Turkish Airlines – which is itself now a very impressive modern operation – is as full of IT gadgets, fashionable leisure items, and new media as its American equivalents. One is met at Istanbul by that ubiquitous symbol of Western “progress”, the Starbucks. Turkish television shows Hollywood films. Young urban Turks are indistinguishable from their counterparts in Western Europe.
Yet Turkey remains a land of dramatic contrasts. Within a few miles of up-market coastal resorts that resemble the South of France there are villages that look unchanged since the zenith of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th Century. The tourist can feel that he has entered a time warp. SUVs whizz past old ladies who are literally bent double under huge bundles of sticks. Turkey is changing fast, but still has a long way to go – hence the opportunity.
The country’s cosmopolitan leaders have long sought to add membership of the EU to membership of NATO and the G-20 as a symbol of Turkey’s commitment to the modern world. The appetite for this has been diminished a little, but by no means completely, by the eurozone crisis and also by a recent falling out with France. The French passed a law making denial of Turkish massacres of Armenian Christians a criminal offence. That these massacres took place, about a hundred years ago, is a matter of undoubted historical fact, and the Turks really do need to come to terms with this aspect of their history, among others. However, the French law is unlikely to help this process: how can one encourage people to debate a difficult subject by making it illegal to discuss it freely?
The strident reaction of Turks of all shades of opinion to the French law is a useful reminder that, for all its modernising, Turkey retains a political culture very different from that of the Western countries it seeks to emulate. However, this may be to Turkey’s advantage in the medium term. A country semi-detached from the EU – with all the benefits of physical proximity and economic integration, but without the burden associated with eurozone membership – might be the best place to do business for the next few years.