The coming crisis will be both political and economic, predicts Esen Uslu
Last week I was visiting several old comrades in central Anatolia, when the Weekly Worker editor asked me to write about the Mesut Özil affair. I gave my apologies and promised to write something for this week’s issue. However, in Turkey nothing goes to plan and the agenda changes very quickly.
I did actually gather some information about racism in football and the stance adopted by officialdom. While the Özil affair is no longer the story it was, it would be a pity not to pass on what I found to Weekly Worker readers, as it may provide some insight into the workings of society in Turkey. The lesson to be drawn is that society and officialdom in Turkey are racist, extreme nationalist and Islamist - but try to conceal this beneath the veil of democracy and human rights.
In April 2016, the parliamentary group of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) submitted a proposal for an investigation following an incident when a bus carrying the Diyarbakırspor football team was pelted with stones, shot at and chased by thugs chanting racist and anti-Kurdish slogans after a match. A passage from the proposal was as follows:
Shooting at the team bus of one of the largest clubs of Turkey; beating up referees on the pitch; stopping the match after the incident; and continuous fighting between the supporters of both teams outside the stadium - all indicate that a resolute investigation with a broad scope is required … In this bleak tableau one of the prime instigators is the Turkish Football Federation.
In this context we call for a parliamentary investigation to ascertain the reasons for increased racism and discrimination in Turkish football and on-the-pitch incidents; it should also aim to ascertain the tensions created between the spheres of politics and sport - especially the role played by the Turkish Football Federation, its shortcomings, mistakes and negligence in increased racism and discrimination with a view to finding a solution to the problem.
The proposal was signed and submitted by Dr İdris Baluken, one of the parliamentary group’s leaders. As a matter of course it was not carried, but Dr Baluken was arrested in November 2016 on charges of “undermining the unity of the state and the entirety of the country”. In January this year he was found guilty and sentenced to 16 years imprisonment.
After Mesut Özil complained about the racism he encountered when he participated in the notorious photo-opportunity designed to garner support for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s presidential bid, and after his below-par performance for Germany during the World Cup, Turkish officialdom and their mouthpieces in the media had a field day. Let me give you a few samples:
- Erdoğan: “Your [Özil’s] stance is national and indigenous. I embrace you.”
- İbrahim Kalın, the spokesperson of the president: “I congratulate Mesut for his noble stand. Think what pressure he was subjected to. Where was the courtesy, tolerance and pluralism?”
- Youth and sports minister Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoğlu: “We heartily support the honourable stand of our brother, Özil.”
- Minister of justice Abdulhamit Gül: “Özil scored his best goal against the virus of fascism by refusing to play for the German national team [in protest after the World Cup]. I congratulate him and wish him well.”
I could quote the rantings of various important (!) sports commentators in the same vein. But instead let me describe some of the racist incidents that have infected Turkish football over the years.
Last year French national Bafétimbi Gomis, who was the top scorer for Galatasaray in the 2017-18 season, was called a “monkey” in social media - nothing happened.
In 2002 Haim Revivo, an Israeli playing for Fenerbahçe, was met with chants of “We understand Hitler” during a flare-up of the Gaza crisis - nothing happened.
In 2008 supporters of Trabzonspor mounted a protest against Servan Oğuz, the president of the Central Referees Council, and chanted: “Genocide in Trabzon against Armenian Oğuz” - nothing happened.
In 2010, Trabzonspor supporters by chance passed a procession marking the assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, and chanted “Olé Ogün Samast!” (the self-confessed hit man) and “Bomber Yasin!” (referring to Yasin Hayal, the instigator of the assassination plot) - nothing happened. The white woolly cap worn by Samast when he carried out the assassination suddenly became very popular among Trabzonspor supporters travelling to away games.
In 2009 when Diyarbakır was playing at Bursaspor, home supporters’ banners read: “How happy is he who can say, ‘I am a Turk’!” (the notorious nationalist slogan attributed to Kemal Atatürk) and “We are soldier Mehmets, we are the Turks!”, but such behaviour was not considered excessive.
Complaining about the unfair racist treatment his team encounters across Turkey, the president of Diyarbakırspor football club wailed: “We are a team neither from Uganda nor from Armenia, so why do they do this to us?!”
In 1999 the president of Trabzonspor football club, who later went on to head the Turkish Football Federation, criticised the performance of Kevin Campbell, a black British player, by saying: “We bought our cannibal as a goal machine, but he turned to be a washing machine!” When objections were raised, he replied: “We use the term ‘cannibal’ in Turkey jokingly, not as a racist term.” This too was considered normal by officialdom and nothing happened.
In 2014 Fenerbahçe supporters hurled bananas at visiting Galatasaray players Emmanuel Eboué and Didier Drogba. A Fenerbahçe spokesman said: “Enough has been said. The matter should be closed here and now”; while the Galatasaray president said: “Racism is alien to Turkey - what happened was an unfortunate happenchance.” Again nothing happened.
However, In 2012 the Fenebahçe player, Emre Belezoğlu, insulted Didier Zokora by calling him a “fucking negro” and in the ensuing court case he was given a suspended sentence of two months imprisonment. That was the only case where something did happen!
Deniz Naki, a successful German Turkish-Kurdish player, who was playing for Amedspor (formerly Diyabakırspor, now reconstituted with a new Kurdish name), was disciplined by the Professional Football Disciplinary Council for speaking out against the Turkish invasion of Afrin province in Syria. He was banned for three years and fined for “disseminating discriminating and ideological propaganda”. Naki was attacked by rightwing thugs and shot at while in Germany and he refused to return to Turkey.
Naki send a message to Özil, asking,
If you are sincere in criticising racism in Germany, why did you not support my case in Turkey? A racist or fascist is the same wherever he is. You should stand against fascism, racism, despotism - any behaviour degrading human dignity, wherever it may be.
He also said about Turkish officialdom: “They supported Özil, as he was a discriminated Turk, but they turned a blind eye to the treatment meted out to me.”
With this brief foray into the Turkish football scene I hope I have shed some light onto the prevalent racism, nationalism and Islamism in Turkey. However, today’s agenda consists of the economy - more precisely the bottomless pit into which the Turkish lira seems to be falling.
The pre-election public spending spree and the delaying of decisions to increase crucial prices, such as energy, has resulted in a monetary crisis. Erdoğanomics - which opposes interest payments as a sin according to the Islamist outlook on usury - could be applied as long as cheap hot money continued to flow in. On that basis Erdoğan had called a halt to the central bank’s independent decision-making on interest rates.
After the period of quantitative easing had ended, hot money started to pour out, looking for higher yields elsewhere. The only way to stop this was by raising the interest rate. Erdoğan grudgingly approved an increase before the elections, and in May the rate was fixed at 16.5%. That was not sufficient to stop the run on the lira, and in June it was raised again to 17.75%. Turkey now had the fourth highest interest rate after Argentina, Venezuela and Iran.
In July the central bank was back under Erdoğan’s control, and has refused to raise interests further. As a result the downward drift of the Turkish lira became a headlong fall. It has lost 40% of its value since the beginning of the year. The central bank changed the rules on the foreign currency holdings of banks and $2 billion were released onto market, but that was also not sufficient. Today the US dollar stands at 2.3 Turkish lira, while sterling is at 7 lira. There are reports of unpublicised negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, aiming for a new stand-by agreement.
Turkish private companies and banks owe about $6.9 billion to be repaid to foreign creditors in September, and another $9 billion in October. Only a very small proportion is guaranteed by the state, but most of the companies involved operate within key sectors and it is believed Erdoğan will not allow them to go under, so a rescue package is expected. There could also be a massive rescheduling of debt.
Erdoğanomics is now banking on new sources of credit from China and Saudi Arabia. However, almost every expert believes such hopes are baseless, especially as the president is now at loggerheads with the Trump administration. Two ministers of the Erdoğan cabinet have been sanctioned by the US for their role in the continuing detention of an evangelical pastor who was charged with aiding and abetting terrorism, and their assets in the US have been frozen.
Now new sanctions against Iran are also coming into effect - in particular petroleum and gas, as well as gold trading, will be affected. The political uncertainties are surely going to force Erdoğanomics to face up to realities despite the anti-western rhetoric.
Many factories are halting production, putting their workers on unpaid leave, suppliers are not being paid and trade is grinding to a halt. Unemployment is rapidly growing and its effects will be more visible in a couple of months, when the workers currently on unpaid leave are expected to be made redundant. Bankruptcies among small firms have already reached record levels.
At present the docile trade unions have no answer, but, as the crisis deepens, we will surely see increasing militancy amongst the working class. At present the organisations of the left are unable to develop any coherent plan of action, but things are gathering pace.
Economic and democratic demands may well come together, but that will require action right now. However, my recent trip to central Anatolian towns and cities did not leave me with much hope. The left still suffers from too many national-statist blind spots, together with dire illusions in the so-called social democratic opposition, for any atmosphere conducive to joint action to be created. However, as history has taught us, when crises deepen, anything is possible.