on the World To-day
How far Turkey has slipped from the realities of democratic practice under Premier Adnan Menderes and his Democratic Party is evident in the country’s recent legislation. The Law for the Protection of the National Economy, a World War II price-fixing measure revived last summer, carries with it penalties of up to forty years in jail.
Courts in Turkey can mete out jail sentences of up to three years and heavy fines to persons convicted of “releasing publications with the objective of belittling those in official capacity.” The same penalties apply to those who are found guilty of “producing publications of an agitating nature against government offices, authorities, organizations, and against those in official capacity.”
In a further effort to gag the opposition, Menderes has pushed through a measure making it illegal to hold political meetings except during the forty-five days prior to elections. When American correspondents try to discuss these laws with the Prime Minister, they get one stock answer: “These measures are Turkey’s own internal concern. They are of no interest to outsiders.”
The new wave at authoritarianism
The present wave of authoritarianism appears to have begun three years ago. The Press Law of March, 1954, less repressive than the measure now in effect, disturbed Turkish journalists but was barely noticed in the West. Later the same year Turkey’s parliament, the Grand National Assembly, prohibited judges, civil servants, and university professors from participating in political action. This warning to independent minds that they had better keep time to the Menderes march or risk losing their jobs hinted at the way Democrats would go if pushed.
Genuinely popular, the Menderes regime had little real cause of fear. In 1950 it had misted the government of the Ataturk-founded Republican People’s Party in Turkey’s first completely free national election. By reducing taxes on the peasants, granting agricultural subsidies, building roads and development projects, and by relaxing some of Ataturk’s more stringent restrictions on Islam, the Democrats won the support of the peasants, who comprised 80 per cent of the population and who had never been more than lukewarm to the Republicans since the death of Ataturk.
Turkish intellectuals, tired of the trappings of democracy introduced by the dictatorial Ataturk, jumped when the Democrats called for a political “New Deal.” American authorities on Turkey’s political life convinced themselves that the democratic evolution begun by Ataturk and the Republican People’s Party had been completed under Menderes and the Democrats.
An American long resident in Ankara explained this premature conviction when he remarked, “Turkish democracy has always been oversold in the United States; the Turks admired us and wanted to be as much like us as possible. Turkey was anti-Russian long before the United States was aware of a Soviet threat. When Korea came along, the Turks were right there beside the Americans. Turkey was obviously striving for democracy and we simply made the mistake of thinking they’d got there already .”
When Turkish voters returned the Democratic Party to power in 1954, they provided the government with an overwhelming majority in the Grand National Assembly. Fully 90 per cent of the delegates were Democrats. Yet in the midst of this landslide, Kirsehir province voted solidly for the reactionary Republican National Party. Firmly established in power once again, the Democrats punished Kirsehir province by reducing it to district status, the equivalent of FDR’s turning Maine and Vermont into counties after his 1936 victory.
This reprisal against Kirsehir holds the key to Turkey’s present repression. Dissent and criticism have become intolerable to the Menderes regime when its position is challenged. While they were in the opposition, the Democrats stood firmly for expanding the scope of political freedoms. Once in power, however, they permitted opposition only as long as it was without real issues and was led feebly by the aging survivors of Ataturk’s War of Independence.
In 1954, the Republican People’s Party began to revive. A young, dynamic intellectual, Kasim Gulek, toured the provinces and came back with enough delegates to capture the leadership of the party. Despite his ph.D., his Doctorate of Laws, and his ability to read eight languages, Gulek is far from the withdrawn scholar. He is a rough political street-fighter, and under his leadership the Republicans launched a vigorous and tough assault on the government. Democratic petty graft in high places provided smallarms ammunition for the Republicans. But accusations of government corruption might not have been enough to spur Menderes to repressive action if it had not been for the growing economic crisis in Turkey. Here was the major issue the Republican sharpshooters were looking for.
Build and boom
Turkey had decided on the necessity of economic modernization and industrialization since the Ataturk period. The Democrats ambled to power with the claim that free enterprise was essential to up the pace of development. But the government could not find enough free enterprisers among the Turks, who are traditionally soldiers and government administrators but not businessmen. Committed to a “forced-draft" development scheme, the Democrats passed a law for the encouragement of foreign capital and pushed on with government investment. The new regime spent at a vastly accelerated rate. Sugar factories and cement plants, dams and harbor facilities, highways and irrigation projects burst out all over the country.
After only three years in office the government claimed it had increased Turkey’s gross national product by almost two thirds. Working on the principle “when Democratic popularity is in doubt, build a factory,” the government strengthened the party in questionable political areas. But Menderes had to face the problem of where to get the capital to keep the development boom accelerating.
There was little tradition of private investment in Turkey. United Nations loans and United States aid were not enough. Simultaneously with development expansion, the government supported an expensive military establishment. Faced with a Goliath to the north and proud of Turkey’s fighting heritage, the government expends more than a quarter of its revenue on the military. By having its army and investing in development too, Turkey uses up 55 percent of its earnings.
Riding the wave of high raw material prices during the Korean War, the government borrowed heavily and bought capital goods on short and medium term credits to keep the development rolling. Menderes was gambling on repaying the debts from increased sales of grain and cotton resulting from agricultural expansion schemes. The government also seems to have counted on an influx of hard currency from the sale of Turkey’s hoped-for industrial surplus to other countries in the Middle East. With severe import restrictions clamped on consumption goods since 1952, Menderes had imposed a kind of austerityfor-development on the country’s consumption imports. Yet despite the restrictions on foreign-consumption purchases, capital-goods buying continued under government auspices. In 1953 Turkish imports exceeded exports by about 35 per cent.
The government’s gamble fails
The great Menderes production gamble failed. Industrial output did not increase as rapidly as the government had anticipated. World commodity prices dropped after the Korean Mar. And Turkey had poor harvests in 1954. At the same time population increases were consuming a greater part of Turkey’s domestic production. The government, set upon by creditors, some of whom it could not pay back, went to the United States for a $300 million, longterm loan in 1954. Turkey planned to use the loan to pay off its short and medium credits and to spread the debt out over a long period. Despite the State Department’s complete satisfaction with Turkey’s foreign policy, the United States refused to commit itself to the loan. Turkey had to put its economic house in order first.
Inflation had been present in the country since 1952, but its full force did not hit until last year. From 1955 until March, 1956, prices rose 28 per cent, according to Istanbul Chamber of Commerce figures. Inflation, combined with the disparity between the pegged and market value of the lira, would make it impossible for Turkish exporters to make hard-currency sales if the government were not subsidizing exports to dollar and European Payment Union areas.
As it is, about 25 per cent of Turkey’s trade today is with Iron Curtain countries. But no one in Turkey seems concerned about the possible implications of this increasing trade with Russia and its satellites.
Slowing down the spiral
Eventually the Menderes regime recognized that the inflation merrygo-round had to slow down if the country were to avoid bankruptcy. On January 29, 1956, the Prime Minister announced the steps the government was going to take to avoid economic disaster. Menderes, the apostle of overnight industrialization, disclosed that his government was going to limit new investments to those which would have a rapid and salutary effect on Turkey’s balance of payments. State economic ventures would have to meet expenses from their incomes; Turkey was to have a balanced budget, and the general and annexed budgets could not have recourse to central bank financing.
As yet these steps have not halted the inflationary tide, although the foreign exchange position has improved somewhat in recent months. Last summer Menderes pushed through the Law for the Protection of the National Economy, establishing rigid markups for producers, wholesalers, and retailers. The regime knew that if the law were going to work, its harsh penalties would have to be enforced rigorously. One Ankara man was jailed for forty months for selling an automobile spare part for fifteen dollars more than he paid for it. Most Western observers feel that in its zeal to halt inflation, the government, is not allowing sufficient incentive to merchants.
American officials in Turkey believe the country to be going through a temporary period of economic growing pains. All but a few informed Westerners are convinced that the present economic difficulties will not seriously damage Turkey’s prospects for a prosperous future. Most of them also contend that the grass-roots popularity of the Democrats was unimpaired by the inflation and the balance problem, because the peasant majority throughout has continued in its favored economic position.
Whether the Democratic Party can retain mass popularity in the face of its recent absolutist actions is impossible to guess. The answer depends on how much civil liberties mean to the Turkish peasant and how willing he is to trade economic privileges for them. Ultimately the question is, How far has the bulk of the population moved from its traditional authoritarian pattern in thirty-five years of working with the forms and slogans of democracy?
The Republicans fight back
Those who were with Kasim Gulek during his tour of the Black Sea area last August report that he appeared very popular. Police sought to prevent the Republican leader from shaking hands and even from going shopping on the grounds that he would be violating the law forbidding political meetings and parading demonstrations. Many Democrats as well as Republicans are convinced that by attempting to suppress Gulek and the Republicans, Menderes is turning them into martyrs. Republicans are using the repression, just as they did the economic crisis, to blast the government, but the technique today is necessarily one of blast by implication.
The Republican party platform calls for the setting up of a kind of Supreme Court to protect Turkey against unconstitutional laws passed by the Grand National Assembly. The Republicans also advocate a bicameral legislature.
For the most part Turkey’s intellectuals, ardent Democratic supporters in 1950 and 1954, now have considerable misgivings about the Menderes regime. Yet there has been no comparable rise in Gulek’s popularity in intellectual circles. “Gulek is ambitious and ruthless,”one of the deans of Turkish journalism confided. “As Prime Minister he would be just as repressive as Menderes.”
This editor, a nineteenth-centurystyle liberal, continued, “It is not a question of men but of laws. When Ataturk came to power, modern Turkey was born through a national pact, which staled Turkey’s aims. Today we need a new national pact of government and opposition to draw up a constitution which strictly defines what the government can and cannot do.”