Turkish Government cannot hide poverty in the age of social media
In 2013, Turkey’s GDP per capita reached an all time high of $12,600, but as of 2021 stands at just $9,100. The impressive development of the early 21st century now looks like an inflated bubble, which has burst to leave many with disappointed hopes of a better life. Compounded by the pandemic, economic pressures are forcing many Turkish people into very visible poverty.
In some ways, Turkey’s economy has been a victim of its own success. As incomes grew, demand for consumer goods also grew, and Turkey does not manufacture a lot of those. So imports began to increase faster than exports, and Turkey’s balance of payments deficit grew, undermining the currency and leading to inflation.
Turkey’s government prioritised sectors like construction and tourism, and their attempts to remould Turkish society in their own cultural image alienated Turkey’s educated, Westernised elites, who voted with their feet, especially following the coup attempt in 2016, and simply left Turkey. Meanwhile, Turkey took in up to 4 million Syrians, who for many years were denied the right to work legally, meaning that they were forced to take jobs in the black market, which may have dampened wages in some sectors.
And then Covid-19 came. Official government statistics show that in 2019, 17 million people in Turkey were already living below the poverty line. The economic crisis which already plagued Turkey in 2020 meant that it spent less than 1% of its GDP on welfare assistance to those affected by the pandemic, compared to 9% in some countries. According to Mustafa Sönmez in al-Monitor, the unofficial unemployment rate could be as high as 40%, while official statistics show it as only 13%.
And despite as much as 90% of Turkey’s media being controlled by government-linked businesses, the reality of this poverty is becoming hard to hide. Videos of people scavenging food left on the streets have underlined just how bad the situation is for some people.
THE IMAGE OF POVERTY: A CITIZEN COLLECTS VEGETABLES AND FRUITS FROM WASTE
A citizen was seen collecting vegetables and fruits from the garbage in Yenimahalle, Bingöl.
“The image of the citizen, who separates vegetables and fruits with a plastic bag he took in his hand, touched people’s hearts.”
In an online call with dozens of women, opposition Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was told by one woman that she cannot afford to buy food at the market and has to take vegetables that are thrown away.
In Ankara meanwhile, a video emerged of a tradesman who could no longer make a living jump off the walls of Ankara’s castle in an apparently successful suicide attempt.
Last October, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused a workman of exaggerating his situation when he complained that he could not afford to buy bread. This shows that despite still making political capital out of his image as a man of the people, the President is actually quite out of touch with many ordinary Turkish people. Erdoğan then threw the poor man a bag of tea, something he has taken to doing quite a lot at public appearances, in a similar fashion to Trump when he visited Puerto Rico and threw paper towels at people.
Not content with his 1100 room Presidential palace in Ankara, and a couple of other residences, the Turkish state is building the President two new palaces this year, “a summer palace and a winter one, costing taxpayers some 740 million liras, or 86.26 million euros,” according to Balkan Insight.
The President has certainly come a long way since his ordinary, working class childhood in Kasımpaşa, which he has so often played up for political points during elections. Yet as more and more Turkish families sink into poverty as a result of the dual shocks of the long-term economic crisis compounded by the Coronavirus pandemic, tha aloof, monarchical style of the President makes him seem like just another sultan, rather than someone who cares deeply about the struggles of ordinary Turks.
The AKP government no longer seems to have a plan for how to improve Turkey. Their main goal seems to be to stay in power at all costs, while spending the state’s resources on huge infrastructure projects which project a sense of power, but bring few tangible benefits to ordinary people. Turkey is demoralised, economically and politically, and the current government has no hope left to offer.