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Yazar Financial Times   
Financial Times,
Obituary: Bulent Ecevit 1925-2006

Published: November 6 2006 04:05 | Last updated: November 6 2006 04:05
ImageAdmirers of Bulent Ecevit, the former prime minister of Turkey who has died at the age of 81, will remember him as one of the few giants among the pygmies of Turkish politics in the late twentieth century.
“He deserved all our respect,“ argued Metin Heper, a leading political scientist. “He matured over the years into a first class statesman.“
Others would say that Mr Ecevit, who led five coalition governments during the last thirty years, embodied some striking contradictions. Reflecting perhaps the complexity of his country, which is a NATO member and a Muslim secular democracy, his career embraced some extraordinary inconsistencies.
A leftwinger for most of his life, it was he who launched Turkey’s most determined attempt at liberal, market-oriented reforms in January 2000. He did so after forming his last coalition government with the rightwing National Action Party, whose militants had killed his own supporters during street-fighting in the 1970s.

He also presided over Turkey’s acceptance as a full candidate for membership of the European Union in December 1999. Yet, twenty years earlier, he had turned down a chance for Turkey to apply for EU accession at the same time as Greece. This proved a fatal mistake because Athens used its membership to block Turkey’s EU aspirations for years.
A former journalist who knew Sanskrit and translated T.S. Eliot into Turkish, Mr Ecevit never seemed to understand fully either the requirements of EU accession or his government’s economic reform programme. Backed by massive loans from the International Monetary Fund, the economic reforms sought to eliminate double-digit inflation and rid the economy of harmful interference by the state. Yet in 2001, when Turkey had secured a £7.8bn standby agreement with the IMF and stability seemed within reach, Mr Ecevit himself sent the country’s markets into free fall by indulging in a high profile spat with the country’s president.
It was the kind of emotional outburst that cast doubt on his judgement. After a routine meeting of the National Security Council, Mr Ecevit emerged to announce that “a serious crisis“ had arisen with Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the president he himself had chosen. Mr Sezer, said Mr Ecevit, had acted “with a disrespect that has never been seen in the history of our country“. The president had accused the government of not doing enough to fight corruption. Mr Ecevit angrily denied this and promised to provide a more detailed statement to the public later - but there was to be no “later“ for Turkey’s fragile financial markets.
Within minutes, the Istanbul stock exchange sank 10 per cent and overnight interest rates soared from 40 per cent to 100 per cent. The crisis led to the closure of scores of businesses and the loss of a million jobs.
Mr Ecevit’s approach to foreign policy was also ambivalent. A hawk on defence and international relations, he ordered the Turkish military intervention of Cyprus in 1974, in response to a Greek-backed coup attempt to merge the island with Greece.
Twenty five years later he showed little of the flexibility required to help solve the island’s division before its proposed admission to the EU. Yet one of his own poems summed up his heart-felt regret over poor ties with arch-rival Greece before a rapprochement between the two countries in 1999. “The wild spirit flowing in our veins is the same. We have cursed each other. But there is still love within us.”
Until the two men became allies in the late 1990s, Mr Ecevit’s feud with Suleyman Demirel, the former president, was blamed for much of Turkey’s political turbulence in the 1970s, leading up to a military coup in 1980. It was a civilised enough coup with generals ringing Mr Ecevit and other party leaders asking them to be ready to be taken into custody “in an hour and a half’s time, if you like, with your wife”. Later Mr Ecevit was imprisoned though never for long periods, and he was banned from taking part in politics for some years.
His earlier career had not been confined to politics. Born in Istanbul in 1925, the son of a professor, he was educated first at Robert College in the city of his birth and then in Ankara, London and Harvard. In London he studied Indian literature and translated into Turkish Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali.
Between 1946 and 1950, he was press attache at the Turkish embassy in London and then worked for the Ankara-based newspaper Ulus, first as a foreign news editor and then as a political columnist. For some years he switched between journalism and politics, becoming minister of labour in 1961 and prime minister for the first time in 1974. He married his college sweetheart, Rahsan, who was also his closest political collaborator. The couple had no children but many cats.
For all Mr Ecevit’s deficiencies, many in Turkey viewed him, to quote one observer, as “a man of integrity with the country’s best interests at heart”. He remained untainted by the corruption allegations which have plagued many Turkish politicians in recent decades. He also appeared the more accommodating party in his long term rivalry with Mr Demirel, who in 1978 famously warned Mr Ecevit and his party: “You have declared yourselves as a government but you will never be able to govern”.
Two years later, as the military were about to take power to stem factional violence and economic chaos, Mr Ecevit offered to support Mr Demirel in government, only to be rebuffed. After Mr Demirel, in his subsequent role as president, asked him to form a government in 1998, Mr Ecevit agreed. He explained their rapprochement thus: “The world has changed, Turkey has changed, so everybody has changed.”
With him Turkey will bury a political era dominated by Mr Ecevit himself and by Mr Demirel who quit in 2001.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

Yazar Misafir açık 2006-11-24 13:17:10
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