Behind the scenes in the Troika, madness reigns

"Cyprus is a template", said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, before hastily adding "Oh, wait, no it's not."

Overheard in a bar by our Brussels correspondent.

Well of course everybody’s been completely knackered with the overnight hoo-hah in Nicosia, trying to explain the facts of life to Nicos and chums, who’re clearly not happy anyway and extra jumpy when they hear a Russian accent. Herman had settled down behind his desk for a kip, Wolfgang was in a foul mood, and Mario’s not speaking to anyone at all, since he slammed down the phone on Tuesday saying he was sick of clearing up everybody else’s mess, did we have any idea how much Goldman would pay for a man of his talents, etc, etc.

So the eyes settled on this work-experience lad we’ve had doing a bit of this and that round the office. Not the sharpest tool in the box – main life experience to date was failing a university course in farming IIRC – but keen as mustard and had helped out with the photocopying and got Olli’s ipad hooked up to 3G so we were looking around for something for him to do longer-term. Simple enough, we thought. Talk to the press about the little fiasco in Cyprus, sad face about the sacrifices the Halloumi Massive are suffering, calm notes of triumph about our handling of the situation and how European Unity had prevailed.

A bit of background: things have been a little touchy with our German masters of late, what with the elections this year and Angela reading that biography of Bismarck. Now everyone knows it’s never going to happen, but the refusals to buy these lovely big chunks of Spanish and Italian bank equity without bothering about sovereign guarantees have been getting tetchier of late, so we’ve resigned ourselves to Operation Silence: nobody discusses how we’re going to fix the banks without anyone who has money being involved, Mario papers over the cracks and hopefully something comes up and the whole mess just goes away, because if push comes to shove, there’s not enough money in the pot to make everyone whole.

Unfortunately, what little Jeroen didn’t get was the importance of keeping your trap shut in Operation Silence. So he launches off on this tirade about how Cyprus was only the start , what happened to Russian money launderers today will be Spanish widows tomorrow, depositors of Europe line up to be sheared. And bugger the carefully-prepared script about “Cyprus is unique”, oh no he has to say it’s a template for the rest of Europe, so if you live in colder climes, invest in a sleeping bag, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time waiting for the ATM.

Of course this goes down like a cup of cold sick with the spivs in the markets, blood on the screens, Euro down the toilet, and within seconds we’ve got Francois on line one, Mariano on line two, and the rest of the switchboard jammed by Italians all claiming to be the next Prime Minister. So quickest reverse-ferret in history, very pointed two-liner on the website (would’ve been three lines, but managed to persuade Pierre that “little clog-wearing cretin” didn’t sound very ministerial). So job done for now, These Are Not The Bailout Templates You Were Looking For but lord help us if the cat ever does get out of the bag.

This piece was originally posted on Paweł's blog, and is reposted here with his permission.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the European group of finance ministers. Photograph: Getty Images

Pawe? Morski is a fund manager who blogs at Some of it was true…

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue