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People expected tougher measures against the spread of the Covid-19 from the March 30 cabinet meeting; outcome was a donation campaign. (Photo: Presidency)

Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan’s address to nation following the cabinet meeting was much awaited. Because responsible scientists from not only Turkey but also across the globe were speculating that the coronavirus has started to spread fast in Turkey, even surpassing Italy’s rate at the beginning. Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who appeared on Fox TV Turkey’s was practically begging for a curfew. It was evident from previous bad examples in other countries that the biggest factor in the spread of the virus was social contact.
Because losses were growing by the day. COVID-19 related deaths, which were at 131 on March 29, shot up by 37 and reached 168 by March 30. Meanwhile, the number of diagnosed patients went from 9,982 to 11,535. This is a dangerous rise by global standards according to physicians. So, the President was now expected to announce a curfew following the Science Committee’s request, at least in big cities.
That did not happen.
Instead, a fundraiser came up. Erdoğan seemed more interested in the economic outcomes than in the pandemic itself.
Where do I get this idea from? From the following sentence: “Turkey is a country that has to keep production running and the wheels turning regardless of the circumstances”.
This sentence is really the summary of the whole speech. The key phrase is “regardless of the circumstances”.
The words of the President of our country was saying, in a way that no matter how the disease spreads, what matters is that the wheels are turning.

Life goes on, let the wheels turn

British PM Boris Johnson used to speak in a similar fashion. It was even said in UK that there could be “many losses” but that “herd immunity” will solve things. But then they saw that the virus didn’t discriminate and killed the Chinese, the Italians, the Turks and the Russian alike, the Brits started to implement the harshest measures: better late the even more sorry. Trump, who was saying “America’s great, go back into your factories” a week ago is now saying that we should deem ourselves lucky if we manage to limit the numbers of deaths to around 100-200 thousand.
In his speech, Erdoğan elaborated his stance against the virus by guaranteeing that this virus, which is taking the world by storm, will not be able to beat up the unity of the Turkish people. One can hardly say a sensible word against these claims of no scientific validity. Heroism is all over the speech but it’s doubtful how convincing or reassuring this heroism is any longer.
What Erdoğan said differently to his previous statements on the spread of the virus was one sentence. “We will ensure that companies that continue their production strictly take the necessary measures to protect their employees”. It’s not difficult to imagine how even such a mild sentence could have stirred up a certain discomfort in the construction-and-trade lobby. For this lot, the word “precaution” has only one association and it’s not human life; it’s yet another cost.
We continue to say that we’re all one in this country, that human life is worthy — everyone, not just the ruling classes in their ivory towers who have all the means at arm’s length to protect themselves. But it’s evident that those who rule have still got one concern only: preserving the politics-trade balance.

Why not 8 salaries, Mr. President?

But the climax of the speech was no doubt the announcement of the fundraiser, coined “We are enough for each other, dear Turkey”; who knows which poetically inclined advisor came up with this brilliant slogan?
According to Erdoğan, of course, that fundraiser would support millions of people who will find themselves out of work due to the pandemic, if it would not stop or slow down the spread of it. So, what happened to the billions of liras accumulated in the Unemployment Fund? And what about the Reserve Fund money of the Central Bank that vanished into thin air? What about the billions poured into acquiring the Russian S-400 missiles, which are not likely to be used any longer? Or the billions poured into the Syrian civil war that we dissipated through dreamy prayer sessions on Fridays in the Umayyad Mosque, or the billions poured for refugees? Right now, Friday prayers cannot be observed in mosques in Turkey due to the coronavirus outbreak. Are all these being forgotten just because they can’t be spoken about?
What is this “money, money, money” obsession that would make Napoleon turn green, while people worry about survival? Could that be because there’s no money left in the Treasury which is under control of Erdogan’s son in law Berat Aklbayrak? And is there a guarantee that the sum raised through this campaign will be used to pay workers who would be lucky enough to survive the outbreak, and to small businesses in unpaid debts? Or will it go straight into the pockets of the contractors that built those the airports with no take offs or landings, uncrossed bridges, and unused highways, as treasury debt and in dollars?
The president also wants these donations to be sent in before Eid, as pre-collected alms. The Minister of Religious Affairs, who is a civil servant wandering around in a glamorous robe, riding cars that cabinet ministers don’t get to have, will surely come up with a ruling for that, anyway. Perhaps the Eid Bonus promised to retirees in a previous decision package will be paid out through these donations. Who knows?
But the president was obviously proud of himself as he announced that he will be giving out his 7-months’ salary for the donation cumpaign, while the ministers were giving away their 6-months salaries instead. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, whom Erdogan owes his power to, has followed suit, declaring he’d be giving out 5-months’ worth of his salary. But what is this salary bireme all about? Why not 8-months’ worth of salary, then Mr. President? Why not a year’s worth? Is it because it’s hard to put food on the table for the family with a civil servant’s salary?
Is it really that, though? Really? It’s a great pity, a great pity for all of us.