TURKEY NEEDS A firm hand at a critical time. The economic and foreign policy strategy it chooses to follow are vitally important for the Middle East, for the Balkans and for the new republics of Central Asia. Nothing could have been timed worse than the sudden death in April of President Turgut Ozal.
Judging by the attendance at his funeral, the significance of his departure seems to have been lost on the Western powers and the Arab countries. Ozal was perhaps the most enigmatic political figure in the region over the last decade, and there lay his strength.
His demise was a premature end for a man who propelled Turkey onto the international stage and into the front ranks of Nato; a man who effected rapprochement between Turkey and the Islamic world; and yet a man who gambled with his country's foreign policy interests through his resolute support for the coalition forces in the Kuwait crisis.
The irony, of course, is the shabby display of gratitude at Turgut Ozal's funeral, which was not attended by a single head of state from the countries which participated in the coalition against Iraq in 1990-91. His political opponents no doubt would consider this a vindication of their criticism of his overtly pro-Western, and especially pro-American, foreign policy which now faces a simmering anti-Western backlash. Turks can only feel confirmed in their suspicions about the West's slothful response to the plight of the Bosnian Muslims. They will also be all the more aggrieved at the European Community's disdainful attitude to Ankara's application for membership while it appears to encourage Christian countries from the European Free Trade Association and the former Warsaw Pact to jump the queue.
Nevertheless, the Ozal legacy is important both in helping redefine the relationship between the Turkish state and society and in reorienting the management of the economy. As prime minister after 1983 and president after 1989, Ozal began the transformation of Turkey from an authoritarian state living in the shadow of its father figure, Kemal Ataturk, towards liberal democracy and free market reforms.
Ozal ruthlessly exposed the Turkish economy to the rigours of market pressure, shaking off the outdated legacy of nationalisation and central planning. His two governments in 1983-87 and in 1987-89 propelled Turkey on the road to fundamental political and economic change, intended to fulfil his ambitions for the country's development. Together with Suleiman...