Conspiracy in Turkey: Erdoğan and the “interest rate lobby”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed a few weeks ago that the protests in Turkey and Brazil were orchestrated by the same unspecified conspirators. The Guardian reports Erdoğan declaring: “The same game is now being played over Brazil. The symbols are the same, the posters are the same, Twitter, Facebook are the same, the international media is the same. They (the protests) are being led from the same centre.” He added, “[t]hey are doing their best to achieve in Brazil what they could not achieve in Turkey. It’s the same game, the same trap, the same aim.”
The alleged conspiracy has now taken the more specific form of the “interest rate lobby”, a group of financiers and others who apparently want to suppress Turkey’s growth. Daniel Dombey in the Financial Times reports Erdoğan saying in a speech to his supporters in Ankara: “The interest [rate] lobby exploited my nation for years, but no longer. I am telling this to whomever – one bank, two banks, three banks . . . you have started this fight, you will pay for it . . . Those who try to bring the stock exchange down . . . we will throttle you.” Turkey’s economic minister, Zafer Caglayan, concurs: “Interest rates could fall to 2.5 per cent [but] the interest lobby rate doesn’t want rates to fall . . . and the foreign media is supporting this.”
These reports also mention that conspiracy theorising has roots in Turkish political culture, and that Erdoğan has local elections on the horizon early next year. And they add that the “interest rate lobby” is not the only accusation made by Erdoğan. The same FT piece reports Erdoğan giving a speech on family policy in which he suggested that caesarian sections, abortions and birth control were “games intended to reduce the population of this nation.”
Does he really believe his own conspiracy theories? Is he using them cynically to fire up his own supporters?
And, perhaps as important, does it matter? A more recent follow-up article in the FT reports Timothy Ash of Standard Bank stating that Turkey’s central bank is “clearly now highly sensitive to hiking policy rates due to all the political noise about the interest lobby”. Erdoğan’s public promotion of the “interest rate lobby” would seems to be having real consequences, whether or not he sincerely believes it. (See also this piece in Bloomberg suggesting that investors in Turkish companies are worried that Erdoğan actually believes his own conspiracy theories.) Regardless of any actual conspiracy, the conspiratorial accusation seems to be taking on a life, and a power, of its own.
And what are we to make of the claim itself? Is the “interest rate lobby” supposed to be an actual conspiring group, or just a network of actors who may happen to benefit? It seems quite common for conspiratorial accusation to fall on unnamed groups who benefit from particular turns of events. It may seem a big step from asking “cui bono?” to implying intentional co-ordination among a secret group, but it also seems to be quite a common one. Is it even possible to speak of a conspiratorial network? Or does the language of conspiracy already posit a collective agent capable of something like intentional action?
Before I sign off, I can’t resist noting that Erdoğan’s new chief advisor (according to this same FT report) is a journalist who claims that “foreign powers have tried to kill the Turkish prime minister by telekinesis”. It puts me in mind of Jon Ronson’s “The Men Who Stare at Goats”. So maybe it’s true…