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Researcher won’t hide the figures Erdogan doesn’t want to see

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In May, Turkey’s official statistics office set inflation at 73.5 percent, the highest in the country since 1998 — a figure ENAG, an independent group of researchers, immediately disputed. It sets the real rate at about 160.80 percent. The organization’s director has been the target of judicial investigations and political pressure, and is losing his position at his university.

With his hands deep in the pockets of his apron, with a large hanging gray mustache, Zeki looks wearily at the fruits and vegetables that lie in plain sight in his shop in Moda, in the heart of Istanbul’s Kadikoy neighborhood on the Asian side. side of town. “Look at these beautiful pink heirloom tomatoes,” he says, pointing his chin in their direction. “They come straight from Antalya. Normally everyone wants them this season. What a waste.”

A year ago, Zeki sold the tomatoes for eight Turkish lira (0.45 euros) per kilogram. Today he can’t sell them for less than 20 (1.10 euros), more than double the price of last year. Economists say inflation is to blame, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan disagrees. He explained on June 6 that there is no inflation in Turkey and that price increases are due to the rising cost of living.

Denial

By minimizing the severity of the economic crisis, the president has set the tone in the highest spheres of government. The director of the Turkish National Institute of Statistics (TUIK) was fired after announcing too high inflation. In May, the same institution complained ENAGthe independent Inflation Research Group, which accuses it of publishing figures with the aim of tarnishing the reputation of the national institute.

The man in charge of ENAG, Veysel Ulusoy, is in the process of losing his position at Istanbul Yeditepe University, where he has been teaching since 2010. possession” and “misuse of resources, places, installations and measures provided or assigned to scientific research” in connection with his work at ENAG. Ulusoy denies charges.

The economist Veysel Ulusoy and his institute ENAG became the target of judicial investigation and political pressure.
The economist Veysel Ulusoy and his institute ENAG became the target of judicial investigation and political pressure. © Ludovic de Foucaud, France 24

The researcher is not surprised at the turn of events, but more at the way they happened. “I expected this from the start, but I didn’t think it would be based on such absurd reasons,” he says. “It raises questions: Perhaps the university succumbed to outside pressure when it started its research so quickly.”

And yet Ulusoy seems unimpressed by his resignation. “ENAG will continue to provide data to public and financial institutions” because, he says, the government’s statement on economic affairs shows “data manipulation.” Being fired in this way is ultimately in line with Ulusoy’s principles: “To stay with an institution (Yeditepe University) that has lost its morals would cost me dearly,” he says.

Threats to Academic Freedom

The Ulusoy affair once again sheds light on the current environment for researchers and academics in Turkey. The country clocks in at 135 out of 144 on the Academic Freedom Index† Much of that is due to the 2016 decree that allows the president to appoint and fire professors and administrators. The index’s latest report indicates that between 2011 and 2021, “Brazil, Hong Kong, India and Turkey suffered the greatest setbacks in terms of academic freedom”.

This is a trend that Didier Billion, deputy director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, confirms. “This is not a new trend, but the pace has accelerated since the failed coup in 2016. Even those academics who are not overtly militant or anti-government prefer to censor themselves for fear that their research will appear too critical. It’s worrying.”

The geopolitics specialist believes that as the 2023 elections draw closer, “the political climate is tense. The polls are not looking good for the president and there is no indication that the economic crisis will be resolved. In these circumstances, similar to those in regimes that you might call authoritarian, the head of state tends to listen only to his intuition and surrounds himself with people who dare not contradict him,” says Billion.

It is in this context that the Turkish National Assembly is expected to introduce a new bill on Wednesday that would allow for prison terms of one to three years for those who “spread misleading information to the public”. For Ulusoy, there is little doubt that if the bill is passed, it will be used against those passing ENAG’s numbers.

This article has been translated from the original into French.

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