Fear and loathing in Istanbul


Madeline Wilson from the National Gallery of Victoria mimics the scream from Edvard Munch's famous hand-coloured lithograph version of 'The Scream.'


William West

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Take a thousand businesspeople, bankers, politicians and academics, add a sprinkle of journalists, coop them up in a luxury hotel for two days in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s, and what do they produce?


That is what it looked like (to my eyes at least) at the latest World Economic Forum held in Istanbul, where the topics of concern were the euro zone's woes and the political convulsions in the arc of instability that runs from North Africa through the Middle East to Central Asia.

Everyone was asking questions.

Will Syria implode, sucking its neighbors into a civil war? Will Spain be whacked by an uncontrollable run on its banks? Will the Arab Spring turn to winter as tourists and foreign investment shun Egypt? Is the world facing a decade of hard times?

Few of the participants had clear answers because the current crisis is terra incognita for most of them. Too young to have experienced the Great Depression or World War II, they seemed to feel the world they know is coming to an end.

Here's a tip from an old timer.

Maybe the world you know is not the real world. Or more precisely, it was just an unusually long period of relatively good times in a world that has always had its ups and downs.

The way you see today's problems depends on what you compare them with.

Those who remember the 1930s and 1940s see today's turmoil as nothing like what the world went through then.

My advice to the younger generations: tighten your seat belts. We are going through a period of turbulence, but it won't last forever.

And by the way, never trust an economist or banker to give you a firm answer.

I heard dozens of them at the conference give their opinions on how we got to the present state of the world and where we are headed, and there was no consensus except that things look pretty bad.

I might add, don't trust journalists either — unless they are old enough to be your grandfather.