Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Turkish President tries to censor accusations of censorship

It seems to be Idiots’ Month right now. There’s the man who thought the best way to be reunited with his ex-wife would be to hijack a plane while wearing a fake suicide vest. There’s the politician attempting to get “down with the kids” by communicating with them “on the Twitters”. There’s the woman who climbed to the summit of Britain’s highest mountain wearing shorts. And there’s Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

For a long time, Erdoğan has been accused of an increasingly autocratic style of rule. A glance at his Wikipedia page is quite sobering, especially the sub-headings in the “Controversies” section: Accusations of antisemitism; Politicisation of the judiciary; Media intimidation and censorship; Electoral fraud; Political polarisation; Mehmet Aksoy lawsuit (in which the President ordered the destruction of a sculpture that called for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia); Crackdown on Academics for Peace.

Quick! Ban this photo!

Now, one of the things that has annoyed and frustrated Turkey for some time now has been that the country doesn’t seem to be eligible to join the EU. Something about Cyprus and “human rights”, apparently. Erdoğan is the latest in a long line of Turkish leaders trying to convince the EU to let his country in.

Earlier this month, some headway seemed to have been made, insofar as Germany had started saying that maybe, if Turkey gets its act together, there may be a case for allowing Turkey in. You’d think, therefore, that Erdoğan might be doing his homework on what European values are.

A few days later, a satirical German TV show called Extra 3 criticized some of the excesses of Erdoğan’s government in the form of a song with accompanying video (activate the “CC” icon for English subtitles). Sung to the tune of an old Nena hit called Irgendwie, irgendwo, irgendwann, it made reference to allegations of oppression of the Kurds, the use of violence to counter peaceful demonstrations and the highly controversial new presidential palace illegally built in a nature reserve. But it also prominently mentioned government interference in press freedoms, with lines like these:
Bei Pressefreiheit kriegt er ’nen Hals,
drum braucht er viele Schals.
Ein Journalist, der was verfasst,
das Erdoğan nicht passt,
ist morgen schon im Knast.
Press freedom makes his neck bulge,
which is why he needs lots of scarves.
A journalist who writes something
that Erdoğan doesn’t like
will be in jail by next morning.
(“Getting a neck” or “getting something in the throat” is a German idiom that means being roused to anger.)

Now, Erdoğan naturally wishes to repudiate those claims. He’s not a totalitarian dictator, of course not — whatever gave us that idea? When he was Mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s, he managed to solve a lot of the city’s problems with traffic congestion, pollution and crumbling infrastructure. Sure, he was then forced to relinquish his post after his party was shut down on the grounds that it was pushing a fundamentalist Islamic agenda which was at odds with the Turkish constitution, but hey — since when was that ever an issue?

So Erdoğan, anxious to preserve his image as totally not an enemy of press freedom, summoned the German Ambassador and basically demanded that the German authorities ban the video and prevent its distribution.

You have to think about this one to let the full irony sink in here. Turkey wants to join the EU. Turkey has almost won over Germany to the point that Germany’s response to the Turkish authorities storming the offices of a newspaper were fairly muted and cautious.

That might have worked (for Turkey) as long as it remained an internal Turkish affair. When, though, Turkey insists that Germany must suspend a key section of its own constitution just because the President feels insulted, things are unlikely to go quite as smoothly. Members of all the parties in the Bundestag — including many who have themselves been at the receiving end of Extra 3’s skewering wit — have spoken out against the not-dictator’s attitude. The official government response has simply been to state that the Ambassador lectured Turkey on the importance of a free press; but I suspect this whole incident has cost Turkey — and especially Erdoğan — quite a few valuable sympathy points.

Extra 3, meanwhile, as well as naming him “Employee of the Month”, has posted a cartoon showing Erdoğan pointing a fire extinguisher at a laptop and saying, “Either you remove that video, or I delete the internet!”

1 comment:

  1. Spot on...I don't think Turkey will ever qualify to be part of EU...