Germany has not tested its freedom of expression so deeply since the saga of Mozart's Idomeneo in 2006 when the Deutsche Oper Company canceled the opera because there was the severed head of Muhammad in it and that could offend the largest Islamic community in Europe. The director, Hans Neuenfels, then asked: “Where will it all end if we allow ourselves to be artistically blackmailed?”.
The answer came this week with the case of Jan Böhmermann, the famous comedian who mocked Turkish president Recep Erdogan. “What I’m going to read is not allowed” said Böhmermann on ZDF, the German public network. His poetry routine suggests that Erdogan watches child porn movies while he enjoys “repressing minorities and beating up Christians”.
The prosecutor of Mainz, in the Rhineland-Palatinate, received more than twenty complaints from private citizens which forced him to open a case against Böhmermann under paragraph 103 of the Penal Code, which provides three years of imprisonment for insulting a foreign head of state. Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the poem, calling it a “deliberate insult” and wanted to phone Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to appease the wrath of Ankara.
If Merkel has sided with the Turks, the German press is united around Böhmermann.
Then came Erdogan’s personal complaint against Böhmermann who, according to Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, committed a “grave crime against humanity” and “offended 78 million Turks”, no less. The case could go to the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. Not satisfied with imprisoning Turkish journalists, President Erdogan wants to imprison Germans as well.
Three weeks ago, another German video sparked Turkish protests. Meanwhile, the ZDF removed the video of Jan Böhmermann, even before the Turkish protests. If Merkel has sided with the Turks, the German press is united around Böhmermann.
Mathias Döpfner, the editor of the Springer publishing giant, defended the comedian and criticized Merkel, although Döpfner is her supporter: “As written by Michel Houellebecq in his masterpiece on the self-sacrifice of the West: Submission." Demonstrations were held under the offices of the ZDF in Turkey. Former Finance Minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, commented: “Europe first lost its soul, then lost its sense of humor”.
“Böhmermann is not very brave and this story is bigger than he is” said Henryk Broder, born in 1946 in Katowice, Poland, and today one of the most popular writers of Germany who writes for Die Welt and Bild Zeitung, in an interview with me. “He didn’t show up to withdraw the Grimm Award. I would have been there to say these people: ‘F*** you’”. The German Max Mauff actor was presented at the ceremony with a picture of Böhmermann and the word “missing”.
“Böhmermann behaved like a dhimmi, but we must show solidarity" - continues Broder – "This is a case of governmental interference in the freedom of expression. We face the contradictory policy of Angela Merkel, who said is said in favor of freedom of expression but then takes action against it.
"When the book by Thilo Sarrazin 'Germany abolishes itself' appeared in 2010, it was disqualified by Merkel as ‘defamatory’ and ‘not useful’. There is no such thing as 'good' and 'bad' satire. In communist East Germany it was the party who was left to decide what should be published and this is in Merkel’s DNA, she is a daughter of Eastern Germany. At that time they called it ‘socialization’. Merkel wants Erdogan to do the dirty work for her on migrants, so she doesn’t want a comedian to spoil relations with Turkey”.
In Turkey, Article 299 of the Criminal Code provides four years in prison for those who insult the President (Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, director and editor in chief of Cumhuriyet, now face a trial). Yesterday Deutsche Welle explained that there are 2,000 pending legal cases involving defamation of Erdogan. The defendants are artists, journalists, academics and cartoonists. The same punishment is now evoked in Germany against a comedian.
The cultural-geographical border of Europe has always been drawn on the Bosphorus and not on the Turkish border. Böhmermann’s case moved that border nearer to Ankara.