We recently discussed how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned his suppression of critics to other countries and was demanding action from governments against his critics. At the time, I was relieved to report that Germany had held the line on free speech. My relief of premature. German ZDF public television said Monday it had deleted a poem recited by presenter Jan Böhmermann from last Thursday’s edition of “Neo Magazin Royal” after pressure from the German government. Böhmermann’s poem, containing numerous sexual innuendos, accuses Erdogan of repressing minorities, including Kurds and Christians. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Chancellor Angela Merkel in a telephone call on Sunday evening with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had agreed that Böhmermann had recited a “deliberately abusive text.” Merkel has done precisely what civil libertarians feared: feeding Erdogan’s desire to suppress speech and affirming that he can indeed silence critics abroad. In the meantime, Merkel’s call did not take Erdogan away from his signature work in suppressing any and all critics. Erdogan’s government was busy this week with the arrest of dozens of political opponents.
What is truly maddening is that the spokesman insisted that none of this takes away from the “high value” the German government placed on freedoms of the press and public opinion. Unbelievable. Merkel silences Germans to appease a rising dictator while insisting that she remains committed otherwise to free speech.
Böhmermann mocked Merkel and said “Limits, at last. I think we have spectacularly shown, jointly with ZDF, where the limits of satire lie by us in Germany. At last!”
Merkel is not the only one who should be condemned in this matter. ZDF Program director Norbert Himmler insisted that there were limits to irony and satire.
“In this case, they were clearly exceeded . . . As a result, in consultation with Jan Böhmermann, we have decided to take the passage out of the broadcast. That relates to the video in the Mediathek, clips on YouTube, and re-runs.”
As we discussed, Erdogan flew into a rage over a satirical song entitled “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan,” that ridiculed Erdogan’s alleged extravagance and a crackdown on civil liberties. Here is the video:
The video is a parody of a 1980s song by the German pop star Nena, “Irgendwie, Irgendwo, Irgendwann,” (“Anyway, Anywhere, Anytime”) which is changed to “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan.” The facts that it reports however are not satirical but actual. The video details Erdogan crackdown on democracy and basic freedoms as well as his infamous intolerance for any criticism. Merkel has now added fuel to the meglomania of Erdogan in saying that certain criticism will not be tolerated in Germany. That is likely far more than the Turks ever dreamed of . . . to have a major Western nation embrace censorship.
We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have seen comedians targeted with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here). In Germany, Merkel government has crackdown on anti-immigration speech as the government expands its list of permitted and prohibited speech.
The enabling of an authoritarian like Erdogan is a new low for the Western nations. Not only is Erdogan destroying free speech and the free media in Turkey, but he has now found a way to enlist Western governments like Germany to embrace the same anti-free speech principles.