No Holiday for Erdogan  

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

On October 3 Dresden hosted the celebrations for the Day of German Unity, the reunification that was forged in 1990. Bundestag president Norbert Lammert expressed optimism and pride that “We are living  together today in a way that generations before us could only dream of: in unity and justice and freedom.” A day later prosecutors announced a decision that made clear that “freedom” includes freedom of speech and opinion, freedom of the press and of artistic expression. It was not a good day for Turkish president Recept Tayyip Erdogan. The case in question concerned comedian Jan Böhmermann, who was under investigation for having criminally insulted a foreign head of state (Erdogan) in a satirical poem that he read on television six months ago. The state prosecutors ruled that the case against him should be dropped on grounds that “punishable deeds could not be proven with the required certainty.” They stressed that it was questionable whether or not the so-called smear poem constituted an insult; to be an insult, one would need to have “the expression of a degrading, personal value judgment regarding a third party.” Böhmermann’s poem, which was full of vulgar language referring to sex with children and animals, as well as clichés about Turks, was – as he explicitly presented it to his TV audience – an example intended to demonstrate the difference between satire, which is lawful, and slander, which is not. (It goes without saying that he was illustrating the difference between Germany and Turkey regarding press freedom.) The prosecution accepted this concept, arguing that, in context, the contested phrases were so “exaggerated and absurd” that no one could seriously think of them as critical of Erdogan, or as “seriously intended” to apply. Rather, the satirist had made clear that “it was a joke.” Mr. Erdogan was not among those laughing. Although this case has been dropped, the Turkish president still has a personal libel suit he brought against the comedian, which will go before a Hamburg court in November. The same day the legal decision was announced, seven members of the German Bundestag left for a three-day visit to Turkey, including to Incirlik, the air base where 250 German soldiers are stationed in support of anti-terrorist (anti-IS) activities in Iraq and Syria. After the Bundestag passed a resolution on June 2 of this year, recognizing the Armenian genocide, Turkey refused to allow parliamentarians to visit the troops – though it is by the parliament’s decision that they have been deployed there. Although the government spokesman Steffen Seibert had stated that such resolutions are not legally binding, Berlin did not back down. Karl Lamers, a member of the government coalition party CDU who is leading the delegation, defended the genocide resolution; as reported by Spiegel Online, he said the Bundestag naturally had “the right to express itself in important questions. This is what we did, and we stand by it.” He added that he hoped this trip would contribute to relaxing tensions between the two governments. Visiting parliamentarian Rainer Arnold, from the government coalition partner SPD, said the renewed permission to visit Incirlik now had not been bought by any compromise on the Armenian issue, saying, “The government cannot distance itself from the parliament on content of issues, and it has not done so.” Rather it had “declared that a resolution has the function of a resolution and represents the opinion of the parliament.” Arnold also hoped the visit would improve relations, even with a “difficult partner” in the interests of prolonging the mandate for the military deployment which runs out at year’s end. The Bundestag is expected to approve the prolongation – on condition its members be allowed freedom of travel — to visit Incirlik.