Written by Yulia Vladimirova; Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront
Jokes about the Turkish President Erdogan are not funny in Germany. The scandal with Yan Byomerman, host of the satirical program Neo Magazine Royale at ZDFneo, is becoming ever more negative, especially for Chancellor Merkel. Erdogan even wants to sue the German tv host for insult because of the poem, in which Byomerman scoffs at the Turkish president. Turns out that Germany does not mind this because on Friday at a special briefing Angela Merkel announced that she will leave the prosecution to investigate the case with Byomerman. German society, and across Europe, waited breathlessly for the government’s reaction, but ultimately, the reaction angered most people. Or at least those who do not assume that Germany will take a position in which it will be blackmailed, retreating from the principles of free speech and being in cahoots with the Turkish president, in whose country there are daily arrests of journalists who are tried and rot in prison .
Following Merkel’s decision to leave the German Prosecutor to initiate an investigation, the German “Der Spiegel” published an editorial entitled “Mrs. Merkel give back the medal of freedom”. The reputation of Angela Merkel after the Byomerman case fell to the lowest since she was in power. Two-thirds of Germans rejected the decision to investigate the satirist according to a study. According to German television ARD, in early April, 56% of Germans supported Merkel and now – only 45%. About 66% of respondents believe that it is wrong to prosecute for insulting a foreign politician within a satirical show, which airs on German television.
We must admit that Byomerman was really drastic in the manner he described the Turkish President in his poem. In it there are extremely insulting acts and Byomerman himself said: “I have been trying to demonstrate the limits of freedom of speech.” But if we can not afford irony and satire in an otherwise supposedly liberal and tolerant European media, who and how can the media criticize and what/who it can not? Yan Byomerman is known for his music video incarnations in which he jokes about Varoufakis, and Putin and the police, and also with the Germans themselves and their nationalist inspiration lately. Former Greek finance minister Varoufakis in an interview with RTL even defended the work of Byomerman two days ago: “When I was finance minister of Greece his video deride me, lead to harm, but I must say that I appreciate the qualities of his satire.” Yanis Varoufakis condemned the decision of the German government, as according to him, the Federal State subjected the satire to a judicial process. According to Varoufakis, satire gives a way to society to look at the world differently, as it is “the salt of the earth.” And when, according to Varoufakis, a president jumps on the fundamentals of journalism and affects in such a way, it means that other countries can sue Erdogan and Erdogan can sue anyone he wants. Actors, musicians, journalists should be left without political interference in their work and should always be able to express themselves.
Angela Merkel’s message is clear: “In Germany there is a separation of powers, politics should not interfere in the affairs of the judiciary. In this case, the courts and prosecutors should have the last word. It’s not about any pre-judgment of the affected, nor for a preemptive decision about the limits of freedom of art, expression and the media. ”
Merkel is apparently trying to speak in a more formalist manner, but there is one problem: she has already made the case political, as she stated Byomerman’s poem against the Turkish government is “deliberately humiliating.” Although later, her spokesman tried to soften her words they had already been spoken. That was a mistake because it left the impression that with her assessment, the Chancellor is just trying to appease Turkey. Words that said too much. More than they should have.
When politicians intervene in such cases there always is an unpleasant aftertaste. Here is an example from Germany’s past, when leftist artist Klaus Steck, who is known for his political satire posters. In 1974, Klaus Steck exhibition opened in Berlin, funded by the Goethe Institute. It did not appeal to the Christian Democratic Union, and some of its members complained to the then Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. The Minister announced that he disapproves the financing of such exhibition and said: “When the state pays for art, it must be at least politically appropriate.”
In this current case the chancellor publicly disapproves the words of a public television satirist. Of course, she is entitled to an opinion. But the problem here is that Merkel mixes freedom of art with foreign interests. One interest tied a rule of law Germany with the dogmatic figure of a man like Erdogan, who threatens to blackmail judges, and kills every opponent who gets in his way.
In the German media there appeared an interesting analysis. It sates that Merkel has played her move well in this Byomerman situation and particular her statement for the case to be resolved by the German court, in which she has full confidence. It’s about that paragraph 103, which she cited when she announced that the government will leave the court to investigate the case of the satirist. The disputed paragraph 103 of the Criminal Procedure Code refers to “insulting institutions or representatives of foreign countries.” Such acts are punishable by imprisonment of up to three years or a fine. However this paragraph of the law, according to Angela Merkel and many specialists sounds old-fashioned. It was written in the early twentieth century in a very different from today Germany. Once upon a time the law did not look as seriously on the principles of equality and anyone who dared to insult a senior person, was able to feel on his back the harshness of the ruling elites. But Merkel immediately declare that the paragraph should change, as it is irrelevant. So she voted full confidence in the court which will decide how Byomerman will bear some blame. This might be a shrewd move. The repeal of the law and the eventual recognition of Byomerman as innocent in front of the whole world, not because of Merkel, but because of the court of law, could place Erdogan in an even more humiliating situation. Thus, he will condemn himself.
The co-chairman of DIE LINKE, Sarah Vagenkneht and the entire left opposition government faction, condemned Merkel’s action, as according to Vagenkneht not only is the Chancellor cowardly, she is also unfair. According to co-chair of the Left Party, the criminal case against Byoreman is not compulsory, and it is required only because the German government wants it. Vagenkneht stated that it’s unacceptable for Merkel to embrace with Erdogan because he is “a godfather of terror.” “If godfathers of terrorism might call into question the freedom of expression in our country, then in this country something really wrong is happening”.
Freedom of art is sacrificed at the expense of political pragmatism – this is the conclusion of the whole situation and the different interpretations of the case. Whether you are a fervent supporter of the idea that Merkel has bent before Erdogan, or the opposite – that she has prepared a lesson for him by way of the German court, it is certain that she will come out of this whole situation with a damaged political rating. It turns out that the case of Yan Byomerman writes not only a new legal history in Germany, but that it’s also a milestone in political history. And this is at the service of political satire itself, as it means that it has not blunted it’s blade. Not surprisingly, the granddaughter of legendary actor Charlie Chaplin has officially taken a position in favor of the German satirist and reminded that Nazi Germany threatened the US with economic sanctions if they allowed the filming of Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”. In terms of quality “The Great Dictator” is better when compared with Byomerman’s Erdogan poem, however the fact that the poem has hurt one intoxicated by power master, inhabiting distant times, may soon give more energy to satirists, ready to storm politicians who have forgotten themselves.