The Corner

Böhmermann, Erdogan and Merkel’s Illiberal Democracy

BBC (my emphasis added):

The Hamburg court said that it stands by its order, issued last May, which prohibited republication of parts of a poem by German comic Jan Boehmermann. The satirist, who is barred for repeating the majority of the verses, says he will appeal the verdict. The poem, first broadcast in 2016, led to a free speech debate in Germany, and diplomatic tension with Turkey.

Mr Boehmermann’s lawyer, Christian Schertz, said Friday’s verdict “does not take into account freedom of artistic expression”.

But in a statement, the court said: “Satire that is secured under artistic freedom could be forbidden when it touches on the core area of personal freedom.” However, the court also said that a head of state must expect heavier criticism than a regular citizen. The poem played on President Erdogan’s reputation for cracking down on free speech at home, and included vulgar sexual references. The Turkish president filed a criminal complaint against the satirist after it was broadcast on German television last March.

The criminal charges were later dropped, but the poem remains banned in Germany.

The case hinges on a rarely used 19th-century section of German’s criminal code that prohibits defamation of foreign heads of state…

The court objected to 18 of the poem’s 24 lines, deeming them “abusive and defamatory”.

Well, they were certainly abusive (text here: trigger warnings, good taste warnings, naughty word warnings, rubber mask warnings, etc.), but they were also clearly satirical. To suggest that they were defamatory would be to suggest, I reckon, that they could be taken seriously. And who could possibly think that? I mean, goats.

The attempt by Turkey’s thuggish leader (and, yes, I’m old enough to remember when The Economist used to describe him as ‘mildly Islamist’) to arrange for Boehmermann to be prosecuted ought to have been seen off by any German chancellor worthy of that role. Unfortunately, Angela Merkel is not that person.

Here’s Stefan Kuzmany, writing in Spiegel Online earlier this year:

Merkel apparently sought to take the wind out of Erdogan’s sails by hastily having her spokesperson announce that the Böhmermann poem was “consciously injurious.” She could have thrown her support unmistakably behind Böhmermann, as one might expect from a chancellor charged with defending the German constitution. His poem was very clearly meant as satire; none of the uncomely imputations therein should be taken — nor were they meant — seriously. The chancellor, of course, knows as much. Yet by adopting Erdogan’s viewpoint, she has essentially allowed him to determine what should be viewed as satire in Germany and what not. Now, the chancellor must decide if German prosecutors should be allowed to open a case over the insulting of a foreign head of state — but because she already described the poem as “injurious” via her spokesman, she has very little room for maneuver.

She panicked, in other words, not the first time she has done so as chancellor. 

And yes, she gave the prosecutors the go-ahead.

Back to the BBC:

After the case became a national talking point, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the authorities would move to repeal article 103 – concerning insults against foreign heads of state – by 2018.

2018! Merkel is notoriously no friend of free speech, but she might at least pretend…


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