I gather Turkey claims it is a democracy, and wishes to join the European Union, which raises the question, what sort of democracy is it? Actually, it is not a democracy, because in a democracy, everyone has the right to vote on every issue; what most of have is a Republic, where the people vote for representatives to vote on issues for them, but let us put this to one side.
For a Republic to work properly, the people have to be able to assess their representatives, to ensure they vote the way they would wish. Of course nobody who has any serious thoughts on issues gets a representative to vote every way they would vote, but that is life. The representative stays in power if he or she can reasonably persuade the majority of voters that they are at least doing an adequate job, and a better job than the opponent would do. But to do that, people have to have the right to express their views without threat of reprisal. In my country, I have that right, and more than once I have published letters asserting incompetence by a politician, with an explanation of what I assert proves my point. Whether it does any good is questionable, but it is my right, and I know I can exert it without any reprisal.
Back to Turkey. That right is either not there or not working very well, as shown by the current trial of Bilgin Ciftci, who is on trial for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Apparently, Mr Ciftci produced some images of Erdogan and his expressions, and alongside these were pictures that are allegedly of Gollum, from the movie Lord of the Rings, with similar expressions. I find these quite amusing, even if the images are not exactly with the same expression. The “Gollum” always has his eyes wide open, whereas Erdogan does not. One pair has the two eating something like a meat from a chicken leg, and Erdogan has his eyes shut. Anyway, the Judge has decided to appoint five”experts”, which reportedly includes two academics, two behavioural experts and an expert on cinema productions, and they have to decide whether Gollum as portrayed in the movie is good or bad, i.e. is this a real insult?
Mr Ciftci’s defence is apparently going to be that the comparison to Gollum is not an insult, and indeed Gollum is the real hero of the series. You may well think this is funny (and I must confess to having smiled at the images) but insulting the President is punishable by a significant prison sentence in Turkey. (Imagine trawling through the web in the US to find people who had insulted President Obama and incarcerating them? The prison system would then really be overflowing.) Apparently more than two hundred people have been investigated for this “crime” between August 2014 and March 2015. Hardly a great length of time. Merve Büyüksaraç, a model and former Miss Turkey in 2006, now faces two years in prison for “insulting” Erdogan. She apparently placed some lines from the Turkish national anthem on an instagram account that had been used elsewhere to criticise Erdogan.
Anyway, back to Mr Ciftci. The situation has not become more complicated thanks to a New Zealand intervention. Yes, really!! Sir Peter Jackson, alongside Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens, have issued a statement saying the Turks have it all wrong. The images are actually of Gollum’s alter ego, Smeagol, a “joyful sweet character”. What will the Turkish courts make of that? Since Jackson directed the Lord of the Rings, and the other two were script writers, it would seem they have some authority here, and more so than five Turkish “experts”.
We shall have to wait and see, but for my money, if a Turkish politician cannot stand being insulted (even if the insults seem obscure to say the least) then Turkey has no right to be in European Union. Another interesting question is what will Erdogan do about the stream of insults that I am sure will continued from Putin? Not much, I guess. And I also guess that Turkey should not be on my travel list.