Even though most people would never have thought such a thing even existed, a German comedian has got into trouble two weeks ago for publishing a poem about the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The poem read out by German satirist Jan Boehmermann on national television caused an international crisis. More important, it unveiled the boarder that has been drawn where diplomacy is overpowering our western liberal rights.
The poem, with the sole purpose of provoking a response from Erdoğan, did exactly what it intended: Tickling the dragon. However, no one could have guessed to which extend the reaction would grow. Erdoğan, mobilising all his legal power, dug up a law from the emperor’s time and asked the government, which in the case of this ancient law has to allow prosecution, to grant him this. Now, Boehmermann faces a sentence, in the case of a conviction.
The German government, headed by Angela Merkel, had to make a careful consideration between the constitutional right to the freedom of speech and the importance of Erdoğan as a vital partner to solve the EU’s refugee crisis. Even though, Angela Merkel, by allowing the prosecution, did not actually sentence anyone or made a judicial comment about the restriction to the freedom of speech, she did nonetheless stated her position quite clearly.
It is hard to imagine a solution to the refugee crisis without the involvement of Turkey, therefore, the diplomatic importance of allowing Erdoğan to use his, legal right to press charges can be understood.
Nonetheless, considering the content of the poem, being a silly piece comparing Erdoğan to different atrocities, it is highly implausible that anyone would actually have felt insulted by it. Even if it would have been insulting to him, there is still the normal judicial way of pressing charges as a private person (with a lower maximum sentencing level), which he could have used.
But by involving the government of Germany and raising it to a state issue, Erdoğan tested his powers. It, being an experiment on the international parquet of diplomacy, makes the reaction by Mrs. Merkel even worse: By giving in to him, she allowed him to widen his influence far over the Turkish boarders and admitting dependency more than it was necessary.
It unveiled the difficulties a European nation faces by having to cooperate with autocratic regimes, like Erdoğan’s. Whatever way democratic nations will find to deal with the demands of autocratic leaders, Mrs. Merkel did not set a good precedent. She chose pleasing Erdoğan and securing her diplomacy instead of defending the human right to the freedom of speech.