Turkey: Prime Minister will not tolerate criticism from state funded theatres

17 May 2012

The Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatens to withdraw state support from the country’s 22 city theatres after his daughter said she was insulted by an actor during a play.

Actors protest in Istanbul

What some are calling “Turkey’s culture war” began in April 2011 when the prime minister’s youngest daughter, Sümeyye Erdogan, 30, walked out of a performance of Young Osman at the Ankara state theatre. What exactly happened during an improvised sequence where the actors growl at the audience is still disputed, but Sümeyye Erdogan claims she was humiliated by an actor, Tolga Tuncer, who picked on her because she was wearing a headscarf, mimicking her chewing gum and making offensive “haka-style” gestures at her.

“Theatres cannot take government subsidies and then criticise the hand that feeds them,” prime minister Erdogan said:

“They have started to humiliate and look down on us and all conservatives. If support is needed, then we the government can support the plays we want. I am privatising the theatre. No theatres are being run by the state in almost any developed country. Here there is freedom. When we privatise the theatres you can play whatever you want. Sorry, but you cannot get your salary from the municipality and then criticise the management. There is no such absurdity.”

Arts organisations described the attacks as a “pointless witchhunt”, pointing out that the theatre is subsidised in almost every developed country and that Turkey’s state theatres are the fullest in Europe, thanks to low prices and a mostly traditional repertoire that appeals to conservative and religious audiences in the governing AK party’s Anatolian heartlands.

The crisis deepened as Istanbul’s theatre festival opened in May 2012. Its director, Dr Dikmen Gürün, appealed for calm and said that cuts would be a disaster for smalltown Anatolia, where most stages are subsidised. Human rights groups are worried by an atmosphere of self-censorship.

The Guardian – 17 May 2012:
Turkey’s PM threatens theatres after actor ‘humiliates’ daughter
Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemns ‘despotic arrogance’ of intellectuals and says he will cut state funding. By Fiachra Gibbons

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