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"Sipping my raki in front of the Bosphorus"

Nedim Gürsel writes open letter to Mr. Erdogan

Nedim Gürsel, Turkish writer and research director of the CNRS in Paris, had already writen an open letter to PM Erdogan after the publication of his “Allah’s daughters” in 2008. Then he had sought to defend himself from the charge of “insulting the religious values of the people” " – of which he was acquitted one year later – and to polemically remind the prime minister that he had previously stated: “Turkey is no more a country where writers are put on trial”. 
Today, amidst protest in Taksim square, Gürsel’s letter is an accusation against Erdogan and the “authoritarian drift” of his government. 

Here is the text of his Open Letter:

Mr. Prime Minister,

this is the second time that I write an open letter to you. In the first one, which you did not answer, I referred not to the trial against my novel “Allah’s daughters”, accused of blasphemy, because justice must be independent in a democracy, but to the report that the religious affair commission, that depends on you, had order to have me sentenced to jail. I was acquitted after one year trial, but composer Fazil Say and writer Nisanyan have been recently condemned for the same reason, although the crime of blasphemy does not exist in principle in a secular state. Today I am writing to you to take part, my way, in this great protest movement against the authoritarian drift of your government.

Mr. Prime Minister, you are wrong if you think that this movement, which in my opinion marks the decline of your power, is made by some “hooligans and looters”, as you said. It is a legitimate reaction to your repressive politics which aims at imposing us a conservative and Muslim lifestyle. Young people, as well as the civil society, are demonstrating not only in Istanbul, but also in 50 other towns in Turkey, and they do not need your advice about what they shall eat and drink. You cannot tell me, as you did, to go hide inside my home when I wish to drink my glass of raki, the typical Turkish alcoholic drink, as if I had to be ashamed of it. I want to sip my raki in front of the Bosphorus, Mr. Prime Minister, where we have our family house, and if possible at sunset. This is because I love the town about which I have often written in my novels. You have no right to deprive me of this pleasure, even if you were elected with a half of the votes. You cannot even build Ottoman barracks, albeit turned into a shopping mall, in Taksim Square. You see, this is Istanbul, not Dubai, and the population wishes the historical centre and the environment to be protected.

Mr. Prime Minister, when negotiations for our country’s adhesion into the European Union started in October 2005, you said that it was the “century project” to reach, as sought by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of our Republic, “the level of modern civilization”. Today you seem to have turned the European page. As the values of European democracy have never been a goal for you, but a means to counter the importance of the army on the political stage. I must admit that you have been successful on this point and I congratulate. As far as the assessment of your economic success is concerned, I lack any competence to express a judgement. But as far the rest is concerned, it is a complete failure, in particular in the fields of freedom of expression and secularism, which are the necessary conditions for a true democracy.

Mr. Prime Minister, you have governed our country for longer than ten years. The moment to discuss your arrogance, your self-sufficiency and above all your authoritarian policy. You seem to confuse “general populism” with democracy, which enables minorities to criticize power and keep their own fundamental rights. It is time you had some rest, because after your surgery you are showing some signs of fatigue. Even if you do not say goodbye as I would like, at least try to “unchain” our country’s youths which you would have like to become, in your own words, “obedient and conservative”. Today I realise that this has not occurred, and I appreciate this. You also said, referring to alcoholic drinks, that it is better to eat grapes than to drink wine, overlooking the fact that you are using this arrogant language in Dionysos’ country. You also considered that those who drink wine, be it just one glass, are alcohol-freaks. Hence, I will go drink a glass of wine to your health in the vineyards of Bordeaux and Bourgogne. 
Nedim Gürsel is the winner of the Prix Méditerranés for his 2012 novel L'Ange rouge

14 June 2013

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Freedom of expression

against blinkered thinking

Freedom of thought is usually the first of the fundamental rights of the human being to be targeted by authoritarian regimes, and this applies increasingly the closer it gets to the prototype of totalitarian society. Censorship muzzles the press and journalists are prevented from doing their job, 'till the point in which they are reduced to a mere mouthpiece of the state propaganda. Also the other free expressions of thought are under attack, no one is spared: intellectuals, writers, film directors... even figurative arts are under strict control. Repression heavily curbs all forms of individual sovereignty, such as above all opinions, personal ideas, which represent the worst threat for those who want to impose the "blinkered thought".
In fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, in maoist China and in the dictatorships of Latin America like in modern theocracies and new autocratic regimes, troublesome books were banned and even burnt on the squares, and the historian, scientists, scholars, artists who refused to line up were exiled or jailed.
Totalitarianism entered homes and imposed its grip within the family, which was dominated by the fear of being betrayed even by one's dearest ones. A mechanism of self-censorship thus started: in order to survive people preferred giving up not only expressing their views.. but even to conceive them. There was nothing left but settle for the doctrine expressed by the leaders on power.
Those who try to resist, to keep their own individual character and personal freedom, lose everything, but their independence, combined with the resistance of many other in the same conditions, undermines the very foundations of dictatorial regimes, until their collapse.

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