The Presidential Symphony Orchestra of Turkey recently dropped three compositions by the Turkist pianist Fazil Say after a conflict emerged between the pianist and the Turkish government concerning the current conditions of freedom of speech in Turkey.
Fazil Say has been a “vocal critic of the government”, but the original issue seems to have developed from an incident involving Mr. Say, an atheist, and statements he made on Twitter, insulting Islam. Mr. Say received a 10 month suspended sentence and certain public officials are refusing to work with Mr. Say and have subsequently cancelled scheduled concerts.
What makes this problem particularly interesting is that Turkey is seeking European Union membership. In order to do so, however, a country must subscribe to specific EU provisions and policies. Part of the membership requirement mandates the “stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”.
The European Union has already addressed the shortcomings of freedom of expression and in a report filed this month cited areas that need to be looked into in order to accept Turkey into the EU. Furthermore, Mr. Say sent a letter to the Turkish government speaking out against the government’s “oppression of the arts” in general.
But doesn’t Turkey have an argument here for autonomy and a right to define democracy as applies best to the values of its people? The European Union mandates “institutions guaranteeing democracy”, but what should be the threshold? Democracy is an abstract idea, and doesn’t it make sense that different countries will define it differently?