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Are Erdogan and Gollum alike?

Dagmar BreitenbachDecember 2, 2015

A Turkish court has asked experts to assess the "Lord of the Rings" character Gollum, so it can decide whether a doctor should be jailed for comparing President Erdogan to the grotesque fantasy figure.

Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Demarthon

A Turkish judge not familiar with the intricacies of the Lord of the Rings fantasy blockbusters has asked two academics, two psychologists and a movie authority to determine whether comparing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the film character Gollum is an insult or not.

A doctor by the name of Bilgin Ciftci could face up to two years for sharing images comparing Turkey's president to the pale, thin creature with the huge eyes, a former Hobbit who ended up with a personality split between good and evil in J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novels and the highly successful Lord of the Rings movies. Ciftci lost his hospital job and was briefly detained.

But why even bother to react at all?

Erdogan's personality and upbringing dictate his reactions, says Yunus Ulusoy, an expert at Germany's Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research (ZfTI). His moves are shaped by culture, ideology and society, and there has never been a Turkish leader with more power than Erdogan, who is not an intellectual, but an average Turkish man, emotional and short-tempered, Ulusoy told DW.

The Turkish president grew up in a society based firmly on hierarchy, Ulusoy explains: "The state matters more than the citizens, so insulting Erdogan is perceived as insulting the Turkish state." In fact, surrounded by loyal supporters, Erdogan has lost touch with social realities, the expert maintains.

Not surprisingly, the official reaction to the Gollum comparison has made quite a splash on social media.

The images the Turkish doctor shared compare Erdogan and Gollum's facial expressions while eating, expressing surprise and amazement. The court case in the western province of Aydin has been adjourned until next year while the experts focus on analyzing Gollum.

This is just the latest of a growing number of journalists, bloggers and ordinary people facing charges for allegedly insulting Erdogan.

Turkey must pay particular attention to the "respect of fundamental rights in law and in practice", the European Commission urged in its 2014 Turkey Progress Report. Attempts at banning social media and pressures on the press "reflect a restrictive approach to freedom of expression," the Commission criticized.

Global concern over freedom of speech

In 2014, the government in Ankara temporarily blocked Twitter and YouTube after both platforms were used by Erdogan opponents to post allegations of corruption within his inner circle.

Other cases that garnered huge attention include that of a former Miss Turkey beauty queen who testified in an Istanbul court in May on charges of insulting the president in a satirical poem. Two prominent journalists were arrested on spying charges, and the editor of a leading English-language daily newspaper was detained for allegedly insulting President Erdogan in a series of tweets sent in August.