Turkish Prime Minister’s bid to privatize theaters stirs uproar

Turkish Prime Minister’s bid to privatize theaters stirs uproar

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish Prime Minister’s bid to privatize theaters stirs uproar

PM Erdoğan says he will propose to the Cabinet a motion to to privatize state-run theaters in a move against critics who slam Ankara over a spat on City Theaters. AA Photo

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised yesterday to propose the privatization of state-funded theaters following a row over the administration of Istanbul’s playhouses, sparking fury from opponents who say the move could severely weaken the art.

“No theaters are being run by the state in almost any developed country. I congratulate Mr. Kadir Topbaş, [the Istanbul Mayor], and I will bring the same [suggestion] to the Cabinet,” Erdoğan said in an address to his party’s Youth Branches’ Congress.

Tension has grown between artists and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) after Topbaş recently amended the regulations of the City Theaters, which are run by the Metropolitan Municipality, to increase the influence of civil servants in selecting the repertoire and to better control the artistic content of the theater. Hundreds of actors and actresses held rallies in Ankara and in Istanbul to protest the move and accuse the government of using its authority for potential censorship.

“Today everything is being privatized by the [AKP] in Turkey, but there has to be limits. There are some areas that state must support and help. If the state theaters are being privatized, then only people who have money can exhibit their arts in Turkey,” Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chair Faruk Loğoğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Privatizing the theaters will never benefit Turkey’s theater scene, City Theaters actor Eraslan Sağlam told the Hürriyet Daily News. “On the contrary, it would have a negative affect because theaters need state support.”

But Erdoğan slammed intellectuals opposed to the amendments, calling them despotic and arrogant. “They have started to insult us and all conservatives over a change in the City Theaters regulations. For God’s sake, I am asking: Who are you? From where do you get the authority to express opinions on every issue, to argue that you are not the only eligible person to know everything? Are theaters your monopoly in this country? Are arts your monopoly? These days are gone,” Erdoğan said.

The prime minister said he would take the issue to the agenda of the Cabinet, where he will propose the privatization of theaters run by the state. Though he did not name “State Theaters,” which were founded in 1949 and perform in 18 provinces on more than 30 stages, Erdoğan’s move could also include them.

“You can play on your theaters freely after privatization. If there is a need for support, then we as the government can sponsor plays that we want,” he said. “Here there is freedom. You can play whatever you want and wherever you want. No one will prevent you. Sorry, but you cannot get your salary from both the municipality and City Theaters and then criticize the management. There is no such absurdity.”
Loğoğlu said Erdoğan’s main aim was to put an end to the theater in Turkey as an art.

“Sometimes they insert the state into everything, but then they don’t give their support when it is needed. I don’t think theater would manage to survive in Turkey if the state removed its support,” Loğoğlu said.

Privatizing the theaters means making them dependent on an organization, Sağlam said. “This is what the state wants to do. They want to create a theater association which is not free.”

“Tayyip Erdoğan knows nothing about the theater world,” Theater Critics President Üstün Akmen was quoted as saying by daily Radikal. “I think he is trying to find an investment area via theaters.

Privatizing the theaters means cultural murder. Look at the world, are the English National Theatre and the French Comedie Française privatized associations? No, they are not.”

Theater actor Orhan Alkaya, meanwhile, said there were no other examples in the world of such behavior.