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Saving The Turkish Theater From State Censure

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants plays to be submitted to public servants before they can be shown, and for inappropriate scenes to be "reformed."

Istanbul Theater Festival (IKSV)
Istanbul Theater Festival (IKSV)

ISTANBUL – The timing for the Istanbul Theater Festival couldn't have been better. It was held in May, a few days after hundreds of comedians, playwrights and stage directors demonstrated against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's threat to privatize state-owned theaters and Istanbul municipal theaters, financed by public funds.

It all started following an editorial in the Islamist newspaper Zaman , criticizing the play Secret Obscenities – a political comedy on Pinochet's dictatorship. The journalist" accused it many things, not the least of which was "state-sponsored vulgarity," although he hadn't seen the play.

The mayor of Istanbul, Kadir Topbas, jumped on the bandwagon and announced that plays would now have to be submitted to public servants before they could be performed. Erdogan publicly backed the measure and added that some plays would need to be "reformed" before they could be shown. "We'll finance plays only if we like the script," the Prime Minister declared. This statement led to the demonstrations of early May.

According to Dikmen Gürun, who has been the Festival's director since 1993, "the situation is serious. Mr. Erdogan must know that our municipal theaters are a 98-years-old. He cannot privatize them." This historical institution has ten auditoriums and welcomes 2,000 spectators a day. Apart from municipal theaters, there are national theaters in 20 different regions, all financed by the State. About a hundred private auditoriums can also be found in the capital, hosting about 150 independent theaters companies.

Spending a few days visiting Istanbul is enough to catch a glimpse of these companies' difficulties, but also their vitality. Ekip is one of them. Created in 2010, the company began with five members and now has 15. Among these members is Cem Uslu, 29, The Party "s playwright and stage director. This play is performed in a former billiard room converted into a theater last year.

" The Party deals with petty bourgeoisie's hatred, violence and renunciation," Cem Uslu explains. He doesn't make a living as a playwright, nor does he earn any money with Ekip. Like the other members of the company, he has another job: he does dubbing and plays in the hugely TV series that incite many young people to study acting. According to Cem Uslu, about 3,000 comedians – professionals, students or amateurs – live in Istanbul. An overwhelming majority of them do not make a living out of it.

Honoring a generous patron

The IKSV foundation, created in 1973, has donated more 1.5 million euros to Istanbul theaters over the years. This year, to celebrate IKSV's 40 th anniversary, the Istanbul Theater Festival chose more than 40 news plays that will be seen for the first time. Whereas only 0.2% of the State's budget is granted to culture, IKSV plays the role of a second Culture Ministry. And it intends to make its voice heard: "We created a discussion platform to try to find a new model for theaters, with all the actors of the sector, ministries included. The aim is to find a constructive answer to Mr. Erdogan's project," Dikmen Gürun explains.

Others chose to answer with a play, like the company Altidan Sonra Tiyatro, who created A Carefree Play . "Altidan Sonra Tiyatro" means "theater after 6pm" because its members meet after work, as they can't live off their acting jobs. "If theater becomes a source of money, it can have consequences on artistic choices," explains a member.

Altidan Sonra Tiyatro's auditorium is an old shop. On the stage, the comedians act as if they were watching a play themselves. They take a program and turn it so that the audience can see it. On it, the words: "Freedom, not fear."

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - IKSV

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

After Abbas: Here Are The Three Frontrunners To Be The Next Palestinian Leader

Israel and the West have often asked: Where is the Palestinian Mandela? The divided regimes between Gaza and the West Bank continues to make it difficult to imagine the future Palestinian leader. Still, these three names are worth considering.

Abbas is 88, and has been the leading Palestinian political figure since 2005

Thaer Ganaim/APA Images via ZUMA
Elias Kassem

Updated Dec. 5, 2023 at 12:05 a.m.

Israel has set two goals for its Gaza war: destroying Hamas and releasing hostages.

But it has no answer to, nor is even asking the question: What comes next?

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the return of the current Palestinian Authority to govern post-war Gaza. That stance seems opposed to the U.S. Administration’s call to revitalize the Palestinian Authority (PA) to assume power in the coastal enclave.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here .

But neither Israel nor the U.S. put a detailed plan for a governing body in post-war Gaza, let alone offering a vision for a bonafide Palestinian state that would also encompass the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers much of the occupied West Bank, was created in1994 as part of the Oslo Accords peace agreement. It’s now led by President Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Yasser Arafat in 2005. Over the past few years, the question of who would succeed Abbas, now 88 years old, has largely dominated internal Palestinian politics.

But that question has gained new urgency — and was fundamentally altered — with the war in Gaza.

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