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Comical Unintended Consequences of Turkish President Erdogan's State Visit to Serbia

Screenshot of satirical “news” entitled ““In honour of Erdoğan's visit, 17 journalists were arrested today” by Njuz.net, a Serbian website similar to Onion.com.

The warm welcome of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić during a state visit this week, incited many satirical comments on nationalism and media freedoms.

Erdoğan arrived in Belgrade on October 10, and the next day also visited Novi Pazar, the main city in the southern area of Sandžak, which is mainly inhabited by Bosniaks. The population of the region has strong historical, religious, and family ties with Turkey, as many of their relatives had immigrated to Turkey during the last century.

Serbian nationalism is based on stories of resistance to the Ottoman Empire, whereas Erdoğan is often considered a proponent of “Neo-Ottomanism” — or a strategic orientation by Turkey aiming to regain influence over regions once under the Ottoman Empire's domain. Therefore, some of the efforts by local dignitaries who aimed to please the honored guest, were met with ridicule by critical citizens.

Some more creative commentators started reusing forms of epic poetry that was instrumental as a primary vehicle for stirring patriotic (anti-Ottoman) emotions in the XIX century. These recent parodies especially targeted local nationalist politicians who had built their careers promoting Serbian nationalism.

In their official communications, the Serbian regime emphasized the expected economic benefits from the numerous treaties signed during the visit, including a future natural gas pipeline, while being careful to avoid mentioning political issues on which they have diametrically opposed positions with Turkey.

However, the online community, cleverly and quickly, pointed out these lapses:

Lord Vučić held council
With Erdoğan, the Emperor of Turks
About many a matter they held a parley
Of natural gas, of religion and of history,
But time to mention Kosovo was lacking.

Such online comments took the tone of epic songs from the time when Serbia was an Ottoman suzerain, or a semi independent state nominally subordinate to the Ottoman Sultanate.

Vučić gathered his tax collectors,
To shout high praises to Erdoğan
To the Sultan in the midst of Kalemegdan
Which hath not had happened [since 1867]
When Prince Mihajlo banished the Turks from the fort

Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić actually provided much of the satirical material on his own, by taking the stage at an official dinner in Belgrade and singing folk songs from the common past.

Ivica the Suitcase sang like a nightingale
Into the ear of Erdoğan the Sultan
First he sang of Miljacka in Sarajevo
Then he sang of Turkish Osman Aga

The satirical website Njuz.net addressed the common aversion of the two regimes towards freedom of speech by ‘reporting’ that “In honour of Erdoğan's visit, 17 journalists were arrested today”:

BEOGRAD, 10. oktobar 2017, (Njuz) – Sedamnaest novinara iz štampanih i onlajn medija uhapšeno je danas u čast posete turskog predsednika Srbiji.

Novinari će biti predstavljeni Erdoganu nakon svečane večere, kada će mu biti omogućeno da u ime prijateljstva dva naroda odredi simbolične kazne.

– U Erdoganovu čast smo priveli najbolje primerke antirežimskih novinara koje smo mogli da nahvatamo u tako kratkom periodu – oni su svakodnevno pisali i izveštavali najgore moguće stvari protiv vlade, predsednika i generalno, napretka Srbije, kaže se u saopštenju predsedništva Srbije.

Kako se nezvanično saznaje, Erdogan je veoma zadovoljan ovakvim potezom državnog vrha Srbije i obećava da će uzvratiti istom merom prilikom posete našeg predsednika Ankari.

– Neka ovo bude početak jedne duge i uspešne demokratske tradicije u razmeni kažnjavanja nepodobnih medija, navodi se u zvaničnom saopštenju turske delegacije.

Belgrade, Oct 10, 2017 (Njuz) – Seventeen journalists from print and online media were arrested today in honor of the visit of the Turkish president to Serbia.

The journalists will be presented to Erdoğan after the festive dinner, when he will be allowed to pass symbolic sentences in the name of the friendship of the two peoples.

- In Erdoğan's honor we detained the best samples of anti-regime journalists which we could apprehend on such a short notice. They had written and reported in the worst manner against our government, the president, and in general, against progress in Serbia, stated the announcement by the Office of the President of Serbia.

According to unofficial information, Erdoğan was very pleased with this move by the Serbian state leadership, and promised he will return the favor during the visit of Serbian president to Ankara.

- May this be a start of a long and successful democratic tradition in exchange of punishing undesirable media, read the official announcement by the Turkish delegation.

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