Boris Johnson wins ‘most offensive Erdogan poem’ contest

Former mayor of London Boris Johnson. © Hannah McKay
Former London Mayor Boris Johnson has won the “President Erdogan Offensive Poetry competition” held by the Spectator. The flamboyant Brexiteer, a former editor of the magazine, is to be awarded £1,000 for a limerick which alleges that Erdogan had sex with a goat.

Journalist and author Douglas Murray, who came up the idea of the contest, said that although the authors of numerous entries in English, German and Turkish that came from all over the world may feel “robbed” by his decision to give the prize to Johnson’s poem, by doing so he is making a “moral point more than a poetic one.”

The competition was launched by Murray as a protest against the actions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had given a green light to the criminal prosecution of German comedian Jan Böhmermann for his “defamatory poem” about Erdogan. Böhmermann, if found guilty of breaching a rarely used Section 103 of the German penal code that forbids insulting institutions and representatives of foreign countries, could face up to two years in jail. Merkel’s decision to allow the prosecution to go ahead spurred a storm of negative comments, with critics blaming the German leader for giving in to the Turkish president’s arbitrary demands and allowing him to violate the principles of free speech on German soil in exchange for agreeing to the EU-Turkey refugee deal.

Johnson, the London mayor from 2008-16, who was the Spectator’s editor from 1999 to 2005, was urged to join the competition by Murray himself during an interview he gave to the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche last week. Murray, a regular contributor to the Spectator, is known for his a neo-conservative writing highly critical of Islam. Like Johnson, Murray is an Old Etonian who went to Oxford.

When asked about his attitude to the developments around Böhmermann’s trial, Johnson called it a “scandal,” and described the lawsuit as an encroachment on the freedom of speech in Europe.

“If somebody wants to make a joke about the love that flowers between the Turkish president and a goat, he should be able to do so, in any European country, including Turkey,” Johnson said. The former mayor, whose full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, has Turkish blood himself, with his great-grandfather being an ethnic Turk.

Johnson’s limerick reads:

“There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wan****r
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera”

Although, the winner “breached” some rules set by Murray for applicants, for instance, not to use the bawdy rhyme with Ankara that was used in Johnson’s poem, the choice of a £1,000 prize recipient was of a symbolic nature, according to the journalist.

“Finest thing possible that in the UK, in Great Britain, in 2016 you can award a prize to a political leader for insulting a despot in Ankara, while in Germany in 2016, a political leader tries to slam people up in prison,” he said, commenting on his decision to turn a blind eye to flaws in the poem for the sake of delivering a political message.

Anticipating a harsh reaction from Ankara, the journalist advised the Turkish leader to respond in verse rather than through litigation.

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“The normal response one should make to a poem you don’t like about yourself is to write an equally rude poem back,” he said, adding that Erdogan’s clampdown on the media and zero tolerance to any criticism “has made him a worldwide laughing stock.”

On March 31, Böhmermann recited a satirical piece about Erdogan on a late-night TV comedy show he hosted. The poem implied the Turkish president had engaged in bestiality and was a child abuser. Outraged by the stunt, Turkey filed a formal request for the comedian’s prosecution.