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Interview. Turkey has banned the works of Dario Fo, the Italian playwright, along with Shakespeare and anyone who doesn’t advance “the national spirit.”

Dario Fo: ‘Attacking the culture is a sign of the regime’s weakness’

Dario Fo has never set foot in Turkey and is sure that such a trip will not fit into its future plans. “After all, there are more than 400 theaters around the world representing my works,” says the Nobel Prize-winning Italian playwright. “To follow them all I would have to travel all my life, indeed longer.”

Now the Turkish State Theatres has banned Fo’s works because they have little to do with “the national spirit.” The decision was taken last Sunday: “We will open our theaters to local works that contribute to the integrity and unity of the country.” Such is the inspiration for the ban from the autocrats of Ankara.

Just this summer Fo plays were staged in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, among them Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! and Accidental Death of an Anarchist. It’s nothing personal. Fo is in good company: Shakespeare, Chekhov and Brecht were also banned. It’s just a censorship regime. “It’s nothing we haven’t seen before,” Fo said, speaking with il manifesto. “We ourselves have done this in other times.”

How does it feel to be in Shakespeare’s company?

I would say that being lumped together with such an author for me is an honor, a sort of Nobel. It is very pleasant also to be put alongside the greatest men of the last century of theater. But the situation is worrying.

Has your work been banned in other countries?

I remember that in Spain, during Franco times, an entire theater company was imprisoned solely for having staged one of my comedies. We see now that Turkey has attacked the theater and culture, as has already happened in other countries, including ours of course. And to think that in the Turkish theaters have always represented many my plays, in even greater numbers than in other countries.

Even in Italy, on the subject of censorship, we never missed anything.

Both before and after the war, in our country censorship was always troubling to our authors. The Italian television, for example, after the one known story or “altercation” that forced me and Franca Rame to leave film for a long time, for several years not even a fragment of the material we had produced was aired. Those who are my age also remember that period when Italy — as Turkey has done now — had decided to ban authors and foreign intellectuals. It was fascism. I remember that the regime canceled a show based on Machiavelli, The Mandrake. Unbelievable: banning a work of the 16th century, Machiavelli, in Italy.

Is Turkey going in that direction?

Obviously, Turkey today is doing the same with the pretext of only encouraging the dissemination of works that represent the spirit of the country. I think it’s a sign of weakness; censorship is not good for the health of the government that applies it. Moreover, it is known that in Turkey, as in the past, unwelcome authors and intellectuals have been persecuted. I remember the dreadful “accident” that happened in 1993 in a hotel in Sivas, in Turkey, where some 30 intellectuals died by arson, including many writers and playwrights. It was a dramatic event that affected the whole world. Among them there were those who had already staged plays taken from some of my work.

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