Mustafa the movie divides Turkey with a portrait of the 'real' Ataturk





Turks venerate Ataturk, the founder of the republic and architect of arguably the most successful social modernisation programme of the 20th century. How much they really want to know him is questionable, however, judging from the furore that has erupted since a new documentary on his life was released in cinemas last week.

Directed by Can Dundar, a leading documentary-maker with an until now spotless secularist record, Mustafa is the first Turkish film to emphasise the private side of the man whose stern features preside over public buildings across the country. The documentary, which carries Ataturk's childhood name, breaks no taboos but presents Ataturk as a hard-living, hard-drinking and ultimately rather melancholy man who felt increasingly detached from the country he created. "Remember me," is scrawled in the margins of one of his last public speeches.

"I wanted to present Mustafa Kemal in a more intimate, affectionate light," Dundar said in a telephone interview. "All those statues, busts and flags have created a chief devoid of human qualities." Watched by 470,000 people in its first five days in cinemas, his film has been widely praised. The director and film crew received a standing ovation at its gala screening. But it has also attracted furious criticism.

"Ataturk raised up a people about to be excised from world history, and here he is presented as a drunken debaucher," said Israfil Kumbasar, columnist for Yeni Cag, an ultra-nationalist daily. "Would you accept such a portrait of Churchill?"

Some radical secularists go further, seeing the film as part of a Western-backed plot to weaken Turkey's Kemalist army – the chief obstacle to alleged plans to dump secularism in favour of "enlightened Islam". The United States, "treated our soldiers like common criminals in Iraq", says Yigit Bulut, a popular columnist in the secularist daily Vatan, referring to the 2003 arrest of Turkish troops that came close to destroying relations with the US. "This film is part of the same strategy."

Bulut concluded his column last Friday by begging readers: "Do not watch this documentary, dissuade others from watching it, but above all do not allow it to plant seeds belittling Ataturk in your children's minds."..



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