extraordinary war of words erupting between Turkey and the European Union is
pushing already strained relations to breaking point. Ankara has banned all Dutch diplomats from its territory after the
Netherlands banished Turkish ministers from holding political rallies, while
deploying heavy-handed policing to break up the rallies.
Now with the rest of the EU expressing
solidarity with the Netherlands and Ankara threatening more sanctions, or even
walking away from a controversial refugee-holding deal with the bloc, the
political schism seems set to become an irreparable chasm. For sure, the
long-delayed talks over Turkey’s accession to the EU bloc can be said to be
The Turkish government has
dismissed calls by EU foreign policy chief Federica Morgherini for restraint in
the escalating row, saying that such appeals were «worthless». Turkish
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan double-downed on
his invective attacks by labelling German Chancellor Angela Merkel a «supporter
Earlier, Erdogan and several of his government
ministers had slammed the Netherlands and Germany as «Nazi remnants» and
«fascists». Both Dutch prime minister and Germany’s Merkel responded angrily,
denouncing Ankara’s inflammatory rhetoric and demanding an apology.
Erdogan then went even
further with inflammatory rhetoric. He accused Dutch UN peacekeepers
of complicity in the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, when some 8,000 Bosnian
muslim men were killed by Serb forces.
In truth, it is hard to feel sympathy for either
side in this spat. It’s a case of plague on both houses.
For Erdogan and his ruling Justice and
Development Party (AKP) to castigate EU members as a «Banana Republic» and
«fascist» is beyond irony.
Since the failed coup in Turkey last July, the
Ankara government has embarked on a wave of repression, sacking over 100,000
civil servants, judges, academics and journalists. Up to 15o media outlets have
been shuttered and some 90,000 suspected coup supporters detained in Turkish
Erdogan is fast turning Turkey into a one-party
state ruled with an iron fist. In a referendum to be held next month, on April
16, his ruling party is pushing for a constitutional change to give greater
powers to the presidency. It is part of a drift towards Erdogan assuming
So for the staunch Islamist and autocratic
Erdogan to label the EU as «fascist» is like the pot calling the kettle black.
But, as usual, the Turkish leader thrives on
polarization. His brandishing of the nationalist and Islamist card in the
bust-up with the EU is designed to drum up support at home for the referendum
to grant him more centralized powers. Polls indicate that up to recently, most
Turks were opposed to granting any constitutional change. But by whipping up
public anger against the EU over its seemingly anti-Turkey, anti-Islamic
stance, Erdogan is mobilizing chauvinistic support in the referendum for his
Turks who are not backing his desired
constitutional amendments can be maligned as unpatriotic or on the «side of
terrorists». Erdogan claims that the new powers will give him a freer hand to
wage war against Islamic State terrorists in Syria, as well as Kurdish
separatists belonging to the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and their
Syrian affiliates (YPG).
This kind of reasoning lies behind the political
rallies that the Turkish government has tried to organize across Europe. There
are some 5.5 million Turkish expatriates living in Europe, with major
population clusters in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Switzerland.
In Germany alone, there are 1.4 million Turkish nationals who are eligible to
vote in the forthcoming referendum in Turkey. This significant constituency
could be decisive in swinging the referendum vote in Erdogan’s favor.
However, European governments have lately moved
to ban political rallies on their streets addressed by Turkish politicians in
support of Erdogan’s cause.
In the latest flare-up, the Netherlands banned
Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusolgu from entering the country to speak at
a rally in Rotterdam last the weekend. His stand-in replacement, Turkish social
affairs minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, who was already in the country, was
then forcibly deported by Dutch police back to Germany from whence she came.
The ensuing clashes between Dutch police using
water cannons, horse-mounted officers and dogs, against Turkish protesters,
were fodder for Erdogan and his supporters back in Turkey to accuse Europe of
using Nazi practices. «Those who attack my people with dogs will pay the
price,» declared Erdogan.
Angry crowds jostled outside the Dutch embassy
and consulate in Ankara and Istanbul, with their flags reportedly ripped down.
Netherlands prime minister Mark Rutte said:
«Dutch public spaces are not the place for other countries’ political
campaigns.» His view was echoed by leaders in Germany, Denmark and Austria, as
well as France’s National Front presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, and the
European Parliament’s vice president Alexander Graff Lambsdorff.
On this score, it is hard to disagree with the
EU ban on the Turkish political rallies. Such foreign political intrusion is an
unimaginable infringement on national sovereignty that would not be tolerated
by Turkey nor most other countries.
This is partly why one surmises that Erdogan has
deliberately contrived a confrontation on the issue. Knowing that such a
provocative move on his part would be met with antagonism from European
authorities, which in turn can be portrayed by Erdogan in a patriotic and
Nonetheless, on both sides it is a carnival of
reactionary politics with deep-seated complicity.
On the Turkish side, Erdogan wants to accrue
more authoritarian powers at home partly because of the military quagmire he
has created from regime-change intrigues against Syria. Erdogan’s subterfuge in
Syria to oust the government of President Bashar al Assad has involved covert
sponsorship of Islamist terror groups, against whom he now says he needs extra
powers for his presidency to combat against. Well, if Erdogan hadn’t fomented
the monster of terrorism haunting his country in the first place, then he
wouldn’t be in a position of requiring greater presidential powers.
Also, let’s not forget that Turkish military
forces have been fighting on Syrian territory since last August. This is a
blatant violation of international law and an aggression against Syrian
sovereignty. Again, the charge made by Erdogan denouncing European governments
as «fascist» is richly absurd.
On the European side too it is fraught with
reactionary contradictions pointing to its own grave complicity. The public
apprehension over immigration and Islamism are major issues driving the rise of
populist political parties who are mounting campaigns that are undermining the
This week in the
Netherlands’ general election, the anti-Islamist, anti-immigration, anti-EU
Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders did not win an outright victory over the
incumbent center-right ruling party of Mark Rutte (VVD). Nonetheless, Wilders’
party did reportedly make
a significant gain in parliamentary seats, increasing its quota by nearly a
The same dynamic is operating behind Britain’s
historic Brexit departure from the EU and in the surge in support for Le Pen in
France and similar parties in Germany, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Slovakia,
Hungary and elsewhere.
This partly explains why European governments
under pressure from the populist opposition are compelled to take an even
tougher line on the Turkish political rallies. As in Holland, it is feared that
the issue is garnering support for the populist parties.
But the bigger picture here is that the European
governments and the EU bloc are complicit in stoking the immigration crisis
from their support for illegal wars in Syria and across the Middle East.
Britain and France in particular have been key players in abetting Washington’s
agenda of illegal regime-change wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen
The whole disastrous mess corroding the EU and
its entanglement with a reckless Turkey is a plague on both their houses.