Demonstrators gathered in front of the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam in support of their right to free association were chased by security officers on horseback and with dogs over the weekend. Despite the background to the political row between Turkey and the Netherlands, most reasonable people would probably say that the only ones to benefit from it will be the populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders and his fellow traveller on the European far-right, France’s Marine Le Pen.
The rise of the far-right in Europe is shocking, but it throws the spat between Turkey and Holland into context. Wilders wants to ban any political initiatives in favour of the “other”, which includes any part of Europe which might “threaten” Dutch identity and the future of his country. Putting the raving of this ultra-nationalist xenophobic leader to one side, we have to ask what has happened to the Dutch — government and people — who have always been very proud of their European values and respect for democratic norms and principles.
Would the government have acted very differently if Wilders had been in charge? Would it have let Turkish Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya go to the consulate to speak to Turkish emigres rather than deporting her? This was a day after Turkey’s foreign minister was refused permission to land in Rotterdam. It is amazing that ministers from a leading NATO member state have been treated in this way by what is supposed to be an ally; a country, moreover, with which it has always had peaceful and stable relations. Has this ever happened before in Dutch history? The way that Mrs Kaya was dealt with by the Dutch authorities makes one wonder if the government in Holland is now unable to maintain law and order, or operate according to the usual diplomatic protocol.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slammed the Dutch for their actions and suggested that there are “Nazi remnants” calling the shots in Holland. A response has been promised; let’s see what happens to Dutch diplomats and government officials trying to land in Turkey, he told a rally in one of his strongest constituencies. It is in the Dutch government’s best interest to manage the crisis until the election next week, and change the current xenophobia in the country before it is too late. The dispute with Holland will not change the course of the Turkish referendum or Erdogan’s career, but it will lead to debates about how it will boost Geert Wilders’ long-term plans and his popularity.
Critics such as Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte accuse the Turkish president of going too far with his “Nazis” comment. Are they not aware that his remarks are an expression of Erdogan’s frustration at being likened frequently by the Western media — Holland’s included —to Adolph Hitler?
This is not the first time that Turkish politicians have sought to canvas for electoral support among Turks living in Europe. Trying to do so is not “interfering” in Holland’s domestic affairs, whereas denying the Turks the right to see and hear their politicians can certainly be called interference in the Turkish political process. The current situation is a sad reflection of the rise of far-right extremism in European politics.
If Wilders wins next Thursday, will we see, as he has warned, Dutch-Turks with dual citizenship being forced to leave Holland if they back Erdogan? Will we see a legal ban on the Qur’an; a rise in arson attacks against mosques across Holland; or increasing discrimination against Dutch Muslims and non-European looking citizens? Turkey might forgive and forget this political and diplomatic incident, but history shows that the far-right in Europe has led the continent to catastrophe before, with murderous results. Are we going to let it happen again?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.