Referendums are in the news, greeted by equal measures of loathing, hysteria and support whenever they are announced. This fact notwithstanding, it looks as if the western media has gone into overdrive in condemning the referendum promoted by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Open racism has been on display, belying our democratic traditions.
Before a kneejerk agreement in our usual righteous indignation with the rather predictable western response so far, let’s first try to imagine what would happen if British Prime Minister Theresa May or any of her ministers were forbidden from addressing British citizens at overseas rallies prior to important polls at home. Or what about the furore if Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon or her cabinet members were banned from holding a meeting anywhere in Europe for those Scots who live overseas?
With Brexit and the Scottish independence referendum controversy still very much live issues, it is not inconceivable that both of these political leaders might want to address their nationals living and working in Europe, of which there are many. If they were stopped from doing so, there is no doubt that the western media — particularly on the right — would be outraged, and rightly so. We would, no doubt, witness demonstrations on the streets of London and Edinburgh, and possibly even other capital cities across Europe.
Yet that is exactly what has happened in Holland after two Turkish ministers were prevented by the Dutch authorities from speaking to Turks with dual Dutch-Turkish citizenship. One minister’s plane was refused landing rights, while the other was bundled away amidst shameful scenes and deported to Germany. The Dutch police turned their water cannon and police dogs on Dutch-Turkish protestors over the weekend who demonstrated at this restriction on the right to hear their home politicians address them on the referendum scheduled for next month. It’s little wonder that Erdogan is furious.
Whether we like the man and his politics or not, why is it unreasonable for his party to campaign at home and abroad as he tries to win the referendum on granting more powers to the Turkish presidency? The Turkish media is playing footage around the clock of Turks living in Holland being attacked by Dutch police and security forces.
Turkey is now seeking the support of the European Court of Human Rights in its political battle with the Dutch government. Erdogan has also announced a number of sanctions against Holland; Dutch diplomats are no longer welcome in Turkey and the president has accused Holland of Nazism and fascism. France and Germany have — predictably — both offered their support to the Dutch, while the European Commission and NATO have urged calm all round.
How much all of this has to do with Holland’s volatile and closely-contested general election is anyone’s guess, as political parties vie with each other to outdo far-right fanatic Geert Wilders in “getting tough” with immigrant communities.
Of course, if Holland was a banana republic or a tinpot dictatorship we would all nod our heads sagely and point out that this is what happens in the absence of a democracy. The reality, though, is that such brutality has been unleashed on Turks in the heart of democratic Europe.
There is a strong possibility that the hate directed at Erdogan will escalate with similar reactions across Europe in the weeks before the Turkish referendum takes place. Austria — Hitler’s birthplace, lest we forget — has already called for an EU-wide ban on Turkish rallies. The message is clear: Turks who have chosen to live in Europe are no longer allowed to gather and listen to political figures from Turkey. This sets a dangerous precedent in a Europe where the far-right is on the march, and where minorities are experiencing the sort of fear that shook Europe’s Jewish communities in the early 1930s; we all know how that ended.
Ordinary people have become political pawns in today’s Europe. We have already seen evidence of this with Theresa May still refusing to reassure EU nationals living in Britain that their future in their adopted country will be secure, even after Brexit.
Now it seems that both Turkey and the EU are on a collision course as the far-right continues to sow the seeds of hate and discontent across the continent. This coincides with demonstrations planned across Europe this weekend by anti-fascist organisations who want to protest against racism and the rise of the extreme right-wing. London, Amsterdam and Athens are expected to lead the way, but with Turkey having a foothold in Europe — geographically, at least — it would send a very powerful message if similar rallies were held simultaneously in Istanbul.
If social movements can promote the spirit of tolerance and understanding across Europe then maybe, just maybe, the politicians who rely on democratically-canvassed votes to get elected may start to extend the spirit of comradeship and togetherness to all citizens, regardless of their faith, ethnicity, gender or culture. If that can happen — and it’s a big if — then the disgraceful scenes witnessed in Holland over the weekend will not have been suffered in vain.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.