Once upon a time, yet not so long ago, Turkish President Erdoğan seemed keen on the leadership of ‘Alliance of Civilisations’; a project launched with the (former) Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero as co-chairman. One of the core ideas was to show the world how close the actual values of different faiths; that democracy would flourish regardless.
It is a distant memory now.
These days Erdoğan is busy trying to prove the opposite, willingly at the forefront of the Clash of Civilisations, as he triggers one crisis after the other with his – supposedly – negotiating partners in the EU, and allies within NATO.
Turkey’s iron-fisted leader is determined to establish a rule which, he hopes, will bring him into the league of Putin, Aliev, Lukashenko, Mugabe, Nazarbayev etc.
He is headlong into a race for hunting ‘yes’ votes for a referendum – due in five weeks – which, if he gets through his resolve, will redefine Turkey as an autocracy – where power as a whole will be under his personal command.
His battle knows no boundaries. It was therefore he exported the referendum campaign into European soil, where many Turkish citizens live.
Every vote counts. Since Emergency Rule means he has most of the propaganda machinery and spin under his control at home, he wants to make sure that the same applies to those voters living in Germany, Netherlands, Austria, France, Belgium etc.
But he hit a wall. Most of the countries mentioned are facing cruical, delicate elections; and their centrist politicians do not want the boats rocked in favour of the far-right, xenopohobic populists. Erdoğan and his men’s appearance, most of them argue, will just do that. So, no permissions were given for his party to conduct campaigns in those territories.
This is the background, where in his well-known rage Erdoğan called Germany a land of Nazis, and the crisis that erupted. This morning, the branding spread to Netherlands, whose elections are due in March 15. The Dutch had banned the Turkish FM Mevlut Çavuşoğlu a day before to come and conduct rallies.
The rest of the story is, as told by the wires:
”Erdogan on Saturday likened a Dutch ban on his foreign minister’s visit to Nazism, in a dramatic escalation of a row over campaign events abroad for Turkey’s high stakes referendum The leader’s strongly-worded comments came after The Hague said it would refuse Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s plane permission to land ahead of a rally to gather support for boosting Erdogan’s powers.
Unlike in Germany, however, where a string of planned rallies were barred by local authorities, in the Netherlands it was the government that stepped in to block Cavusoglu’s visit.
“They are the vestiges of the Nazis, they are fascists,” Erdogan told an Istanbul rally Saturday, days after he angrily compared moves to block rallies in Germany to “Nazi practices”.
“Ban our foreign minister from flying however much you like, but from now on let’s see how your flights will land in Turkey,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish foreign ministry swiftly announced it had summoned the Dutch deputy ambassador in protest over the ban. The Dutch government said in a statement that its decision to bar Cavusoglu from visiting followed a Turkish threat of sanctions. “For that reason the Netherlands has let it be known it will withdraw permission to land” for the minister’s plane, it said.
The Netherlands is home to some 400,000 people of Turkish origin, and Ankara is keen to harness votes of the diaspora in Europe ahead of the April 16 referendum.
(Netherlands Government said it had proposed Çavuşoğlu to come visit after the Dutch elections, but that he had insisted on coming this weekend and had threatened to come no matter the response.)
Erdogan accused the Netherlands of working against the “Yes” campaign and said: “Pressure however much you like. Abet terrorists in your country however much you like. It will backlash, and there’s no doubt that we’ll start retaliating after April 16… We are patient. Whoever is patient will reach victory.”
The latest row came after NATO allies Turkey and Germany sparred over the cancellation of a series of referendum campaign events there.
Germany is home to 1.4 million people eligible to vote in Turkey — the fourth-largest electoral base after Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
Berlin has emerged as a strident critic of Ankara’s vast crackdown in the wake of the attempted putsch of last July, which has seen more than 100,000 people arrested, suspended from their jobs or sacked for alleged links to the plotters or to Kurdish militants.
Elsewhere in Europe, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern has called for an EU ban on Turkish politicians campaigning for the referendum. And Swiss police on Friday blocked a rally supporting a “yes” vote in the referendum, amid uncertainty over whether the Turkish foreign minister would be allowed to host a similar event planned for Zurich this weekend.”
The escalation reached a peak on Saturday when the Dutch authorities prevented a Turkish government minister, Fatma Betül Sayan, to enter the Turkish Consulate General in Rotterdam for a political rally and, after tumultuous scenes, arrested her staff, and deported her as ‘Persona Non Grata’ back to Germany, where she had come from.
The crisis has led to severe threats for retaliation from Erdoğan and his cabinet on Sunday, as reported by the Guardian.
Since the Turkish referendum, based on a proposal that Turkey shift to a fully empowered presidential system (without checks and balances; and separation of powers), is dated in April 16, more escalation is expected between Erdoğan and the EU (plus Switzerland).
And the crisis has already turned ugly, with several key points to be made:
- In their unabated, limitless obedience to the iron rule of Erdoğan, Turkish cabinet ministers are following him like a flock, losing all the credibility they have abroad.
- Applying a rhetoric towards Netherlands bordering a thuggish language, Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu is seen as responsible for nearly unprecedented act of getting himself declared as Persona Non Grata by an EU partner and NATO ally.
- Erdoğan and the AKP government has lost further credibility, given the fact that it was they who signed under the amendments of the election law and a follow-up directive which bans Turkish politicians to conduct political rallies and election propaganda abroad and at Turkish foreign representative offices (embassies etc). By insisting they want to campaign abroad, they are the ones who break the very law they passed.
- The main opposition shows also deep flaws in not attacking this breach. Instead, the secular CHP, echoes Erdoğan’s anger and supports his view that the European countries that impose bans should be boycotted.
- The escalating crisis confirms a Clash of Civilisations in this context: it is a clash of cultures – that of the autocrats and of democrats. The power and resolve of the former are increasing as the other flank show growing vulnerability and erratic behaviour. This shows how deeply challenged the democratic orders across the globe are.
- Once more Erdoğan shows the world how far this challenge can go.