It’s probably been easy to overlook with all the other news boiling over these days, but there’s a war going on at the moment between the Netherlands and Turkey. Fortunately for all of us, it’s just a war of words (at least for now). The Turks have been making some nasty accusations involving Dutch politics, particularly as they revolve around Geert Wilders, insinuating that there is rampant Islamaphobia infecting the country. For their part, the Dutch seem to perceive an existential threat from Turkey’s current interest in Dutch citizens and residents of Turkish origin. This has led to some tit-for-tat diplomatic maneuvers which have been spiraling out of control. Over the weekend a Turkish diplomat was barred from entering her nation’s consulate in Rotterdam and wound up fleeing the country. The Turks have told the Dutch Ambassador (who was out of the country at the time) to not bother returning and have shuttered some of the Dutch embassies in their nation.
Needless to say, this has tensions running high on both sides. For their part, the Dutch are saying that they will not give in to blackmail. (Dutch News)
[Dutch prime minister Mark] Rutte told WNL what is crucial now is to de-escalate the situation. ‘I’ve never been involved in anything like this,’ he told television show WNL op Zondag. The Netherlands, he said, would not give into blackmail.
Rutte said he had spoken to Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim eight times in the past few days, the last time at around 2am. The biggest problem, Rutte said, is that the Turkish government talks continually about Turkish citizens in the Netherlands. ‘They are Dutch citizens,’ he said.
The Netherlands pressed ahead with enforcing the ban after Turkey accused the country of showing fascist and racist tendencies. Those accusations followed a decision not to allow a plane carrying another Turkish minister to land.
What’s really at the center of all this? Looking at nothing more than the headlines it might be easy to wonder if these two nations are on the brink of some sort of violent confrontation. But the reality is most likely one of little more than electoral politics playing out on an international stage. The Dutch have elections coming up this week and the country is in the midst of a growing tide of nationalist sentiment. Meanwhile in Turkey, a referendum is coming up on President Erdogan’s request to change the Constitution, giving him sweeping (and some might say dictatorial) powers. Reaching out to Turks in another country while playing up fears over Islamaphobia probably seems to make good political sense to them as well.
Ishaan Tharoor of the Washington Post throws a bit of cold water on the whole idea of some looming conflict arising from this food fight.
The Dutch go to the polls this Wednesday for a parliamentary election seen as a bellwether for Europe’s political future, and all eyes are focused on far-right, Euroskeptic, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders. Meanwhile, Turkey will hold a referendum next month on constitutional revisions that would scrap the country’s parliamentary system in favor of an executive presidency under the powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In their electoral bids, Erdogan and Wilders have found useful bogeymen in one another’s nations…
Ironically, although Turkish authorities comment angrily about the suppression of peaceful, democratic Turkish assemblies, critics contend that Erdogan’s referendum is a method for entrenching his authoritarian rule. After a failed coup attempt against Erdogan last summer, the Turkish government embarked on a widespread purge of the country’s bureaucracy and civil society. The dismembering of Turkey’s parliamentary system is seen as another dangerous step in the unraveling of democracy under Erdogan’s watch.
There are more than a few problems to be worked out in both the Netherlands and Turkey right now, but they are largely internal. The Turks have fallen under the spell of an aspiring tyrant who is purging the nation of his perceived political foes. If they choose to approve the constitutional changes currently under consideration their democracy may be essentially dead. Meanwhile, the Dutch have to make a collective decision between policies centered around socialism and open borders or a more aggressive, conservative approach. These are all questions which the citizens of these nations will have to answer on their own, but they remain largely political. I don’t think we need to worry very much about war breaking out anytime soon. Turkey has much bigger fish to fry and the Netherlands isn’t exactly a military powerhouse to begin with.