The Turkish-Dutch diplomatic row

What first was a tense situation has now become a full-fledged diplomatic row between Turkey and the Netherlands — a row that serves both Erdoğan and Rutte in their respective campaigns.

Rotterdam, yesterday

After the Dutch government refused permission to land to the airplane of Turkish foreign minister Çavuşoğlu, who was planning to hold a pro-Erdoğan rally in Rotterdam, the Turkish family affairs minister Kaya, who was already in Germany, drove off to Rotterdam to take his place. It is said the Turks confused the issue by sending several motorcades, so that the Dutch police was unsure which one of them contained minister Kaya.

She arrived in Rotterdam, but police prevented her from exiting her car, and, after several hours, her reinforced car was towed away while she was escorted back to Germany. Meanwhile a few hundred Turkish-Dutch had gathered at the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam. At first this was a regular, peaceful demonstration, where young hotheads who were out for a confrontation were corrected by their elders. Only around 1am, when minister Kaya had been sent back and (apparently) the older and wiser protesters had gone home, the hotheads had their moment but were dispersed by police. A few injured, a few arrests. As far as Dutch demonstrations go this was a medium-serious affair. Meanwhile 14 out of 16 arrested people have been released.

The demonstration was broadcast live on Turkish TV, and it is said that during the evening Erdoğan (personally?) was in touch with the protesters and told them to stay. It’s obvious what Erdoğan hopes to win: a European enemy that will unite the Turkish people in order to vote him basically dictatorial powers in the upcoming referendum.

Meanwhile the ultra-right is loudly complaining that the Dutch broadcasters did not have live coverage. Point is: there wasn’t all that much to cover until 1am, and besides it would just have riled up the general populace. The diplomatic incident around minister Kaya deserved some coverage, but it seems most of the time people would just have see a car covered in blankets (don’t ask me why, but the blankets were reported) with some Dutch police and Turkish security officers around it.

Nazis and sanctions

Previously, Erdoğan had called the Dutch “nazi remnants,” which, quite apart from the “remnants” bit that nobody understands, did not help to defuse an already-tense situation. Also, just about everybody were quick to compare the Turkish government’s tactics of purifications of the civil service, education, and the courts with the Dutch situation, where nothing of the kind is happening.

Still, it’s worth noting that while this kind of insult would have worked against the Germans thirty years ago, it didn’t work earlier this week, when Merkel gave a measured reply to a similar accusation, and it will never work against the Dutch. (Hey, we were occupied by the nazis so we can’t be nazis ourselves! There’s a lack of logic here, but it’s the general feeling.) Also, Rotterdam mayor Aboutaleb wondered if the Turks know that Rotterdam has suffered a devastating German bombardment back in the May days of 1940 — something that is still remembered.

Although the Dutch response might have been out of proportion, it’s still worth noting two points: first, that if the Turks conduct an obviously campaign-related provocation, the Dutch government is allowed to do the same (childish, yes, but understandable), and second, that if the Turkish government had just waited one week with their rally, so that it fell just after instead of just before our elections, the situation would have been a lot less tense.

But we overreacted a bit, and we now have to live with the consequences. Turkey has threatened with sanctions, but it’s unclear why that would be a major problem for the Netherlands. Besides, if sanctions were to be announced we’d just retort by suspending all holiday flights to Turkey, and that would seriously inconvenience the Turks, who are already seeing the number of European holiday goers decline after last year’s coup and the ensuing purification.

Political consequences

But anyway. How will this incident influence the elections? It’s obvious that the Dutch government, or rather, prime minister Rutte in his capacity as VVD party leader, opted for a confrontational approach in order to show we don’t need Wilders to take a firm stance against foreign islamic fascists. Wilders was forced to acknowledge that he supported government here, and although he added that without him this forceful reaction wouldn’t have happened, it sounded as if even he knew nobody was going to pay a lot of attention to him. Thus the incident is win for Rutte and a loss for Wilders, and it might convert a few PVV voters to the VVD.

Second, what about DENK, the party founded by two Turkish-Dutch PvdA defectors that’s slated to win one or two seats on Wednesday? Party leader Kuzu is in a tough spot right now: on the one hand a substantial part of his Turkish-Dutch voters will expect him to side with Erdoğan, but on the other hand that would make him persona non grata in Dutch parliament. A Dutch MP has to put loyalty to the Dutch state first, after all. He promised a fuller statement, but so far I haven’t seen it. In any case, the fundamental question remains how much non-Turkish non-white Dutch care about this entire issue. Due to insufficient polling we have no clue, and I guess we’ll learn only on election night. In any case, Erdoğan could have severely hurt the chances of the one Dutch political party that might conceivably be conciliatory toward him.

A problem Rutte created for himself during the earlier stages of the diplomatic row is that he stated there was no legal way of keeping campaigning Turkish ministers out of the country, but that he would support any contrived measure, such as fire security or public order, local authorities decided to use in order to get rid of them. This might make sense from a diplomatic point of view, but politically this is going to bite him — though probably at a one- or two-year delay.

Due to this decision it was Rotterdam mayor Aboutaleb (PvdA) who actually led the Dutch reaction to the Turkish provoction, and he is widely praised, especially by the right. Law and order maintained, Dutch fundamental rights and values defended, and all that by a Moroccan-Dutch member of the reviled PvdA. This is unusual, to say the least, and it will strengthen Aboutaleb’s position — for instance if, after a devastating loss in the elections, PvdA party leader Asscher resigns and the PvdA need a new leader. Aboutaleb, it should be remembered, has been mentioned as PvdA leader for ages, and he was asked to jump into last Fall’s PvdA party leader elections but refused — a wise decision in hindsight. He did well yesterday night, and that might have consequences in the next elections, which might not be all that far off.

<— Small fry 11/3 | Where the Dutch elections stand right now —>

This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.

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