In prohibiting entry to two senior Turkish politicians, the Netherlands has sparked a serious dispute with Turkey. The decision not to allow Turkish politics to be officially expressed on Dutch soil can only be justified if the decision to do so is based on moral principles that can be as universally applied as possible, and not because we don’t agree with a particular political system. Furthermore, the violent scenes involving Turkish nationals in the centre of Rotterdam have strictly no place in our society and should be severely condemned by both sides of the dispute.
In barring the Turkish Minister of Family Affairs, Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, access to the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam and escorting her to the border with Germany, the Netherlands has caused a major diplomatic dispute with Turkey, as well as causing various people to riot on the streets of Rotterdam. Sayan Kaya was planning to participate in a pro-Erdogan rally in Rotterdam, whose Turkish community accounts for nearly 8% of the city’s population. The purpose of the rally was to support President Erdogan’s national referendum campaign which is in favour of transforming Turkey’s “parliamentary democracy” (note the inverted commas) into a more authoritative presidential system. If Erdogan wins the referendum, he could stay in power until 2029. The dispute took a further turn for the worse when the Turkish foreign affairs minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, had his permission to visit the Netherlands revoked. The two incidents prompted a swift and stinging response from the Turkish government who described the Dutch as being “Nazi remnants” and fascists. Sayn Kaya described her “arrest” as breaching human rights and international law. Well, she should know all about that of course, having had a participating hand in both.
The incident in Rotterdam should not come as a surprise to the Turkish government, nor should it come as a surprise that Sayan Kaya had been requested not to go ahead with her visit. The official reason for the request was that the timing coincided with the Dutch parliamentary elections, which take place on March 15th. The reasoning behind Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s decision is, of course, logical and to be expected. According to opinion polls (we all know how good they are), the election campaign of Geert Wilders, the extreme-right-wing PVV leader, is flagging. Several polls have him in second place, having lost his status as front-runner. Rutte probably thought, and rightly so, that officially accepting a pro-Erdogan referendum campaign meeting to take place on Dutch soil would amount to an endorsement of Erdogan’s regime, and would contribute to anti-Turkish feelings in the Netherlands. Wilders would be the benefactor of reignited anti-immigration sympathy and his popularity might have regained momentum. This is a risk that Rutte could not take, especially with the outcome of the election likely to be extremely close. Wilders, who seems to be spending just as much time on Twitter as his buddy Donald Trump, is trying to profit from the situation no matter what Rutte’s position is.
“The Netherlands can see that these people are Turks, not Dutch. They have Dutch passports but they don’t belong here.” – Geert Wilders
The reasons for the Netherlands’ refusal to allow the Turkish referendum campaign to be carried out on Dutch soil should go much deeper than merely a question of election strategy. The fundamental question that must be asked is twofold. Firstly, is it right for a country to promote its domestic political agenda on foreign soil? Secondly, is it right for migrants who freely chose to emigrate to the Netherlands and are supposed to accept and even promote the political regime of their adopted country, to participate in their homeland politics that clearly is in conflict with that of their adopted country?
The answer to the first question is a categorical “no”. There is a marked difference between demonstrating for something that is occurring in a foreign country that you might or might not agree with (and the same demonstration endorsed by) and participating in (by in-power foreign politicians) an ongoing political process that is happening in their land. I am not judging the right of migrants to actively follow and participate electorally in their homeland’s politics. I, for one, found it grossly unfair and against democratic rights that I was not allowed to vote in the UK’s referendum on the EU due to an archaic 15-year rule that effectively disenfranchised me. I remain deeply interested in what happens to my fatherland. However, I would have found it unacceptable if political leaders from the “Leave” camp had come to the Netherlands to participate in a political meeting endorsing that the UK change its constitutional status by leaving the EU. I would also go as far as to say that a meeting with the “Remain” camp would have been unwarranted, or at best have felt strange, in the Netherlands. National politics must remain, as its name suggests, national. Another example of this, of course, is the speech over Brexit that former United States president, Barack Obama, made during his visit to the UK. It was then perceived as so out of place that it surely contributed to the outcome of the referendum.
The participation of politicians in a foreign land, in an ongoing political process that only concerns their homeland, can only be destabilising for the “host”country. This is especially true in view of the fact that most of the listening audiences have double nationalities. The effects of such practices on those concerned is probably minimal, but the destabilising effects that this can have on the rest of the population is not to be underestimated, especially when the nature of the “campaign in a foreign land” is in direct conflict with the political and moral values of the “host” country. How are the rest of us supposed to feel when migrants who, whilst benefiting from the openness, freedom and nationality of their elected land, choose to support undemocratic political concepts in their fatherland?
The question of whether migrants should vociferously support and promote openly undemocratic and aggressive regimes, that they or their relatives belonged to, is perhaps too complicated to answer with a thorough explanation. But I do feel that the answer would also be a categorical “no”. Migrants who decide to live and work in another country so different from their own must be prepared to change, or at least moderate their views and habits, in order to live in harmony with other members of their chosen country. This process, of course, is what is known as assimilation, and is of the utmost importance. The Netherlands remains one of the most democratic and free countries in the world. In this respect, it is not the rally itself that was prohibited, but the official participation of active pro-Erdogan politicians. After having spent years in the Netherlands, first generation migrants should be able to discern a true democratic country such as the Netherlands from a “cheap counterfeit” such as Turkey. As for second and third generation Turks, they have surely grown up with Western values as well as their own. I was surprised to see so many young Turks, who presumably were born in the Netherlands, expressing their anger on the streets of Rotterdam, an anger expressed deep into the night. They must be able to see that, surely, if Erdogan wins the referendum, he will become the first legitimate Turkish dictator. If, though, the Turkish community are so blind as not to see this, we cannot do anything about it. It is part of the freedom of the Netherlands that they are allowed to hold their views. Some people are like this – blinded for many years by charismatic politicians whom they consider saviours. But the Netherlands must abide by its democratic principles. It must not be intimidated by the antics of a mad dictator constantly banging on the door of the European Union.
The timing of the planned visit by two high-ranking Turkish politicians to carry out an internal political campaign on Dutch soil is nothing less than political provocation. Erdogan is well aware of the political fragility in the Netherlands and that, with only a few days before parliamentary elections, carrying out an internal political campaign on Dutch soul may further threaten the nature of our democracies. If Rutte had not reacted in the way that he did, he and his party would pay the consequences of his inaction at the ballot box, and possibly on the streets of the Netherlands’ towns and cities. However, by acting the way he did, Rutte runs the risk of having the entire Turkish community, and possibly other minorities too, rise against him. However, this may still happen in response to the latest cynical remarks made by Erdogan over the Netherlands being a “banana republic” and an undemocratic “fascist” state. Erdogan’s fake referendum and his attempt to introduce fake democracy in Turkey has been further strengthened by the reaction of a democratic nation that had too much to lose if it had acted in any other way. It is noteworthy that the Turkish foreign affairs minister, who was also refused entry to the Netherlands, has been granted permission to speak at a meeting in France. For me, the Dutch reaction that we witnessed this weekend was more akin to a reaction that we could have expected from the French who are keen defenders of “les valeurs Républicaines”. Maybe the French are finally realising that sometimes you have to bend your principles somewhat to get on with your noisy neighbours.
No doubt the incidence will subside and, in a few days or weeks, it will be “business as usual” between the two countries. For the time being, Erdogan may well have failed to influence those in the Netherlands, but probably succeeded in influencing those in Turkey. This, for him at least, is more important. His take-home-message from the weekend to the Turkish people is this: a country such as the Netherlands, pretending to be so democratic and allowing freedom of speech, doesn’t allow Turkish politicians the freedom to promote their attempts to establish true democracy in Turkey. If the Netherlands is a banana republic, Erdogan has just dropped a whopping great big banana skin on the ground. Let’s just make sure not to slip on it.
I have my own personal advice for Erdogan and other Turkish politicians, for what it’s worth: if you want to come to the Netherlands, feel free to do so. You and “your” people are not our enemies. We only have one potential enemy, and that’s water. Our country is beautiful and we have a word for this. I cannot quite find an English translation that matches what we mean by it. The word is “gezellig”. An adequate, although not perfect translation would be “cosy”. And that’s the way that I want the Netherlands to remain. So, the next time that you come, make sure that you leave your bloody politics at home.