Ozcan Hidir - Istanbul
While Turkey prepares for the upcoming referendum in April, a number of European countries with nearly 3 million Turkish voters are making decisions that have hardly to do anything with democracy and freedom of thought.
As a matter of fact, some other countries, such as the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium, have jumped the “undemocratic" bandwagon, following the example of Germany, where the federal authorities last week banned Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag from delivering a speech at a rally in the small town of Gaggenau.
All of these developments must be open indicators of how uncomfortable Europe feels about the possibility that the outcome of the referendum on constitutional changes may be a 'yes'.
Following last week’s scandalous ban, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and EU Minister Omer Celik have lashed out at the decision. One of the strongest reactions was probably Erdogan's, who said that the ban was "no different from Nazi-era decisions".
Erdogan's remarks were widely covered not only by the German media but also the Dutch media.
Despite the ban, Cavusoglu went to Germany to meet his counterpart Sigmar Gabriel. However, the hall where Cavusoglu was slated to deliver a speech was changed without any concrete reasons -- yet another sign that Germany maintains its negative approach to letting Turkish politicians address the Turks living in Germany.
Cavusoglu was also expected to address a Turkish audience in Rotterdam, the Netherlands on March 11. However, the Dutch authorities followed in Germany's footsteps and canceled the meeting over concerns for "public safety".
Right after Germany's decision, Erdogan said he was anticipating other European countries to follow suit.
In that regard, Western policies on xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Turkism have become the strongest grounds for ratcheting up security measures -- specifically since the September 11 attacks in the U.S.
EU Minister Omer Celik called on the EU to take measures against some of its members who have been generating racist, Islamophobic as well as anti-Semitic policies. The Turkish delegation in the European Parliament has also raised the issue and asked for a condemnation of the bans imposed on the Turkish ministers.
Possibility of ban spreading across Europe
It is quite uncertain whether Celik’s efforts and the Turkish delegation's call to the EU would be considered in a positive light. Instead, a number of European leaders, such as Austrian Prime Minister Christian Kern, are urging the EU to impose a ban on all Turkish politicians willing to organize rallies across Europe.
Speaking to German daily, Die Welt, Kern went further with his Turcophobia and Erdogan-phobia and proposed that Turkey's EU membership negotiations should be called off altogether, adding that an aid of 4.5 billion euros earmarked for Turkey for EU adjustment laws should either be canceled or used as an element of political pressure to oblige Turkey to make reforms.
Following Kern, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, also notorious for his Islamophobic and Turcophobic statements, said that Erdogan should not come to Austria, indicating that the EU should indeed implement this ban. In response, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Keonders described the ban as “a matter of national concern."
Repercussions of the ban in the Netherlands
The recent discussions over the ban on Cavusoglu's meeting naturally rank high on the agenda in the Netherlands ahead of the parliamentary elections on March 15. The issue has not only been abused to varying degrees by all political parties given the upcoming elections. What followed were calls supporting a collective ban.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was "unwanted" for Cavusoglu and other Turkish politicians to run any political campaigns in the Netherlands, adding that public spaces were not political campaign grounds for foreign countries.
Rutte also said that the Dutch government was currently investigating whether it was possible to legally ban such practices. He added he would meet Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb, and National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security Dick Schoof to discuss the issue.
In regard to bans of this nature, a mayor's stance weighs on the ongoing discussions since, in the Netherlands, a mayor is also in charge of his/her city’s security, exercising gubernatorial authority in this sense.
Meanwhile, it is quite noteworthy that the attempts at banning Turkish politicians from holding political rallies are being made through Aboutaleb, a Muslim Moroccan by birth, who also announced that he supported Rutte's statements. This should not come as a surprise either, because he is known to have assumed similar stances in the past regarding Turks, Turkey and Erdogan.
Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Ascher also maintained, in agreement of Rutte’s statements, that it was not right for Turkish politicians – of course, by Turkish, he means members of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party - to run political campaigns in the Netherlands.
Ascher's and his Labour Party's (PvdA) far-right and anti-Turkey rhetoric seems like a design to win back the votes of the minority groups in the country in the upcoming elections, which, public opinion polls indicate, are getting increasingly more difficult for him to garner although he used to win them in the past with great ease.
Similarly, Foreign Minister Bert Keonders has taken a stance in support of the ban, blaming Turkey for importing Turkey's "problems" to the Netherlands. And it is just as ironic that he should say he is "concerned" about Turkey’s restriction of freedom of expression.
Koenders also rejected Erdogan's statement that the Netherlands took these decisions under the influence of Geert Wilders and the far-right (and possibly following the example of Germany and other EU countries). "The Netherlands is an independent nation," he said.
Another Dutch politician Alexander Pechtold, from the liberal leftist Democrats 66 (D66), who we have so far known for his well-tuned policies and being a statesman of integrity, said it was "absurd" that Turkey should try to run campaigns in the Netherlands. His statement that every legal possible way must be tried to prevent Cavusoglu from rallying in the Netherlands caused a disillusionment among the Turkish supporters of D66.
Despite being silent at the very beginning when the tension first began over the ban, Wilders broke his silence saying that he would stage a protest in front of the Turkish embassy in The Hague supporting the ban earlier Wednesday. He went further and said the Turkish politicians who would visit the Netherlands for a referendum rally should be declared "unwanted". His call has been criticized by the Dutch media as well.
Two lawmakers of the VoorNederland (VNL) party, Joram Van Klaveren and Louis Bontes, submitted a parliamentary question to the Dutch interior and foreign ministries, titled "We don't want Turkish intervention and campaign in the Netherlands."
The question, which includes an accusation of "dictatorship" in Turkey, should be highlighted in terms of the magnitude of the perception operations being carried out.
Some possible reasons for the ban
We should primarily note that these kinds of prohibitions against Turkish agencies and institutes and especially against Erdogan are but part of the perception operations. In addition, there are several concrete motives, too.
1. The most important reason is that terror groups such as the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), PKK and similar groups have been making propaganda in the Dutch media and provoking Dutch politicians that the referendum will bring a "dictatorship" to Turkey. They also indirectly say that they support the "no" votes.
We could also interpret this as a covert support for the anti-AK Party and anti-Erdogan camp as the AK Party and Erdogan have a strong electoral base in countries with large Turkish diasporas such as Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, a fact substantiated by the Nov. 1, 2015 elections.
Although AK Party officials are prevented from staging rallies, there are no apparent bans against the leaders of Turkish opposition, such as the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP).
Although this may seem like a paradox, such prohibitions might actually have a positive effect on increasing the “yes” votes in Europe since in Turkish politics attempts at oppressing and victimizing a political party have always been known to benefit the very party being victimized.
2. Another reason being highlighted is the argument that the political polarization and mutual accusations in Turkey have been negatively influencing the Turks living in the Netherlands and that this situation is threatening social peace in the country.
We could say that this argument is groundless as the Turkish diaspora in Europe already has certain political stances without the need for any Turkish politicians visiting them where they live.
What’s more, Turkish TV networks and the political agenda of Turkey may even be more popular with the Turks in the Netherlands and the greater Europe than they are in Turkey.
3. That freedom of thought is restricted in Turkey and that the situation would get even worse in the event a "yes" vote comes out of the referendum is yet another argument over the bans.
Nearly all of the Dutch politicians mentioned above have somehow touched on this point. The concept of "freedom of thought" has been a very popular topic of discussion in the West of late. However, after Sept. 11, the West showed its double standards and the concept was quite selectively implemented, especially toward Muslims in general and Turks in particular.
4. We need to mention the assumption that the referendum will become an important momentum for Turkey's development. Therefore, the countries which are unable to directly oppose Turkey are resorting to such covert tactics to launch indirect attacks, revealing all the while their anxiety to bring Turkey and Erdogan to a halt.
There is almost no country in Europe that does not use Turkey and Erdogan as a political leverage tool to win the ongoing campaigns in their countries. The actions and rhetoric against Turkey and Erdogan have become means of gaining votes in the present campaigns marked by the increasing influence of the far-right. Negative news, comments, columns and books on Erdogan have even become a very profitable business which now many get by. This indicates that Turkey's journey toward becoming a major power to reckon with is just too conspicuous.
5. Of all these reasons, the most important must be the current election atmosphere in the Netherlands. The general feeling there is that the language being used during the campaigns is turning growingly trenchant and the prevailing rhetoric is one that displays a drift toward extremes. There was already an intensification of the far-right rhetoric in Europe.
It is quite possible that these ominous steps have been taken to win back the votes that have apparently been lost to far-right parties. Dutch politicians previously implied that such campaigns would only serve the interests of Wilders, whose party is currently leading the polls.
Therefore, the decision to ban Turkish authorities from staging rallies in the Netherlands might be related to the country's own election campaign although Dutch authorities, Foreign Minister Koenders for instance, are rejecting such observations.
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