By Julian de Medeiros
Initially dubbed the ‘Tulip Crisis’, a row between Turkey and the Netherlands has also drawn in Germany, with officials from the ruling Justice and Development Party denouncing both countries as ‘Nazis’ for refusing to allow campaign rallies for the upcoming referendum. But beneath the bravado are signs of deep-seated insecurity; with both sides seeking to bolster their increasingly fragile political projects.
In Turkey, the political elite are well practised in the art of pandering to the West abroad, whilst vilifying it at home. But to throw the accusation of Nazi at Germany’s Angela Merkel, or even Holland’s Mark Rutte, is a serious (if unoriginal) escalation.
As I can attest, no child of German origin can expect to go through life without being accused of being a Nazi, or otherwise accosted for the terrible crimes of two generations ago.
Yet despite the crass charges from Ankara, Nazism is not again on the rise in Germany, or the Netherlands for that matter. And although there certainly exists the possibility of an authoritarian resurgence, it is in Turkey that it looks most likely.
Counter-intuitively, the more authoritarian Turkey becomes, the more it seeks to relativize its own oppressive politics by placing the blame on significantly more liberal societies such as the Netherlands and Germany. The dangerous irony, of course, is that this fuels anti-Turkish sentiment in these countries; becoming a self-fulfilling antagonism.
After all, since the failed coup of July 15 2016, the Turkish government has shut down no less than 170 media outlets and arrested more than 160 journalists. As such, Erdoğan’s claim that being refused the right to campaign in Germany and the Netherlands constitutes political repression akin to that of the Nazis is at best a poor ironic joke, at worst, a downright offensive slander of the genuine victims of the Third Reich.
Of course, the backdrop to all this polemical foolishness is a much more serious event: the upcoming constitutional referendum, in which Erdoğan could secure his presidency until the year 2029.
If the changes succeed, they would represent the culmination of a longstanding process of creeping authoritarianism in Turkey. A trend, which with the onset of the Gezi protests in 2013, briefly seemed like it might be resisted.
Since then, Erdoğan’s style of polarisation and repression has become the authoritarian avant-garde and is now seemingly being copied by some of the political developments he condemns in Europe as fascist.
But much like his counterparts, such as Donald Trump in America or Geert Wilders in Holland, Erdoğan is really no more than a first-rate, second-rate political opportunist. HIs most loyal supporters have shown little regard for the liberal-democratic rights that they claim have been deprived of AKP ministers in Europe. Instead, what they want is free market economics wrapped in the exclusionary nationalist and religious rhetoric of the government.
The problem is that the Turkish economy is not living up to the bravado. Unemployment is at a seven-year high. The lira has gone down to twenty-five cents on the euro. And with rising interest rates in the US, the future of Erdoğan’s ‘New Turkey’ is looking grim.
The daily scandals and international squabbling are most likely a diversionary tactic; aimed at distracting AKP supporters from the precarity of their government’s position. In a way, Erdoğan’s Nazi accusations, therefore, are like that of a cornered animal; lashing out desperately because there is nowhere else to turn.
It seems that, like Trump, Erdoğan has become the region’s ‘troll-in-chief’, in that, through antagonism he hopes to provoke an equally vitriolic response.
On the one hand, it seems unlikely that Germany or the Netherlands will equivocate in such a manner, having become accustomed to such accusations. But on the other hand, Erdoğan’s comments come at a time when Merkel and Rutte find themselves increasingly under pressure from their respective right-wings, for not reacting with appropriate force to Turkey’s posturing.
In this context, the next steps taken by all involved will be calculated with precision for their impact on their respective upcoming domestic elections.
For all parties, therefore, the current contentions should not be seen so much as a show of strength, as much as they are in all actuality a result of increasing weakness and domestic insecurity.
And while many have commented that Erdoğan is now using the refugee deal to blackmail the EU, it is just as likely that Erdoğan himself is being held hostage by a deteriorating economy, an unemployed workforce, and an escalating conflict to the East.