Turkey raises the stakes but can it win?

Turkey raises the stakes but can it win?

Speculation has it that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte needs to stem the flow of votes to far-right leader Geert Wilders in the upcoming elections, and this is why he is presently behaving the way he is with Turkey. 

Former Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, a Christian Democrat who in the past also served as ambassador to Ankara, is of this opinion, too. He was quoted as telling the RTL Nieuws channel that the decision to declare Turkish Family Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya “persona non grata” and to deport her unceremoniously from the Netherlands was “very unwise.” 

“We always point to our democracy and human rights, but with this we are on the wrong track,” Bot, who has not always been easy on Turkey, reportedly said. 

What is clear is that hard diplomacy will be required before normality returns to Turkey’s ties with the Netherlands, Germany and other European countries. 

However, it is also evident that Ankara has abandoned the language of diplomacy when it comes to Europe. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) knows that hitting at Europe with characterizations such as “Nazi” or “fascist” goes down well with Turkish Islamists and nationalists.

Similarly blasting Turkey goes down well with Europe’s Islamophobic and xenophobic classes. This is why such a deplorable figure as Wilders is wringing his hands with glee over recent events. Looking at the Netherlands, and other countries across Europe, it seems that letting domestic politics spill over into the foreign policy domain is not just a Turkish weakness.

Yet it is the “big picture” that is disconcerting. What this tells us is that Turkey is drifting rapidly away from the West. There is no way that a country run by one man and his party, with little if any room for democratic pluralism, can pursue EU membership.

We have reports that the EU has already started cutting back on funding for various projects in Turkey because of the lack of progress in democracy and human rights. Turkey, therefore, is not blameless for the current state of affairs. 

But Europe is not blameless either. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is trying hard today to keep “Turkey anchored in Europe” is among those who contributed to this state of affairs with her outspoken opposition to Turkish membership in the EU.

Alienating Turkey also undermined Europe’s “gravitational pull,” making it easier for Erdoğan and the AKP to put the country on an anti-democratic course. It is obvious that this membership was not on the cards for a long time, even if the “gravitational pull” was in place. Merkel, however, felt she needed to show the conservative electorate in Germany that she was opposed to Turkey in the EU.

On the other hand, it was always clear that the AKP’s Islamist outlook would clash with European values sooner or later. So much so that few Turks, including the president and the prime minister, have any inkling of what it means to accuse today’s Germany of behaving like Nazi Germany. 

Turkey never experienced the horrors of that era – ironically thanks to its leaders who the AKP vilifies today – and so it is easy for Turks to use such characterizations as “Nazi” or “fascist” willy-nilly. They simple do not have the cultural sensitivity that would prevent this. 

As Gwynne Dyer put it in an article recently for The Telegram, “reasonable people have long believed that the first person in a conversation to mention Adolf Hitler or the Nazis loses the argument.”

But, as Dyer also said, Erdoğan “does not subscribe to this view, and he has no intention of losing the argument.” How he hopes to win it with these tactics though is not clear. It is also unclear what the “overwhelming retaliatory measures” against the Netherlands that Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoğlu is promising will be. 

Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci has already said these will not entail economic measures. So we have to wait and see how Ankara hopes to win this one after having raised the stakes so high.