Travel bans

The current stand-off between Holland and Turkey actually centres around the divisive figure of Gert Wilders and his supporters across Europe. Certainly, his attitude to Islam and to the treatment of refugees makes the charge of Fascism seem quite reasonable. What is more worrying is that this current fight may well bounce Wilders into power after Wednesday. The whole story shows Europe in the very worst light possible. It looks xenophobic, cheap and chaotic.

Gert Wilders by TIM

A few points are well worth noting. The first is that the various attempts to stop Turkish ministers from speaking in Europe have been couched in the language of “putting public order and safety in jeopardy”, but in fact there is clearly an agenda going back weeks if not months to stop these rallies at all cost. Indeed, this is what Mark Rutte originally wrote on his facebook,

“Many Dutch people with a Turkish background are authorized to vote in the referendum over the Turkish constitution. The Dutch government does not have any protest against gatherings in our country to inform them about it,…But these gatherings may not contribute to tensions in our society and everyone who wants to hold a gathering is obliged to follow instructions of those in authority so that public order and safety can be guaranteed.”

What I find particularly disturbing, therefore, is the late claim by the Dutch Prime Minister filmed by AlJazeera that holding a rally to promote a political cause in another country is actually illegal in Holland. This is how the AlJazeera joiurnalists have documented the comments later:

In the Netherlands it is illegal to hold a public rally about another country’s politics.

“The Dutch authorities appear not to want to allow any Turkish government minister to address any rally in this country,” Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Rotterdam, said.

“That’s in their law, and all the parties appear to be supporting the position of the government.”

However, no one appeared to think it was illegal before Saturday and before the damage had been d0ne! Indeed, Dutch News reported a few days ago ”

Legal experts say that the government has few options but that Aboutaleb can ban the meeting on public order grounds.
http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2017/03/dutch-look-at-legal-options-to-stop-turkish-referendum-rally/

It would have made so much more sense, then, if it is truly the case that it is illegal to hold foreign rallies, to have said that at the outset, rather than to have whimpered on about “security and timing”. It smacks of mendacity. It is certainly not straightforward and it is thoroughly regrettable.

More to the point, there is a good record of Mr Wilders’ lengthy campaign to stop these rallies and of his personal opinion of Mr Erdoğan. The British press have chosen to conflate the various events of the last few days, suggesting that Mr Erdoğan’s language was intemperate and that the removal of the Family Minister was sparked by that. In fact, Mr Erdoğan was simply articulating the fact that Mr Wilders’ campaign was winning and I certainly do not see a vast gulf between the sort of things Mr Wilders promotes and the views of Fascism.

It has been a view certainly shared by the UK which issued its own travel ban to Mr Wilders, in force from 2006 to 2009. Following his most recent visits at the request of Lord Pearson, and Baroness Cox, and the screening of his film, “Fitna”, the Home office noted that his “statements and behaviour during a visit will inevitably impact on any future decisions to admit him”. It is unclear what the official British position might be, but Maxime Verhagen was quite candid. She said,

“He incites discord among people in a distasteful manner. And in the meantime he damages the interests of the Dutch population and the reputation of the Netherlands in the world”. In the article where this is quoted, Wilders is also abusive of the President Erdoğan: “En de Turkse premier Erdogan noemde hij een ‘total freak’.”“Verhagen: Wilders beschadigt reputatie Nederland” 

Indeed, as Lord Ahmed said, Mr Wilders’ presence in the UK was a platform to “provoke violence and hatred”. He has clearly done that in Holland, and the effects of his manipulation are now dictating the way Turkey behaves. What a mess!

Deeply uncomfortable

Today the Dutch authorities denied entry to the Turkish Foreign Minister who was to address a rally in the Netherlands in support of proposed changes to the Turkish Government. This comes on the back of a denial for a similar rally in Germany.

This makes uncomfortable reading. Today’s action was apparently taken directly by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, himself who said that, as Holland is approaching a General election on Wednesday in which “the immigration issue” plays a significant role, a the visit of The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, was “a threat to public order”.

Cavusoglu by TIM.jpg

While authorities may disagree with the proposals presented by Mr Erdoğan’s government, what appears to be a prolonged demonstration of pique by Europe’s ruling elite is almost unprecedented. Other countries, admittedly, like Russia (which banned 89  EU politicians from entering Russia in 2015, among them Nick Clegg and Uwe Corsepius) have also denied senior politicians from visiting their counties, but this sets a foolish precedent and one that the EU itself protested about in 2015. It causes offence, inconvenience and, more importantly, it closes opportunities to engage these people in meaningful conversation. If the Foreign Minister is coming to speak to a rally in Holland, it stands to reason that he should make time to talk to the Foreign Minister in the Netherlands. It makes no sense that his plane should be re-routed.

Our future rests on an ability to talk to one another. It is talking that has kept world peace for 70 years and if we abandon that, we are taking a very uncertain step in a new direction.

The Presidential system

If we think the changes proposed by President Erdoğan threaten democracy in Turkey, then we should engage with the Turkish leaders. Personally, I think the proposals will enshrine in law a constitution that finally pushes the army into its proper place. There is much to commend in that fact alone. Moreover, there seems little point in having direct elections for a President who is then denied the appropriate executive power of a democratically-elected leader. The change to the Presidential system simply recognises what is already happening.

The Language of Europe

Of course, there have been some high profile incidents in Turkey where journalists have either been detained or denied entry. While the arrest of Daniz Yüzel who is currently held in Silivri prison is by no means straightforward, despite the rather glib reports in the media, he is certainly not alone and that is worrying. Again, this runs in the face of free speech and the chance to engage and inform. But there is, I am afraid, a big difference between turning away, for example, Rod Nordland, a New York Times Journalist, and turning away a senior leader of a Democratic country and Nato ally. And for EU leaders to hide behind bureaucratic nonsense about security or to treat fellow leaders so casually and repeatedly is concerning. The EU is here being less than honest because the repeated problem suggests an overall policy to stop Turkish leaders from addressing their own people. So this is not so much about a threat to democracy from Turkey- it is a demonstration that democracy is itself threatened in Europe. You cannot have it both ways!

At a time, then, when Europe needs the voice of reason, we are packing our bags and planning to leave. Maybe we are going too soon- because we cannot leave Europe in this mess, where mendacity has evidently replaced diplomacy.

To make matters worse, this comes across in the Turkish media as something of an EU agenda. An event in Zurich scheduled for yesterday was cancelled as also rallies in three other Austrian towns. In the south German town of Gaggenau, the Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ was to address a rally organised by EETD (the Union of European Turkish Democrats).  At the last minute the event was cancelled by the local mayor who cited security concerns about on-site parking. Later, the authorities in Cologne said that a meeting scheduled for 5th March when the Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci was to have addressed a rally  was cancelled because the appropriate permission had not been granted “There was no agreement for March 5, and there will not be”.

This might have been dismissed as some sort of bureaucratic mess-up but that Germany’s opposition party is already on record in advance of the Gaggenau rally demanding that their government deny the Minister entry. There are 2.3 million Turks living in 57 countries outside Turkey and legally entitled to cast a vote in the forthcoming referendum. The largest community of expats is in Germany and came to Germany at Germany’s request. Cologne’s decision about the visit of the Turkish Economy minister looks political whatever excuse is provided. More than that, it is the same city which prevented President Erdoğan from addressing supporters by video link after the FETÖ coup last year, and that had meanwhile allowed a senior PKK commander Murat Karayılan to address a rally at a culture festival. PKK is a group that both the EU and the US label as a terrorist organisation and yet it still able to raise nearly £12 million in Germany alone. The EU approach is inconsistent and insulting. It is not calculated to win hearts and minds.

Mr Erdoğan has already reacted with fairly fierce rhetoric but his real response may well be to “open the gates” allowing migrants back into mainland Europe. Already, the EU has indicated that Turkey does not meet the requirements agreed last year for visa-free travel in Europe. Turkey has already shouldered the migrant-burden and should get something more than snubs for its goodwill.

Ex-pat votes

Is it wrong for one country to appeal to expat voters by holding rallies in another country? The present Papacy, for example, has built its entire ministry on the principle that it can hold rallies anywhere in the world. But certainly, when Turkish Prime Minster Binali Yildirim spoke to 10,000 countrymen in Oberhausen in February, a debate was sparked across Continental Europe.

Yet rallies to support foreign groups take place all over the place- indeed, there is a german anti-Islamic group called Pegida, led by Lutz Bachmann, which has now launched its own political party (FDDV with links to AfD) and which has held rallies here in the UK – rather pleasingly, while it commands rallies of up to 25,000 in places like Dresden, only 375 people marched to support the group in Newcastle, and an estimated 2000 Brits staged a counter-demonstration. That’s surely the way democracy should work!

Dr Fatma BETUL Sayan Kaya by TIM

Coda:

This evening the family minister, Dr Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, already in Germany for other talks, was denied access to the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam. The Consular staff are not allowed to meet her and she is also so far not allowed into her own Consulate. Instead, the Dutch authorities have invited her to be escorted out of the country. Presumably, she was not stopped on the German border: none of this makes alot of sense but it most certainly raises tension; already Geert Wilders has gone public with a cry to “Clean our country” referring to the Turkish protestors as “500 allahu akbar screaming Turks in Rotterdam”. This was action calculated to play into the hands of Right wing bigots and it has. I am deeply shocked. This is not the sort of Europe I think we should be seeing. It is certainly not the sort of Europe I could ever or would ever support.