In the latter stages of the election campaign in The Netherlands, hundreds of Twitter accounts were hijacked by president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s supporters, accusing the governments of The Netherlands (and Germany) of being Nazis. Also Turkish government ministers threatened to break off the refugee deal with the EU. But far from encouraging a surge in support for the far-right Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, these measures saw the opposite happened. And the elections result in The Netherlands can be seen as a setback for far-right tendencies across Europe, including Le Pen’s party in France and UKIP in Britain.
On Wednesday, hundreds of Twitter accounts from media outlets were hacked purportedly via Twitter Counter. (Consequently, that facility was taken down ‘for maintenance’.) These accounts were branded with the Turkish flag and messages sent out in Turkish.
The following tweet in support of a video of Erdoğan shows hashtags (translated) #NaziGermany and #NaziHolland:
Threat to refugee deal
Also on Wednesday, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevliit Çavuşoğlu said in a televised interview that the Turkish government is considering cancelling the EU-Turkey refugee deal. Turkey’s EU minister Ömer Celik said that Turkey “should reconsider this issue [the refugee deal] especially in terms of land crossings”. And today Erdoğan’s chief aide Yiğit Buluthe reportedly said that Turks should finance a refugee exodus.
These threats follow the detention of the Turkish chargé d’affaires in The Hague and its consul general in The Netherlands. Çavuşoğlu’s plane was also prevented from landing in The Netherlands. Turkey’s family and social afffairs minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya was stopped from entering the Turkish consulate general in Rotterdam and was deported.
And only today Çavuşoğlu escalated the inflammatory rhetoric, talking of a ‘holy war’ in Europe.
Erdoğan’s threats nothing new
The November 2015 Turkey-EU deal provided for 6 billion euros for Turkey, to care for the millions of refugees in the country. It also included an escalation of the process to allow visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the Schengen area of the EU.
But behind the scenes it was reported [paywall] how Erdoğan had threatened the EU with ‘bus loads’ of refugees’ unless he got his way. (Undercoverinfo was one of the first to publish notes of the EU summit meeting between Erdoğan and Donald Tusk.) And in April 2016 Turkey threatened to end the deal again, if visa-free travel was not agreed.
Or as Paul Mason commented in his blog:
We should state, now, there is no possibility of Turkey joining the EU under the AK Party. In the leaked documents that’s what Erdogan says: put us out of our misery. Europe should, as I suggest in the Guardian, signal to the secular, democratic forces in Turkey that it will re-start accession talks only when there has been a stable democracy for, say, five years, with full commitments to human rights, press freedom etc honoured.
(The visa-free travel arrangement is still not in place, but that is largely because of the collapse of human rights in Turkey since the post-coup purge, especially with regard to the Kurdish communities.)
Voters resist backlash
Far from encouraging a voter backlash against the Liberal Party, Turkey’s attempted intervention in The Netherlands had the opposite effect.
Wilders’ party acquired far less of the vote (winning just 19 seats) than anticipated. This could also be seen as a setback for other far-right parties in Europe, such as those led by Marine Le Pen, or of UKIP, both of which are characterised by largely xenophobic policies.
On the contrary, it has been reported, for example, how councils and charity organisations across the UK are more than ever happy to take in and house thousands more Syrian refugees.
Erdoğan’s real motives
On 16 April 2017, the Turkish people will vote in a referendum to see if President Erdoğan should be granted extended powers. Erdoğan desperately wants to win this vote, for it will seal his position since the crackdown he organised after the coup. This is the reason why he tried to attract support from Turkish ex-pats in Europe. And why, having failed to intervene in that way, his government launched a tirade of abuse at European countries.
In short, the battle ahead is all about democracy, asserting itself against tyranny in Turkey. But it’s also about people of compassion across Europe (and in the USA) asserting themselves against the xenophobic populists of the far-right and their imitators in government.