By Jez Jeuring, Analyst KEDISA
As Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed more than 20.000 Turkish citizens at a pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) rally in Sarajevo, Dutch politicians experienced flashbacks to last year’s political clash about the AKP’s right to campaign in the Netherlands in the run-up to the Turkish constitutional referendum of April 2017.
By travelling through Germany, Turkish Family Affairs Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya had made an attempt to give a speech at the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam on the much-debated Turkish constitutional referendum. At the request of the mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, Dutch authorities explicitly informed about the plans of the Turkish consul-general. The consul allegedly claimed not to undertake any activities in Rotterdam, while at the same time calling for Dutch-Turks on social media to make their way to the consulate. “Subsequently the deception worsened”, the mayor stated. Different convoys drove from Germany to the Netherlands in order to create confusion. Dutch police failed to identify the proper convoy transporting Kaya, leading them to halt the wrong convoy. Nevertheless, Kaya was signaled and stopped by Dutch police behind the Turkish consulate. The minister spent hours in her car, after not being granted access to the building by Dutch police. The Dutch Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were involved in the negotiations on her departure, which lasted hours. What followed was a situation of unrest, in which Dutch-Turkish citizens clashed with the police until late at night.
At the time, the event played to the benefit of both Erdogan and ruling Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who denounced the Turkish action and refused to apologize. Rutte’s handling of the situation appealed to people from political left to right. His party, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), won the Dutch election, which took place shortly after. Subsequently, Erdogan was able to milk the situation by sparking Turkish nationalist sentiments and by positioning Turkey as a nation under attack. Furthermore, he was able to portray himself as a strongman by using bold unapologetic language, by referring to the Dutch as remnants from the Nazis.
With the early elections for parliament and the presidency of June 24, Turkey will cement the move from a parliamentary system to a presidential system, which was accepted with the outcome of last year’s referendum. During his rally in Sarajevo, the Turkish President made the remarkable call on the Turkish diaspora to play active roles in their countries of residence, without ever forgetting or betraying their Turkish roots, language and Islamic religion. According to the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), 200 busses with AKP-supporters came to support their President in Sarajevo. Of the 200 busses, four came from the Netherlands, while other Dutch-Turkish AKP-supporters had made the trip by car.
The VVD still sees foreign political campaigns, and Turkish ones in particular, as a large problem. The party criticizes Turkey’s level of democracy and is looking for ways to prevent the AKP from rallying in the Netherlands. At the moment, legal grounds to forbid these campaigns are shaky, and mayors are forced to hide behind laws such as the breach of the peace. 
The Dutch leading newspaper De Telegraaf makes the idealist critical remark that the best situation would be one in which Turkish campaigns in the Netherlands would be made obsolete, by an identification with the Dutch identity rather than the Turkish one by Dutch-Turks. I use the words “idealist critical” because the factual data suggests that the status quo is far from this situation. Time and time again it has been demonstrated that Erdogan is intensely popular among Turks in Northern European countries. During the last Turkish elections, 270.000 Dutch-Turks had the right to vote. From the (approximate) half that voted, a large majority of 69% voted for Erdogan’s AKP. This was a much larger share than anywhere else in the world, where on average Erdogan managed to attract half of the votes. And not only is the AK-Party extremely popular under the generation of migrant-workers who made the move to the Netherlands in the 60s; it can also count on the support of the young educated Dutch-Turks.  A recent study by the Dutch government demonstrated that this group feels a strong connection with Turkey and continues to be fed by the feeling that they are not completely welcome in the Netherlands. Erdogan’s political dominance in the Netherlands was reaffirmed during the April 2017 referendum, when 70.94% voted “yes”.
So where does this leave us? After last year’s diplomatic row several reactions were noted from the Turkish side. From more playful protests such as the expulsion of 40 Dutch cows and the squeezing of oranges on the streets of Izmit, to the more serious demonstrations in front of the consulate general of the Netherlands and the harsh expressions by government officials. The Netherlands in turn responded to the row by withdrawing their ambassador to Turkey. But with a Turkish diaspora that accounts for 3 million people, or 5% of the total electorate, it is a group that can’t be ignored. So can we expect similar events to take place such as those of last year? This is unlikely.
The first reason is of an economic nature. Today, a dollar will buy around 4.90 Turkish lira, yet another record low for the country’s currency. Political instability, a dependency on oil, the current account deficit and the high dollar denominated debt are all affecting the Turkish market negatively. At this point it must be noted that the Netherlands isn’t the only country to have expressed discontent with the AKP’s plans to campaign abroad. In fact, it is joined by Germany and Austria, who have also prohibited the AKP to campaign in their country. And it is exactly these three countries that make up Turkey’s top three sources of capital inflow. Despite the economic pressure, Erdogan still expresses his discontent with the countries that refuse the AKP-rallies. However, a serious escalation would not be beneficial and would certainly be unnecessary. The fight against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has taken over the Dutch role as a unifier for Turkey’s, and operations like Olive Branch in Afrin are efficient sources for garnering nationalistic sentiment among Turkish society to the benefit of the AKP.
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