The cocktail consisting of the enduring, global economic crisis and the societal unrest that it causes, in combination with the soaring wave of nationalism hitting the globe since a decade and the mounting, almost ubiquitous need for ‘strong, decisive politicians’ is an extremely poisonous one.
Next to the ‘usual suspects’ consisting of whole and half dictators in the Middle-East, the Far East and in the former Soviet Union (i.e. Russia itself, according to many, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Chechnya to name a few), this cocktail yielded a bunch of authoritarian leaders within the EU itself.
People such as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary, who is an autocratic leader and a declared opponent of the free press. And in Poland the shadow-leader of the country, Jaroslaw Kaczynski of the PiS (i.e. Law and Justice party), who made the country turn into an extremely conservative direction, in which minorities come more and more under jeopardy. These are leaders that couple a undeniable amount of xenophobia and populism with self-reverance and an allergy for (inter)national criticism.
On top of that, there is the Brexit in the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Theresa May has been morphing from a initially EU-friendly and moderately conservative politician into the terminator-in-chief of the British EU membership: at any price and cost and in the toughest variety possible. And this Brexit itself might be followed by a split off of Scotland and Northern Ireland from the UK, as they see more future for themselves as independent countries within the EU than within the UK.
This might cause yet another political implosion within the European continent, after the unfortunately events in the Balkan countries (i.e. former Yugoslavia) and the quest for independence of Catalunya in Spain.
And last, but not least, this poisonous cocktail yielded of course Donald Trump as the next President of the United States. A president, whose seemingly erratic and sometimes straight-away racist, undemocratic and xenophobe presidency is causing more and more commotion at home and abroad – this even includes the Kremlin, where ‘dictator-ish’ Russian President Vladimir Putin is scratching himself behind his ears, whether he did not get much more than where he bargained for, with this rogue 'leader of the free world'.
Trump is adamantly against the to his eyes “hostile mainstream press and media”, who he started to shut out from the White House press briefings, and by his appointment of ex-Breitbart editor-in-chief Steve Bannon – an extremist-right wing swashbuckler and prominent producer of fake news – as a member of the National Security Council, he created a formerly unheard of precedent regarding the American security situation.
Even among the GOP senators and congressmen, who genuinely hate the Democrats’ guts, the clamor about this loose cannon Trump is getting louder and louder.
But that’s not all…
The Netherlands, Germany and France are on the brink of national elections in which the question is not so much whether their populist politicians Geert Wilders (Party for Freedom), Frauke Petri (Alternative für Deutschland) and Marine Le Pen (Front National) will do well, but HOW well they will do and what their (devastating) influence on national politics and the European Union will be.
And the only thing that the existing, moderate parties in these countries can seemingly do is adjust their visions and points-of-view to their populist counterparts, in order to not lose all their grassroots to these more extremist views, that seem to become more and more in vogue in these countries.
The whole situation is akin to a pressure cooker with the safety valve being stuck.
The latest event in this range of ubiquitous societal tensions within the Western societies and the mounting global acrimony is the diplomatic war between Turkey at one hand and Germany and The Netherlands at the other.
Riding on the wave of the Turkish nationalist-religious outbursts in Turkey, that soared after the failed coup d'etat, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has organized a national referendum in order to change the Turkish constitution.
This change is planned to give President Erdoğan nearly absolute power as president and to prolong his reign well into the Twenties of this century, when he turns 75. In order to secure his nearly certain victory in the referendum, Erdoğan does not only mobilize his domestic grassroots, but also the vast amounts of Turkish citizens in Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands.
Initially Erdoğan planned to administer a speech himself in these countries, but he very reluctantly withdrew these plans, only to send his Minister of Foreign Affairs instead to do this job. This led to a strong reaction of disapprovement among the leadership of The Netherlands and Germany, who remembered all too well the mounting tensions within their Turkish community shortly after the failed coup d’etat in The Netherlands, allegedly organized by the grassroots of religious leader-in-exile Fetullah Gülen.
Especially in The Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte – under fierce pressure of his most feared opponent Geert Wilders (Party for Freedom) – felt the urgent need to stop this Turkish hunt for favourable referendum votes on Dutch soil at all cost, in an attempt to show that “in his country he is the boss and not Recep Erdoğan, for crying out loud”.
So when Mark Rutte learned that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stepped on a plane to keep his speech in The Netherlands in spite of the urgent request to not do so, he took the drastical step to personally withdraw the landing rights of this Turkish airplane, thus effectively stopping the Foreign Ministers of landing at Dutch shores. Whether this hardly precedented step by the Dutch Prime Minister was legal and appropriate in this situation did not matter too much, in this international match of diplomatic sharpshooting.
The Turkish goverment reacted to this step as being bitten by a snake: both Erdoğan and Cavusoglu called the Dutch government “a bunch of fascists and nazi remains” and warned that this step would have fierce consequences for The Netherlands… both for Dutch diplomats and the Dutch tourists, who just cautiously started to return to the Turkish beaches and all-inclusive hotels as a summer holiday destination.
And this was not the end of it: not even close. Turkey sent their female Minister of Family Affairs Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya by car(!) from Germany on a mission to The Netherlands, to show that President Recep Erdoğan would bend for nobody in his struggle for a favourable referendum outcome.
“Who the hell thought this clown Mark Rutte of this teeny-weeny country at the North Sea that he was, that he tried to stop the undisputed leader of the most powerful country in the Middle East?! Captain America? Superman? Get out of my way, you darn SOB!” That were probably Erdoğan most intimate thoughts, I presume.
But PM Rutte did not plan to give in to this Turkish attempt to brutally overpower the desires of the Dutch government by stealth. He sent a police force to the Turkish consulate, where they caught the escort of the Turkish Minister before she could give her speech to the large numbers of Dutch-Turkish citizens who all wanted to hear it. The Turkish minister was expelled as ‘an unwanted visitor’ of The Netherlands and she was escorted to the German border, whereafter she soon returned to Turkey.
The Turkish outrage was now complete and President Erdoğan warned the Dutch government that he would take “strong countermeasures against this outrageous treatment of the Turkish political officials”.
The fact that this political situation between Turkey and The Netherlands got out of hand so quickly and in this formerly unheard of manner – irrespective of with whom you sympathize in this very awkward political situation – shows how messed up the current political conundrum in the world has become.
Turkish President Erdoğan feels so powerful and mighty at his hometurf and he sees his own leadership for Turkey as so righteous and “God-given” that he thinks he can brutally overpower the strong and crystal-clear desires of the Dutch and German government, by sending his ministers in spite of the strongest demands to do not so.
And PM Mark Rutte of The Netherlands feels so weak in the wake of the elections for the new Dutch cabinet – in which he hopes to become PM for the third time in a row in spite of the mounting populism – that he took the risk of breaching Dutch constitutional laws (i.e. of free speech and free association) and causing an international incident with Turkey, in order to make his point clear.
Whatever the outcome of this peculiar international incident might be, it makes very clear once more to these eyes that the boundaries of international diplomacy are about to be stretched substantially in 2017 and that the world is not becoming more safe in the process.
Irrespective of whether the populists might eventually win or lose in Germany, France and The Netherlands and how these European countries might be governed in the aftermath of the general elections, 2017 could become the year that the strong men of Europe, Russia, Turkey and the United States finally take off the remains of their “veil of civilization”! And that is a very worrisome prospect for our own safety and that of our children and loved ones.