At a rally in Istanbul on Saturday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lashed out at the Netherlands, after Dutch officials banned a rally in Rotterdam in his support and revoked permission for Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to address expatriate voters there.
“They don’t know anything about politics or international diplomacy,” said Erdoğan, according the translation of a Reuters video. “They are very nervous and cowardly. They are Nazi remnants. They are fascists.” (It’s unclear from the video whether Erdoğan is referring to the Dutch people as a whole, or the officials responsible for cancelling his rally.)
Erdoğan is campaigning for expatriate voters’ support of an April referendum that would change Turkey’s government from a parliamentary republic to a presidential one and expand his powers over the budget and appointments of key officials.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte released a statement on Facebook (in Dutch) saying the Netherlands “regrets the state of affairs,” and that while the Dutch government has no objection to informing Turkish voters about the referendum, “these meetings should not contribute to tension in our society and everyone who wants to organize a meeting should adhere to instructions of the competent authority, so that public order and safety can be guaranteed.”
Earlier this month, a similar story unfolded in Berlin. After officials cancelled a rally for Erdoğan, the president said the country’s “practices are not different from the Nazi practices of the past.”
German Prime Minster Angela Merkel condemned the comments, calling them “sad” and “misplaced.”
“We will not allow the victims of the Nazis to be trivialized,” she said.
These diplomatic feuds come amidst a rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe. In the Netherlands, voters will go to the polls on Wednesday. Many are expected to support Geert Wilders, the explicitly anti-Muslim leader of the far-right Netherlands’ Dutch Freedom Party, who many brand as the “Dutch Trump.”
Mark Lowen, the BBC’s Turkey correspondent, says Erdoğan’s comments are a canny strategy for casting himself as the underdog:
“[European leaders] rose to the bait,” he wrote. “That will rally his support base and far-right nationalists who he’s trying to woo before the presidential referendum next month.”