Amid new developments in Europe — Brexit, migration, terrorism, a far-right on an upswing — an old spectre has raised its head. Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan has accused the Dutch of “acting like Nazis” for not allowing Erdogan’s ministers to campaign in the Netherlands, amongst the 4,00,000-strong Turkish migrant community, towards an April referendum that seeks to extend Erdogan’s powers. If successful, it is feared Erdogan will take Turkey from parliamentary democracy to a presidential system. Turkey has already experienced alleged purges in its civil service, judiciary, army, etc., following 2016’s attempted coup; over 150 journalists have been arrested, alongside opposition leaders and activists. April’s referendum is divisive enough for a 10 per cent swing voter group to be considered vital; hence, Erdogan’s attempts to reach migrants spread across Europe. But unease over the Turkish referendum has spurred European states to refuse permission for rallies. This led the Turkish strongman to also accuse Germany of fascism: “I thought Nazism was over,” Erdogan reportedly stated. “But I was wrong. Nazism is alive in the West.”
In calmer times, this could have been dismissed as a hissy-fit. However, the episode has gone beyond flinging charges; Turkey has expelled the Dutch ambassador, threatened sanctions against the Netherlands, even hinted at undoing the EU deal that funds Turkey to stem migrants into Europe. Critics claim this deal has given Erdogan astonishing liberty, with European nations turning a strategic blind eye to tumult in Turkey. The current dispute only underlines the need for Europe to observe Ankara far more critically.
Alongside, the flippant use of terms like Nazism and fascism by Erdogan highlights several ironies, including, of course, who’s talking here. But Europe itself, frequently confounded by its challenges, must resist the temptation of slipping into a lexicon of the past. There are elements of brute hegemony in today’s geopolitics; but given the enormous differences between then and now — the internet being one aspect — using “fascism” as a descriptor doesn’t take understanding to a new level. It freezes thought in futile furies.