The Surprise Dutch-Turkish Fight, Explained

Upcoming votes in each country and far-right politician Geert Wilders at center
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 14, 2017 9:50 AM CDT
This Man's Popularity Is Huge Test for Europe
Right-wing populist leader Geert Wilders debates Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Monday night.   (Yves Herman POOL via AP)

A blizzard of headlines over the past week have revolved around a spat between the Netherlands and Turkey, and seemingly at the center of them all is a far-right Dutch politician named Geert Wilders. A primer on the diplomatic fight and the stakes involved:

  • About Wilders: He leads the Party for Freedom, and to say he espouses an anti-Muslim philosophy is an understatement. He has compared the Koran to Mein Kampf, referred to Moroccan immigrants as "scum," and called for all Muslims to leave the Netherlands. The New York Times provides a quick political bio in this video.

  • Dutch elections: The Netherlands votes Wednesday in national elections, and Wilders is hoping that rising anti-immigrant sentiment will make him the next prime minister. He and current PM Mark Rutte debated Monday night, and Wilders referred to Rutte as the "prime minister for foreigners." The Guardian has details.
  • Where Turkey comes in: Turkey has a referendum of its own in April that would give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan far more power, and government officials want to visit the Netherlands to whip up support among Turkish immigrants there because they can vote from abroad. The Dutch government has refused, however, leading to nasty exchanges between the two nations. The Netherlands' hardline stance against the Muslim country is seen as a way for mainstream parties to look tough on immigration and Islam and to siphon votes from Wilders, explains Reuters.
  • Go deeper: The CBC has a primer on the Turkey-Netherlands fight—"a grudge match no one saw coming"—pointing out that Erdogan is using the fight with Europe for his own political advantage.
  • Huge test: The Dutch vote will be followed by pivotal elections in France and Germany, all of which will be a sign of how far "populist nationalism" has engulfed Europe in the wake of Donald Trump's win and the Brexit vote, observes an analysis at Foreign Policy. The piece doesn't think Wilders will wind up as prime minister, but it says he has already won in a sense by shifting centrist parties to the right.
  • More on Turkey: For more specifics on the Turkey vote, which critics say would amount to giving Erdogan "one-man rule," see the New York Times.
Wilders was convicted of hate speech last year. (Read more Netherlands stories.)

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