The easiest and politically most desirable answer would be that the Turkish president was simply worn out by his own outrage at the lack of understanding of his wishes. Actually, this would mean that the days of his anger and of his insulting of European partners were over, spiced with an appropriate apology and gone into a diplomatic oblivion. However, it is something more.
It started a few days ago, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the arrival of his closest associates, members of the Turkish government, to some European capitals. It is common for such President’s envoys to be sent, as this time to Bonn or The Hague, political centers of Germany and the Netherlands, carry important statements, whose sensitivity and confidentiality is intended to be conveyed personally to the leaders of the visited countries. The meaning of such messages is even more stressed with the political function of the courier, while the bearer carries the authority to additionally explain the message.
This time the purpose was different. Erdogan has sent his ministers to European cities significant to him with one task only: as purveyors of his political will to encourage large Turkish diaspora to participate in the referendum at which Erdogan wants to gain the necessary majority for constitutional changes that would grant much bigger powers to the President of Turkey. In fact, it would almost literally enable him to take over the function of the Prime Minister, to declare laws with a decree-circumventing the parliamentary procedure, to define and adopt the state budget and to appoint federal judges. Furthermore, the changed constitution would enable him to remain in power for 12 years more.
However, the ambitious plan to stretch the presidential powers has an obvious problem. It is not clear whether the plan will receive the necessary majority. Ankara has thus accepted an estimate that it would need to address directly all Turkish citizens with dual citizenship who live in EU countries. Because it is precisely their referendum votes that would tip the scale.
However, this is precisely where things went wrong. European countries, first Germany and the Netherlands have banned the organization of rallies and prevented the arrival of Erdogan’s emissaries.
This has provoked president’s mighty response.
First he accused German authorities of Nazism, followed by labeling the entire European Union in a similar way. This was followed by Brussels calming response and a call to tone down. This invitation for a new dialogue reflected that it was not only about the president’s resentment, it was about something much larger.
On Tuesday afternoon, March 14, 2017, Erdogan said that the rhetoric from Brussels had no value. He added the key accusation, which, however, points to his assessment that the president’s anger can bring real and painful consequences. In fact, Erdogan has threatened to reopen the Balkan migrant route with all the consequences such a decision would effect to.
However, this obviously was not enough. In fact, immediately after that, he had accused the Netherlands and its citizens for being guilty of genocide and massacre of eight thousand people in Srebrenica in 1995. At the same time he invited them not to vote for parties that have banned rallies.
His forecast for yesterday’s elections in the Netherlands was obviously that right-wing populist Gert Wilders would win against the pro-European incumbent president, Liberal Mark Rutte. That would have been, as he undoubtedly explained, a part of his appeal to Dutch voters with Turkish roots. Part of his anger.
The second part was his accusation regarding Srebrenica. Here I have to explain.
When the American intelligence service intercepted conversations of two Serbian generals Momcilo Perisic, chief of staff of the Yugoslav army and Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian-Serbian army, in mid-June 1995, it was clear that it a big military action was being prepared.
The very next day the analysts have determined the content of the conversations and announced the preparation of a military offensive on Srebrenica, a town under the protection of the UN. In doing so, the U2 spy planes brought piles of photographs that proved the displacement of Serbian heavy weapons and tanker trucks, which were, as photographs had proved, transporting to Srebrenica large amounts of fuel. The military base in Potocari housed over 400 Dutch soldiers, as security to protect Srebrenica. According to original UN estimates, there ought to have been at least ten times more.
Based on the information he received, the Dutch battalion commander Thomas Karremans, Thom to his friends, a gray-haired lieutenant colonel in the best years of his life, with thick gray mustache, had called his superior, the French General Bernard Janvier in relation to the level of danger from an enemy attack, to issue the command and engage Aviation. The general’s answer was negative. He just explained that the Bosnian Serb army was getting organized only to prevent further killing expeditions in Serbian villages led by the Bosniak commander Naser Oric.
Not only that, Yasushi Akashi, the personal envoy of UN Secretary General, also estimated that there was no danger to Srebrenica and went for a weekend swim in the Yugoslav military resort Kupari, very close to Dubrovnik. He was convinced that the intention of Bosnian Serbian army was primarily the so-called transfer of population of different faith, culture and language from areas that are supposed to Serbian.
Then came the attack on Srebrenica, a massacre and the most appalling killing of Bosniaks.
Today, when Erdogan accused the Dutch state and Dutch citizens as guilty for crime in Srebrenica, he completely misses the real culprits. Of course, the Turkish president is aware of the real course of events.
Why the angry attack then?
In order to get to the answer, we have rethink certain events in the last few weeks.
First, an unusual reception of European Minister of Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini at the Serbian parliament, where her address was overpowered by MP’s from Vojislav Seselj’s party, chanting Serbia, Russia we do not need the European Union. Then, the obvious decision of official Moscow that it will not allow completely calmly the Republic of Montenegro, or the intentions of any Western Balkans country, gaining membership in NATO.
An unusual attempt of the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency chairman, Bakir Izetbegovic, to convince the international court in The Hague to approve the revision request for the judgment on the last Serbian genocide in the Yugoslav wars. Izetbegovic approached this politically responsive and legally very precise project with prior knowledge that he would lose. The submission of such a request had not met the formal requirements and had not the consent of the presidency of the country. However, he knew the consequences his act would have not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but in the entire region.
Definitely not finally, because this has been an extremely hot topic in the last few days, one cannot overlook the political background of the intentions of Russian accession into key segments of Croatian economy with debt collection mechanisms, regarding the debts of the biggest Croatian company “Agrokor” in Russian state bank Sberbank.
Erdogan’s accusation from Tuesday, accusing the Dutch country and the Dutch citizens for Srebrenica, spoke something more. What he wanted or what he did not. Yes, Turkey and Russia are once again starting to share their influence in the Balkans. Russia – obviously with its economic and military power, and Turkey – with its politics and historical sentiment.
Russian is arming Serbia, through banking operations it is economically taking over the vital parts of Croatian food and trade industry, and it is determined not to allow Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to enter the NATO alliance.
Turkey wants to strengthen its influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both with only one assumption: that US policy with President Donald Trump is withdrawing from the Balkans.
And that the most influential countries of the European Union have enough internal problems and concerns with the upcoming parliamentary elections to seriously deal with the problems of the Western Balkans.