If Erdogan Loses

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

. . . if he loses next Sunday’s Sultan Referendum on expanding his Presidential powers, what then? Have you thought about it? No particular reason that you should have, but journalist Karen van Eyken of the Belgian (Flemish) paper Het Laatste Nieuws has done so, and lays out an analysis in an excellent piece, in which she posits three scenarios.

None of them includes Erdogan just peaceably accepting such a result and moving on, by the way, but you already knew that, right?


1) Here’s the closest we get to that: He accepts, and he’s soon gone.

It does seem so unlikely. As Van Eyken notes:

… that is perhaps too optimistic an estimate because in the past months an over-eager Erdogan has struck his opponents dumb by throwing into jail politicians from other parties and so-called Gülen-supporters.

Indeed, in its essence what this referendum is about is handing over dictatorial powers, but he has been no less dictatorial before the fact in trying to bum-rush the entire country (together with expat Turkish voters in Europe – until the governments there intervened) to a Yes vote. It’s really a miracle how, as I write this five days before the election, indications are that the Yes vote is only slightly ahead.

But OK, if the vote is No: Scenario 1 is that that would be such a setback that it would catapult him out of politics altogether. Note that this is not just Van Eyken herself here, she does cite to this effect a couple of Turkey experts in the academy and the press. These claim that there are enough opponents even within his own AKP Party who are ready to push him out should the referendum fail.

2) Erdogan calls for a re-try: Especially if the No vote passes with a thin margin, the Turkish president is likely to give his country an early opportunity to get things right the second time. (Note the similarity here to the EU’s own practices when it comes to referenda. But this whole sorry tale shows yet again why referenda are such a flawed political instrument, something I have repeatedly brought up within this weblog.)

Remember, this would be little more than what Erdogan already did in 2015, when in the June general election his AKP party lost its majority in parliament; Erdogan arranged for early elections again in November. (He also went to war with the country’s Kurds, to assure he would get victory at that second try. And now he’s suffering from that unnecessary step, especially in Syria.) Remember as well that, as a result of that November victory, the AKP party with its renewed parliamentary majority can easily arrange that second-chance referendum.

3) Turkey descends into general violence: This is intriguing, and does seem quite possible. Is Turkey even a democracy now? Don’t we have Erdogan already far exceeding the given powers of his presidential office, de facto, to be allowed to act like the sultan he aspires to be de jure? Then what can happen when the figurehead of what is actually a top-heavy state faces such a setback is that everyone comes out of the woodwork ready for violence: the Kurds, ISIL, but also dissidents within the AKP. For the country is still on a knife-edge after the trauma of last July’s attempted coup d’état.

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Head Down South for Blackface

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015

Just a heads-up here to all my readers, as part of this weblog’s public service function, for the coming annual controversy over the Father Christmas-associated figure in Dutch culture of Zwarte Piet or “Black Pete.” As a rule this squabble only gets going around mid-November, when major Dutch cities stage elaborate “arrivals” of Father Christmas (Sinterklaas) from Spain, always accompanied by his multiple Zwarte Piet helpers, gaudily attired and in blackface with a curly black wig, preparatory to the Dutch celebration of pakjesavond on 5 December when Sinterklaas and his assistants visit houses to bring presents to well-behaved children and to chastise the naughty.

Of course, observers outside the Netherlands and even within have come to take increasing offence at what they take to be the implicit racism of Zwarte Piet. Things came to a head during last year’s go-round, what with an intensive level of international press attention and even street-disturbances in the city of Gouda on the occasion of Sinterklaas’ “arrival” there. Recently, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released its (non-enforceable) judgment that the Netherlands should dial Black Pete back.

It’s possible that last year represented, to coin a (not easily repeatable) phrase, peak Black Pete, as Amsterdam and various other Dutch cities have taken steps to minimize that racial dimension, and have banned Black Pete entirely from their schools. Of course, we’ll have to see when the time comes – in a little over a month – just what the differences will be between the new Black Petes and the old. For there will surely still be Black Petes: there remains considerable resentment among man-on-the-street Dutch people at what is perceived as outside interference in cultural practices that (in their view) do not harm anybody and are ultimately no one’s business outside the Netherlands.

Make that outside the Netherlands or Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, where they also celebrate Sinterklaas (although their pakjesavond is on 6 December*).

ZPiet
“Come on down to Antwerp,” is the message. “We keep our Black Petes black!”

This bit of touristic promotional work comes from alderman Koen Kennis, who represents in Antwerp the N-VA or Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie party, a right-wing, strongly Flemish nationalist party whose key demand is for Flanders to secede from Belgium entirely.

Of course, the Netherlands certainly has its own parallel party to the N-VA, namely the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) headed by the notorious Geert Wilders – one which certainly books healthy gains in its electoral support with every such Zwarte Piet controversy. As one would expect, Wilders has been unyielding in his “Leave Black Pete alone!” attitude, but his party is nowhere strong enough in any municipality to push that through as city policy. Things are different – for now – in Antwerp.

* Note to children with family connections in both the Netherlands and Flanders: the two territories are of course adjacent, so keep in mind the “double-dipping” possibilities of presents north of the border on the evening of the 5th, then presents south of the border on the evening of the 6th!

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Southwest Airlines File: Still Flying

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

The Flemish newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws (which of course means “the latest news”) is a unique beast: tabloidy in the range of news items it chooses to cover, to be sure, but at the same time lacking that sleazy tinge common to most of the world’s gutter-rags. Even better, it can be relied upon to catch and publish those bizarre tid-bits flowing on the wires that more established papers usually choose to leave alone.

A case in point is the recent attention it has paid to the operations of Southwest Airlines, no less. That American low-budget airline would seem to have little of interest to residents of Belgium. Nevertheless, it is covered by HLN in some recent stories whose common denominator is the apparent resiliance of its planes towards a variety of threats.

Like a well-endowed female passenger displaying rather too much endowment. This happened at the airport in Las Vegas (where else?), where the lady wanted to board a plane for New York, but was told by Southwest officials that her bosom was just too visible. Somehow the woman (known only by “Avital”) managed to board the flight anyway – maybe she used them as a battering-ram – and later recounted the experience to the website Jezebel.com, exclaiming “And what do you know, the plane did not fall from the sky!”

Then, a little earlier, there was that other grave threat to flight safety: mobile telephone use. This involved a Southwest flight from Phoenix, AZ to El Paso: a man who rebuffed requests from a stewardess to switch off his phone while the plane was landing was promptly arrested once it was down on the ground. As the HLN article explains, “The [telephone’s] signals can create disturbances, and the pilot’s aids during bad weather can be influenced by a gsm telephone.” But this assertion has of course been debunked repeatedly, such as here.

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Pounding Sand in Paris

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

So, what the Flemish paper De Morgen calls Europe’s koningskoppel (“royal couple,” namely Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy) met yesterday in Paris to try to find some solutions for the ongoing European euro/sovereign-debt crisis. What did they come up with?

Precious little, by most accounts. Perhaps that was the best to be expected, given how hard it is to get anything done in most parts of Europe in high summer-holiday season, and the fact that both, in effect, had terminated their own vacations early to meet.

(And no, rest assured that Chancellor Merkel does not regard such trips to the City of Light as recreational in any respect. Still, from the various photos emanating from that summit – check out for example this one from the De Morgen piece – one could even get the impression that they have become more comfortable in each other’s presence, something that was a problem before, as has been noted in this space.)

Continuing the beach theme, here’s one reaction, from Het Laatste Nieuws:

#geld Merkel en Sarkozy strooien zand in de ogen van de mensen: De plannen van de Franse president Nicolas Sarko… http://t.co/1cJEZ9c

@HLNlive

HLN Live


“Merkel and Sarkozy throw sand in people’s eyes” – but who is saying that? The HLN editors? No, that comes from former Belgian premier (now in the European Parliament) Guy Verhofstadt. He’s sort of a nerdy political guy – there’s a great shot of him in that HLN article, together with yet another shot of Merkel and Sarkozy posing happily together – but has been a prominent figure on the Belgian political scene for quite a while, and on the European level is mainly known as a convinced federalist. (more…)

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