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Tbilisi-Based Dutch Professor on Dutch Elections, Erdogan & Saakashvili

INTERVIEW

On March 15, parliamentary elections were held in The Netherlands. Despite most polls predicting a victory for “Dutch Trump” Geert Wilders, the liberals and acting PM, Mark Rutte, won. However, none of the parties managed to achieve a parliamentary majority. What should we in Georgia know about Dutch elections, or, more importantly, why they should matter for us? A Dutch professor at Ilia University, Robert van Voren, was all too happy to explain it to GEORGIA TODAY and Panorama Talk Show.

Brussels, and Europe in general, sighed in relief following the results of the Dutch elections. For the sake of theory, let’s pretend that Wilders won the elections – what would have happened? Nexit?

Had Wilders won, The Netherlands would have had an impossible political situation as all political parties stated very clearly beforehand that nobody was willing to go into a government with Geert Wilders. Which doesn’t mean that current negotiations for the government will be easy. I think the best possibility is a kind of a center-left coalition which brings in the Christian Democrats and the Green Leftist party.

In general, it’s fantastic news for Europe as it seems that we’ve reached a ceiling of populism. You mentioned Geert Wilders as a European, or Dutch, Trump. When Trump won the presidential elections, there were lots of populists in Europe who were buttering up to Trump and saying “we’re the Dutch Trump” or “we’re the French Trump”, “we are the same”, thinking it would help them. But what happened was the opposite because everybody now understands that Trump is, as a president, quite hopeless, that he is a man with serious psychological problems, and that the political development in the United States is quite horrific. And so identifying oneself with Trump became a liability – not a positive thing, but a negative thing. This worked quite nicely against Wilders. If you think you’re like Trump – well, we don’t like Trump, so we don’t like you; so we better vote for someone who is more reasonable and has more sense. And that was the liberal party leader, Mark Rutte. Nexit would never happen. This is the line that Geert Wilders is always on, but this is populism – you know, you over-exaggerate things and try to win votes.

Mark Rutte, despite being a liberal, is no soft figure. After the elections, his words were that the Dutch people “rejected the wrong kind of populism”. Doesn’t that make Rutte’s own narrative the right kind of populism? Is he playing by Wilder’s rules?

He’s a shrewd politician. I wouldn’t automatically call him a populist; but he is a shrewd politician and he got support from an unexpected corner, which is Turkish leader Erdogan.

So Erdogan played into Rutte’s hands?

Yes. And I think Rutte immediately saw the chance to make use of this in order to push himself as a strong leader. The whole diplomatic scandal in the Netherlands might help Erdogan in his attempt to become the sole leader of Turkey and basically a dictator, but at the same time, he helped Rutte to become prime minister of the Netherlands again.

What impact will it have on European politics? We saw that after the election results were announced, the Euro strengthened. Should Marine Le Pen be wary?

If I were Marine Le Pen, I would start taking sleeping pills, because the tide is turning. I think she herself is in big trouble – her diplomatic immunity has been taken away because of a corruption scandal, so her name is tainted. Her main opponent, Fillion, is also involved in a corruption scandal. So I think in France we might see another candidate, Emmanuel Macron, coming to the fore. And this is good news for Europe: it means that we might finally get this right-wing populism – in some countries, it’s almost neo-fascism – under control. Putin has been very much involved in all these issues in European politics and the United States. He was probably involved in Brexit, and he was definitely involved in the election of Trump. He’s playing his game with his hybrid cyber-war. But things are now coming out. Basically, it’s a boomerang; it’s coming back to Putin and it’s connected with business corruption, oligarchs, and lots of money. I think people start to understand that they have been taken for a ride, and this means they are taking back their votes. And so, I think we’ll see a new type of politics arriving in Europe, which is very exciting.

Let’s elaborate more on the Turkish issue. The Turkish foreign minister predicted that there will be a religious war in Europe. How do you see further developments in relations between The Netherlands and Turkey as well as Turkey and Europe?

The relationship with Turkey will not get better soon, because Erdogan now needs to win his referendum. And Holland is definitely not going to rock the boat. Erdogan wants apologies, the Dutch are not going to give them, and the Dutch want apologies that he won’t give.

If he is isolated, will we see him firmly in league with Putin? It doesn’t paint a pretty picture for Georgia’s European aspirations, Putin and Erdogan together…

They are in the same camp for one simple reason – because their mentality and way of thinking is exactly the same. They are both heirs of old empires, they both suffer from post-imperium complexity. The Ottoman and the Russian Empire, both want to reestablish their reign in the region. For instance, between Turkey and Russia there is already one area of conflict, which is Crimea, because we have the case of Crimean Tatars who are severely repressed in Crimea. Nationalistically, Erdogan cannot deny support to the Crimean Tatars, because it’s a brother nation. Repression in Crimea is especially focused on them. Ten thousand have already become refugees in Ukraine. And so, Erdogan has to do something, but then at the same time, Putin is his buddy in fighting Western liberalism, etc. As such, we have a very complex situation and Georgia is squeezed in-between. At the same time, because the fight is mainly with Europe, I have this feeling that Georgia is something that will be dealt with later – let’s first focus on Europe proper, and when we settle this problem, let’s focus on the Caucasus.

So that focus won’t come until the Ukraine issue is solved?

Ukraine is a very sad story because we look now at what happens in Ukraine in comparison to the hopes and wishes that we had after Maidan. Most never materialized – corruption is still there, oligarchs are still in power, Poroshenko is a total failure. The man who could have become the hero of Ukraine goes down now in the position of continuing the old instead of bringing in the new. But in Ukraine you talk to young people and you see that they do not have this Soviet fear which is so endemic in this region.

Do you see the same here in Georgia?

Yes. Whatever you think of Saakashvili, I think what he managed to do is pull this country out of Soviet times. The Sovietization of Georgia has gone much further than Ukraine. But after each period of growth and development, which went very quick in the country, there is always a period of stagnation. What you need is a political leader of a country which is able to grab a situation and pull it forward. You need leaders with ideas and with charisma, and I think this is a problem that exists in the whole region. There are no big, moral leaders in the former Soviet Union. None of the republics have them. In Czechoslovakia, you had Havel, in South Africa, you had Mandela. In this region, there was one man – Sakharov, and he died far too early.

Do you think that Saakashvili could have done more? What about popular belief that he misused power?

Saakashvili is definitely a guy with charisma, with ideas; a guy who energizes people, but his problem is that his style of ruling is very Asian. And so he reached the point at which he thought he’d done it all and sat back and started enjoying himself instead of ruling the country. When he left the Georgian political scene, he was gone politically, I would say. And his attempt in Ukraine was a failure as well, because he forgot one crucial thing – you can speak Ukrainian, you can be friends with Poroshenko, but you are not Ukrainian. The Ukrainians themselves need to develop their country, and he thought that he could become the new Ukrainian leader, which is nonsense. He basically made a fool of himself.

Vazha Tavberidze

20 March 2017 17:42