Turkish President Recep Erdogan caused controversy this weekend by likening the Netherlands and Germany to modern Nazism in the run-up to an important Turkish referendum election.

The comment was instigated after authorities in the Netherlands barred Turkish politicians from participating in a number of pro-Erdogan political rallies being held inside the country.

The Dutch government insists the measures were taken to ensure security in their cities during a key political moment—the Netherlands holds its own election this week—but Turkish politicians, including Erdogan himself, see the actions as overtly hostile towards Turkey.

“I have said that I had thought that Nazism was over, but I was wrong. Nazism is alive in the West.” Erdogan said.

The strong political activism occurring inside the Netherlands from expat Turks has stoked the already sensitive immigration climate in Europe. Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right Freedom Party and who looks to make significant gains in the Dutch parliamentary election this week, Tweeted that “The Netherlands can see that these people are Turks, not Dutch. They have Dutch passports, but they don’t belong here.” His party openly rejects the spread of Islam within the Netherlands as a central campaign theme.

The referendum election in Turkey on April 16th concerns expanding presidential powers, in some ways significantly so. If successful, the government in Turkey would change from a parliamentary system to an executive president, resting substantial power in the president’s hands.

While many of the European countries in question have cited security concerns as reasons to block Turkish government figures from appearing at Turkish demonstrations—thousands of Turks have appeared in the streets of Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Austria, and many demonstrations have become violent—it’s also likely they do not want to unintentionally support a successful ‘yes’ vote in the Turkish referendum. 5.5 million Turks live outside the country, and so the expatriates in Europe are a significant and important voting bloc.

Many EU members have been critical of the crackdown imposed by Erdogan inside Turkey since last year’s coup attempt.

Image courtesy of the BBC