Sweden will need to find much goodwill to win over Turkiye

Yasar Yakis

Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO was perceived at the outset as a single package, but they may now follow different paths. Back in June last year, the foreign ministers of Turkiye, Sweden and Finland signed an agreement in Madrid, in the presence of their respective heads of state and the NATO secretary-general, addressing Ankara’s legitimate security concerns.
However, it turned out that Turkiye and Sweden, in particular, were not on the same wavelength regarding the measures required to address these concerns. Divergences emerged as soon as Ankara listed the actions to be taken by Sweden. Stockholm said it could not implement all the measures Turkiye was asking for.
The strong Kurdish community living in Sweden was one of the difficulties. This community resisted Turkiye’s demand to extradite several Turkish citizens living in Sweden who were accused by Ankara of various offenses. They were journalists, intellectuals and individuals close to the Fethullah Gulen community living in Sweden. Some had already taken Swedish citizenship, while others had not committed any offense according to Swedish legislation or were not extraditable according to EU laws.
Sweden last year made a constitutional amendment, but it needed time to adjust its legislation to fight terror. Ankara commented that, if anti-Turkish activities in Sweden were controlled, it would definitely respond positively to this attitude. If, on the other hand, things went wrong, Ankara would of course adjust its position accordingly. As a result, the talks have been postponed.
Turkiye remains faithful to its support for the principle of NATO’s enlargement policy, but it wants to see that Sweden’s promises do not remain on paper. While the debates between the Turkish and Swedish authorities on the extradition negotiations were underway despite various ups and downs, the tension was brought to another level by the act of Swedish-Danish dual citizen Rasmus Paludan, who last month burned pages of the Holy Qur’an close to the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm.
In an open society like Sweden’s, it is only natural to find all sorts of opinions and religious affiliations. There may be disbelievers, devout Christians and adherents of other religions. However, a sophisticated country like Sweden could have handled this incident much more skillfully. The Swedish police could have refused Paludan’s request to burn the pages of a holy book on the grounds that it would hurt the feelings of Muslims in Sweden. Rather than doing this, it took measures to protect the perpetrator.
The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance mentioned in its report that those who commit such a hate crime benefit, in Denmark, from police protection under the guise of freedom of expression.
Finland rightly adopted a different attitude. The Finnish police authority has said that it would not allow the burning of pages of the Holy Qur’an and that it would punish such an act.
At the root of the Turkish-Swedish controversy lies Turkiye’s security concerns. Members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, organize demonstrations in Sweden, collect money for their cause and recruit terrorists to be sent to Turkiye or the Qandil Mountains in Iraq, where the PKK is nestled and carries out persistent attacks against Turkiye.
Now that there is a difference between Sweden, which Turkiye views as a more problematic country, and Finland, which is less problematic, Ankara is more inclined to leave the solution of this problem to the directly interested countries and to NATO.
On the question of Sweden’s NATO membership, there is a difference in Turkiye between the attitude of state officials and those of individual political figures. People making statements on behalf of the state use a careful narrative that leaves the door open for a future accommodation, while individual political figures and opinion leaders say whatever they want. This leaves Turkiye’s options open to all sorts of interpretations.
Xenophobia – and, more specifically, Islamophobia – are vices that every state has an obligation to prevent in order to secure public order. One can hardly claim that the Swedish authorities have assumed the responsibility to fulfill this important task.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the cases of Sweden and Finland may be assessed separately, but that it was up to NATO and these two countries to decide. Ankara will probably make its autonomous decision according to how events unfold. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was less ambivalent. He said: “Those who allowed such vileness to take place in front of our embassy can no longer expect any charity from us regarding their NATO membership.” However, he has proved to be a pragmatic leader and can deny his words if the circumstances warrant it. If wisdom prevails, an accommodation is likely to be made to allow Sweden to become a member of NATO in the foreseeable future, but a lot of goodwill and positive action will be needed from Stockholm.