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Turkey's Opposition to Sweden's NATO Bid Reinvigorated by Stockholm Protests

SOTU: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said Sweden should not count on Turkey to approve Sweden’s application for NATO membership..

TURKEY-POLITICS-GOVERNMENT
(Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said Sweden should not count on Turkey to approve Sweden’s application for NATO membership in response to protests by pro-Kurdish and anti-Islam demonstrators over the weekend.

The protestors from across the Swedish political spectrum gathered in Stockholm to oppose the Nordic country’s NATO bid, citing Turkey’s membership as one of the reasons they object to Sweden joining the military alliance. At one point, Rasmus Paludan, a Swedish citizen and leader of Hard Line, a Danish political party, burned a copy of the Koran in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm.

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It was not the first time Paludan burned a Koran as part of a demonstration, but the proximity to the Turkish Embassy and the fact that it seems Swedish security forces protected Paludan from any attempts by Turkish officers from intervening, sent a clear message to Anakara—one that was not well received. 

"Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their NATO membership," Erdogan proclaimed following a cabinet meeting earlier this week. "If you love members of terrorist organisations and enemies of Islam so much and protect them, then we advise you to seek their support for your countries' security," the Turkish president added.

Furthermore, Erdogan denounced pro-Kurdish elements of the protests where the flags of a number of Kurdish militant groups, namely the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), waved above the crowd. Turkey has been at war with Kurdish insurgents, namely the PKK, for more than four decades, and the PKK is considered a terrorist group in Turkey, the European Union, and the United States.

That is not the case in Sweden, however. Since Finland and Sweden declared their intent to join the NATO alliance in May of 2022, Erdogan has been vocal about his concerns with allowing nations that are “home to many terrorist organizations” into the alliance. What’s more, Turkey claims that Sweden and Finland lended support to followers of the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government says is to blame for the attempted coup in 2016.

In the wake of Turkey’s opposition to the Nordic pair’s NATO bids, Finland and Sweden began negotiating with Turkey to try an avoid Turkey from vetoing their NATO application. For a country to join NATO, the preexisting members of the NATO alliance must unanimously approve.

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In June 2022, prior to the NATO Madrid Summit, Turkey, Sweden, and Finland signed a joint memorandum that claimed the two Nordic countries would consider the PKK as a terror group and restrict its actions accordingly. While it seems Finland has kept its part of the bargain, Sweden, in Erdogan’s eyes, has not. Last year, the Swedish Supreme Court blocked the extradition of a suspected terrorist as well.

“So you will let terror organizations run wild on your avenues and streets and then expect our support for getting into NATO. That’s not happening,” Erdogan said in response to the weekend’s protests in Stockholm. If Sweden fails to follow the agreement up to Turkey’s standards, “they won’t see any support from us on the NATO issue,” Erdogan added.

For the United States’ part, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, "ultimately, this is a decision and consensus that Finland and Sweden are going to have to reach with Turkey." Price also told members of the media that the demonstrations may have intentionally been trying to undercut the resolve and unity of the trans-Atlantic’s alliance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Price went on: "We have a saying in this country—something can be lawful but awful. I think in this case, what we've seen in the context of Sweden falls into that category.”

I’ve never heard that saying, and don’t care too much for it. I anticipate Erdogan might feel the same.