NATO enlargement controversy: What Erdogan needs and Sweden can’t give


Status: 05/20/2022 05:01

The treatment of the Kurdish minority has long strained relations between Turkey and Sweden. Expert explains Sweden is haven for Kurdish dissidents – and how elections fuel conflict.

GDR: Turkish President Erdogan has accused Sweden of supporting terrorist organizations like the PKK. What is that?

Paul Levin: There is no official relationship between Sweden and the PKK. The PKK is classified as a terrorist organization in Sweden. In Turkey, however, there is completely different and, to some extent, more comprehensive anti-terrorism legislation. In Sweden, it is limited, which gives fewer possibilities to the police. For example, it is not specifically prohibited to be a member of a terrorist organization. You must prove that acts of terrorism were planned or carried out.

Similarly, the legislation on freedom of expression is very liberal. Ultimately, this means that the Swedish police cannot arrest PKK supporters, for example, if they wave PKK flags in Swedish markets. The Turkish side sees in this a tolerance towards the PKK.

Paul Levin

To no one

Dr. Paul Levin is Director of the Institute of Turkish Studies at Stockholm University.

Far-reaching requirements

GDR: What is the purpose of Turkish criticism?

Wine : Turkey wants Sweden to end its cooperation with some Kurdish organizations like the YPG in Syria. Turkey claims they are linked to the PKK. But Sweden – like the United States – classifies these organizations differently.

Turkey has also requested the extradition of some people in Sweden whom it considers to be PKK supporters, which Sweden has refused. And it calls for the lifting of the Swedish arms embargo on Turkey. Sweden introduced it in 2019 when the Turkish army invaded Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria.

“We don’t know what promises have been kept”

GDR: How has Sweden specifically supported the Kurds so far?

Wine : It is above all a question of financing humanitarian aid. When Turkey visited the Kurdish areas of Syria in 2019, Sweden promised 100 million crowns (the equivalent of around ten million euros), among other things for the water supply there , but also for women who had previously suffered sexual assault under “Islam”. State”.

It is unclear whether these promises of aid were actually kept. However, the Swedish representatives also met with leading representatives of various Kurdish political and military organizations.

pictures with consequences

GDR: Sweden is not the only country to have contacts with Kurdish organizations. Why is the Turkish government particularly bothered here?

Wine : Sweden actually stands out because it has always been a haven for Kurdish dissidents. But that does not mean that all these Kurds work for or support the PKK. There are very different ramifications here in Sweden, which is important to point out.

Germany, for example, also has ties to the Kurdish autonomous regions in northern Syria, but has always been more careful not to appear in photos with their representatives, as Swedish politicians have done. Now Sweden is on NATO’s doorstep asking for entry, which gives Turkey the chance to prevent this.

Two countries before the elections

GDR: What problems does the Kurdish discussion pose at the national level, both in Sweden and in Turkey?

Wine : The fact that this pressure comes from Turkey right after the NATO decision is difficult for the social democrats in power. A new parliament will be elected here in Sweden in September. Above all, the (opposition) Left Party asks the question: are we now becoming more silent in our criticism of human rights violations in Turkey?

The problem is that Erdogan also faces an election – either in the summer of 2023 or perhaps even a snap election this fall. The polls do not look good to him at the moment, the Turkish economy is doing badly. This is why Erdogan needs public success, but Sweden is struggling to give it to him. Along with Sweden, Finland has also applied for admission to NATO.

Finland held hostage

GDR: Why is Turkey also blocking Finland’s entry into NATO?

Wine : As a Swede, you almost feel guilty, because basically Finland is just a hostage in this drama, which is more about Swedish-Turkish relations.

GDR: Can the other NATO countries do anything to help Sweden?

Wine : Above all, Sweden hopes for help from the United States. For example, President Biden could hold a big, media-efficient summit with Erdogan, which he’s wanted for years but hasn’t gotten so far.

Moreover, the United States has so far been unwilling to deliver the F-35 fighter jet to Turkey because Turkey has in turn purchased an air defense system from Russia. But it is also conceivable that eventually the United States will pressure Sweden to make at least some concessions to Turkey.

The interview was conducted by Arne Bartram, ARD Studio Stockholm

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