ERR in Sweden: Joining NATO viable without changing policy, politicians say

Flag of Sweden.
Flag of Sweden. Source: Pixabay

While Finland became a full NATO member Tuesday, neighboring Sweden is still hanging on, thanks to Turkey and Hungary. However, Swedish politicians say they believe they will soon overcome all obstacles yet without having to make major changes in policy, though Swedish Kurds say changes are already noticeable.

It was Sweden's alleged harboring of members of Kurdish terror groups that was a major factor in Turkey's opposition to the accession of Sweden to NATO. Both Finland and Sweden filed their application to join the alliance on the same day, in May 2022.

Nonetheless, Sweden's leadership are generally positive about Finland becoming a full NATO member ahead of them, and believe that their turn will be next.

Foreign Minister Tobias Billström told ERR's Epp Ehand, reporting for "Välisilm", that: "Finland's entry into NATO also strengthens Sweden's security, so we are all delighted about that. However, we still have not achieved ratification from Hungary and Turkey."

"This is not the ideal situation for us, but I am confident that we will solve it and be able to complete the process in the future," said Aron Emilsson, a Riksdag MP and chair of its Foreign Affairs Committee.

The spectacle of a Qu'ran-burning incident in Stockholm earlier in the year – orchestrated by a Dane – hardly helped the situation, while in the case of Budapest, Sweden's claims about the rule of law being ridden over roughshod in Hungary is an issue.

At the same time, Sweden's leaders say they will not compromise their values, even as protesters in front of the foreign ministry demand Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be declared a terrorist organization.

"If we do this for you, then you will do this for us. So it's always about negotiations, as if to say, 'ok, we want to join NATO', and Turkey says 'ok, then give us your kurds', those with dual citizenship, and Sweden is like, 'ok, then you can have them,'" said one protestor, Maral, though another, Malin, rejected this.

There are around 150,000 Kurds resident in Sweden, Kurdo Baksi, a Kurdish journalist, told ERR.

"Sweden has been like a mother to the Kurds. There are more than 150,000 of us living here, in no other country, as in Sweden, can we publish books in a forbidden Kurdish language. We have published 2,000 books since 1975, we have 100 writers, we have five or six MPs of Kurdish descent. Sweden has been our second homeland. If a mother beats her baby, then the baby is sad. We don't like our mother much anymore, that's the situation,"

Lavin Bahzad, a Kurdish human rights activist, said: "Betrayal has hit us hard because we have always looked up to Sweden, Sweden's democratic values and human rights, but today it can be said that human rights do not apply to Swedish Kurds because legal certainty and the right not to be tortured are under threat, as Kurds are threatened with being sent to Turkey."

Baksi and Bahzad are, however, among the few Swedish Kurds who dare to give an interview at all right now. They say that while Sweden has not started to deport Kurds on the basis of a list provided by, it has tightened its general attitude and deportation decisions and 'no' decisions have been born that would not have taken place before.

The list of deportees desired by Turkey is already well familiar to them, they add.

"Of those, 33 seven are ordinary criminals. One had already been extradited to Turkey and we have no problem with these criminals [being deported]. Of the remaining 26 Kurds, one is dead, and five no longer live here. About half of the rest are cultural figures or journalists; I know personally all these men and women on the list. These people on the list are not terrorists. This is a question of free speech," Baksi said.

As to the question of what constitutes terrorism and what is freedom of expression is, perceptions in Turkey and in European countries sometimes diverge.

The new anti-terror law, however, makes it easier to treat someone as a terrorist than Sweden's previous regime, the Kurds who spoke to ERR say.

"By law, it is difficult to define who is involved in any movements and associations; not even the PKK of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, but it may also concern other Kurdish movements, the freedom struggle and so on," Bahzad said.

Mikael Holmström, a journalist covering security issues at daily Dagens Nyheter, said those Kurds who are Swedish citizens, had no reason to fear anything. That said, checks may be tightened with regard to newcomers, and perhaps Sweden has also welcomed people in previous years who should not have been, he said.

"Yes, this could be the case, while the new anti-terror law has made its way into parliament. It was had been under preparation for many years, even before the application for NATO membership. This happened despite the Turks. Sweden does not want to be a haven for terrorists, and it is also in our own interest not to be too liberal about these things," Holmström said.

The Swedish government says it firmly believes that NATO's door will soon open to them joining, without the need to fundamentally change Sweden's foreign policy.

"Välisilm" met with Swedish politicians before talking to the Kurds, so could not ask for a direct answer to their criticism. The show also looked more generally at how much NATO entry could change Sweden.

Tobias Billström said: "I don't see that other Nordic countries (and NATO members-ed.) – Norway and Denmark – are any less vocal in talking about human rights, or that they are less active foreign policy makers. What transpires is that NATO membership gives us a security platform with other Nordic and Baltic countries,"

"The basic principles of our foreign policy will not change, but of course we need to develop new relations and be in constant contact with countries in ways that did not exist before. This is a reality, but it's also an opportunity," Aron Emilsson added.

"Naturally, if you join the community, there will be less leeway for maneuver, but on the other hand, we will have a place at the table on the most powerful alliance in the world," Holmström added.

Some ordinary Swedes who "Välisilm" spoke to on the street fear that Pipi [Longstocking, a well-known figure from Swedish children's literature], a world-changer, will have to pipe down, while others say they will find their place in NATO perfectly.

Jane said: "We will no longer be in full control of our foreign policy. We will need to adapt to other NATO member states."

"I'm not afraid of it. We'll be fine then," another, Sig, said.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

Source: Välisilm

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