Sweden is on the cusp of breaking with a tradition of relative neutrality and acceding to the NATO security alliance, making a series of concessions in order to convince Turkey to stop exercising its veto and blocking the Nordic country from joining the security alliance.
Thousands recently gathered in the Swedish capital of Stockholm to protest the passing of an anti-terror law, widely seen as a concession to Turkey, which is demanding Sweden repress its own Kurdish community, stop diplomatic and humanitarian engagement in Kurdistan, and deport Kurds resident in Sweden to Turkey.
The demonstration, organised by the Alliance Against NATO, the Swedish Solidarity Committee for Rojava (Rojavakommittéerna), the Left Party, the Democratic Kurdish Community Centre in Sweden (NCDK-S) and Everything For Everyone Association (Förbundet Allt åt alla), aimed to show support for Kurds and democratic forces in Turkey and to voice their opposition to Swedish NATO accession. Among the participants, a significant number of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) flags and placards of the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan were visible, despite calls from Turkey to Swedish authorities that they be disallowed.
Medya News spoke to Andreas, a spokesman for the Committee for Rojava, to discuss the ongoing crisis in Sweden. Edited highlights follow, and you can listen to the full conversation above.
What are the broader reasons people in Sweden are protesting NATO accession?
Several reasons. Sweden has been a neutral country for over 200 years. We haven’t had a problem with it. It’s been a consensus among the Swedish public, from the start, not to join NATO. There’s always been a big consensus about it. When the war on Ukraine started, the public started shifting. There was hard propaganda from the right wing, and they managed to get the top of the social democratic government to put in an application to NATO…
As the Committee for Rojava, it became clear we don’t want an alliance with Turkey. We succeeded, during the Turkish invasion of Rojava, to make Sweden cancel arms sales, both Sweden and Finland cancelled arms sales. Immediately, when the [NATO] process started, they were talking about ending this embargo. So we started demonstrations.
How has this historic opposition to joining NATO dissipated?
This opposition came from the labour movement and anti-war movement in the First World War… This has always been a debate. During WW2, we let Germany go through Sweden, but we maintained an alliance in the shadows with England… We are not 100% neutral, but we are ‘alliance free’. And we’re not in NATO, which is one of the biggest war organisations in history. The right wing has always been pushing us to get into NATO, but there has been no public interest in doing this. Slowly, slowly, even the social democrats have been doing this. I did military service 20 years ago, and then we changed to NATO ammunition, so slowly, we have conducted exercises with NATO while saying we’re not trying to join NATO, just cooperate with them.
How has the Swedish public responded to your protests against NATO accession?
Sweden is very good at obeying what power says. Our media was saying, if you say anything against NATO, you’re the same as Russia, which is bullshit – It’s not just two sides. It’s the same as the decisions for the Rojava revolution – should we join the regime, or the rebels? No, we make our own way. There is a third path to go. And this is where some of the inspiration comes from. We noticed, when some actions happened, the media started contacting us, and I never saw media operate in such a supportive way, because they felt silenced as well, and they know that Turkey is the world’s worst country in which to be a journalist.
Do you expect the Swedish government to fulfil Erdoğan’s demands?
There was an agreement to extradite I think 30 people. And then Erdoğan came home and said, we agreed to extradite 73 people. Also, the Swedish Prime Minister cannot say if we will extradite people – it’s up to the courts. For one of the people on this list, it was found by the Supreme Court that he could not be extradited. Of course, it’s a big worry for the Kurdish community that doesn’t have citizenship. They don’t know what’s happening.
Do you feel the protests can influence government policy, or is this agreement a done deal?
The Swedish NATO application is an eternal question we have to work with. Turkey is the one making the problems. This shows it’s possible to interact in the policies of our governments. We saw very well during the invasion of Rojava that if we mobilise well enough, we can affect our government’s stance [by pushing for the suspension of arms sales, we have the possibility to affect policies]. We just have to find the issues or topics that are actually making a difference.