The most talked about issue these days is the catastrophic NATO summit in Madrid on 28 June. The media shows pictures of a clearly satisfied Jens Stoltenberg patting his ally, Erdoğan on the shoulder, giving him an appreciative look. It is certainly not just playing to the gallery, over the years as secretary general of NATO he has built a solid relationship with Erdoğan. The former, somewhat young rebellious social democratic politician Stoltenberg has built a strong political career in the Labour Party since 1990, until in 2014 he was named the 13th Secretary General of NATO. His strong grounding in the social democratic welfare state makes it even more difficult to understand what motivation he has had for entering into agreements with Erdoğan.
Stoltenberg was prime minister when “Utøya” became the scene of the worst terrorist attack in Norwegian history when The Workers’ Youth League’s (AUF) summer camp was attacked by the far-right terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, and 69 young people were shot to death. In a memorial service following, Stoltenberg said: “Our answer is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity. But never naivety” (vox publica, 24 July 2011). But his notion of democracy has clearly faded in the effort to please Erdoğan and bring about a possible agreement. I do not think Stoltenberg is naïve though, he knows very well about Erdoğan’s atrocities, his use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish people, ethnic cleansing, unlawful arrests and dozens of human rights violations. And this is the worst betrayal, the fact that he does know so deeply well and yet still chooses to put a nail in the coffin of the Kurdish people.
Sweden and Finland have kneeled down for probably the worst dictator and war criminal of our time. How did it get to this point? The war in Ukraine is used as an argument for the bid for membership but do Finland and Sweden really fear a Russian invasion? In that case, I would think that NATO membership provides a false sense of security. The alliance is no longer the defender of peace and a community of democratic values as it claims to be, on the contrary the Madrid agreement shows that NATO has become an instrument for an authoritarian regime that will dictate the policies of the Nordic countries and other member states. It is not inconceivable that the Norwegian government will show solidarity with its Nordic neighbours and lift the arms embargo against Turkey as well. In this way, Erdoğan’s dangerous tentacles will be able to intervene in Norwegian foreign policy as well (Moxnes in Klassekampen, 2 July 2022).
In Sweden, Pierre Schori, the former Minister for Development Aid, and a close associate of the late Olof Palme, stated that in Sweden people talk about “… before and after the Russian invasion on 24 February, but currently there is also a before and after 28 June” (Expressen, June 29, 2022). Schori, and other veteran social democrats protest and claim that Sweden has taken a long step away from a tradition of freedom of alliance. However, Erdoğan has used his veto and demanded the two new NATO members lift the arms embargo on Turkey. Instead of power balance this will probably increase the militarisation of Europe, as well the conflicting relationship to Putin’s Russia.
Stoltenberg is known as a sympathetic and charismatic political leader and has a reputation of being a good mediator. But the process we have witnessed and the result that came out of it can just as easily be termed manipulation more than negotiation. Anyway, this process Sweden and Finland have sold their old values to a regime they had never imagined collaborating with and at a price they will suffer from for a long time. As part of the agreement, the two countries must cooperate with Turkey’s dreaded intelligence service MIT and at the same time renounce all aid to the Kurdish forces YPG/J and PYD and refrain from all aid projects in Rojava and north-eastern Syria.
The long-standing strong solidarity with the Kurdish struggle seems to be history and will be thrown overboard. The two countries have promised to extradite a long list of people who have been branded terrorists in Turkey. Erdoğan’s state terrorism, however, is allowed to flourish. He is protected, while the Kurds are defined as the outlaws of our time.
Sweden has been an icon for human rights, however, in the recent negotiation it makes a complete U-turn and cooperate with a regime that is notorious for violating the same rights. NATO has orchestrated this, and it is outrageous to see that the Swedish and Finnish governments have been too weak to resist.
But the PKK, the Kurdish liberation movement, and the imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan, who have repeatedly called for peaceful negotiations with Turkey, and who stood firm in the fight against IS, has been out in stormy weather countless times throughout their history.
The Madrid agreement is a serious and dangerous setback, but it is unlikely that this will crush them; they have repeatedly shown that they will rise again and fight on together with countless number of supporters around the world. They will continue to do so until someone finally sees sense and clears a space at the negotiating table. No matter how long it takes before this goal is within reach, we will continue to fight with peaceful means together with the Kurds.
Kariane Westrheim is Professor of Educational Science at the University of Bergen, Norway. Since 2004, Westrheim has chaired the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) which among others organise the Annual International Conference on EU Turkey and the Kurds in the European Parliament, Brussels.