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Burning of a Koran: this affair which poisons Sweden’s membership in NATO

“It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back”, for the Turkish pro-government daily Sabah. On January 21, Rasmus Paludan, a Danish-Swedish right-wing extremist, who has a habit of insulting Muslims, staged himself burning a Koran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm. Under heavy police protection, the performance of the leader of the far-right group Stram Kurs lasted only a few minutes and took place peacefully, while a small group of activists from the Union of Turkish European Democrats demonstrated his support for President Erdogan, not far from the embassy.

Eager for provocations, Rasmus Paludan had already provoked riots in the country in the spring of 2022 following a similar action. According to the left-wing newspaper Etc, the burning of the Koran on January 21 was organized with the help of the editor-in-chief of the Nyheter Idag website, Chang Frick, close to the Sweden Democrats (SD) party. A few hours later, around 500 pro-Kurdish activists and opponents of Sweden’s NATO membership marched through the streets of Stockholm, trampling on a giant portrait of the Turkish president. The images sparked strong anger in Turkey and several Arab countries. In Istanbul, protesters burned the Swedish flag outside the country’s consulate.

Demonstrators burn Sweden’s flag as they march past the Consulate General of Sweden after Rasmus Paludan, leader of Denmark’s far-right Hard Line political party and who also has Swedish citizenship, burned a copy of the Koran near from the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, Istanbul, January 21, 2023. Yasin AKGUL / AFP

© / AFP

The Turkish press was immediately indignant that the Swedish authorities had given their agreement to such a demonstration, in the name of freedom of expression. Ankara has also stepped up to the plate by denouncing “a manifest hate crime”, through the spokesman for the Turkish presidency, Ibrahim Kalin. “To allow this action despite all our warnings is to encourage hate crimes and Islamophobia, he tweeted. The attack on sacred values ​​is not freedom, but modern barbarism”.

Turkey keeps up the pressure

On January 20, the Swedish representative in Ankara was summoned for the second time in a few days by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after the hanging of a mannequin bearing the image of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in front of Stockholm City Hall on January 11 January. This staging was carried out by a group close to the Rojava committee, an organization that supports the Kurds of Syria.

The Rasmus Paludan episode therefore further deteriorates the already very complicated relations between Stockholm and Ankara. In the process, Turkey canceled the visit of the Swedish Minister of Defense scheduled for January 27 and whose objective was to try to remove Ankara’s objections to Sweden’s entry into the Treaty Organization. of the North Atlantic (NATO).

For almost ten months now, Sweden has been in talks with Turkey to obtain the lifting of Ankara’s veto. As explained recently to The Express former Prime Minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb, the two Nordic countries, long aloof from NATO in the name of their traditional neutrality, have decided to join the collective defense organization since the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

While twenty-eight Alliance countries have ratified the accession of Sweden and Finland, Hungary and Turkey are still missing. The latter criticizes Stockholm for welcoming on its soil, under political asylum, opponents qualified as “terrorists”. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had warned from the outset that he would ask for strong concessions from the Scandinavians to let them join NATO.

Stalled negotiations

The two Nordic countries have thus agreed to lift the embargo on the sale of arms imposed on Turkey after the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish regions of Syria. Sweden had even embarked on a constitutional reform to bring its legislative arsenal into line with the Turkish vision of the fight against “terrorism”. But the judges of the Swedish Supreme Court persist in refusing to extradite Turkish opponents who have obtained nationality or the status of political refugee and of whom Ankara has not proven, according to them, their real involvement in acts of terrorism.

Negotiations with Turkey now seem to be at a standstill. “Under these conditions, Sweden’s candidacy for NATO will not be ratified by our Parliament”, threatened on January 21 Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the MHP, a far-right party and indispensable ally of the Islamo-nationalist coalition of President Erdogan, reports the daily Yeni Safak. At the beginning of the year, the very placid Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson had simply summed up the situation, annoyed: “Turkey wants things that we cannot and do not want to give them.”


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