Swedish activists accused of Nato ‘sabotage’ have no regrets about Erdoğan stunt

A group of activists who hanged an effigy of Turkey's president in Stockholm, prompting outrage from the Turkish as well as the Swedish government, speak about the reactions to the act.

Swedish activists accused of Nato 'sabotage' have no regrets about Erdoğan stunt
Andreas, 39-year-old, member of the Swedish solidarity committee for Rojava is pictured next to a car carrying an effigy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

The brazen stunt in front of the city hall incensed Turkey, which is yet to ratify Sweden’s bid to join Nato after Russia invaded Ukraine last February.

Ankara wants Stockholm to crack down on activists close to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and people accused of having ties to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based preacher wanted over a failed 2016 coup, before it approves Sweden’s Nato aspirations.

Andreas, a 39-year-old Swede speaking to AFP on condition that his surname not be disclosed, showed a doll resembling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with a rope still tied to his ankles.

He and four other activists from the pro-Kurdish Rojava Committee of Sweden hung the effigy by the feet.

The display was meant to mirror the grim end of Italy’s late dictator Benito Mussolini in 1945, when his body was strung up after he was executed.

Presented as a reminder of the fate of “dictators”, the action was staged and filmed before being posted on social media.

The provocation caused outrage. Sweden’s ambassador was summoned in Ankara, which denounced it as “terrorism”.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson called it “sabotage” and condemned a “mock execution of a foreign democratically-elected leader”.

‘Sabotage not a bad word’

“We did not expect it to get as big as it did,” Andreas admits, “but of course it’s good that the word got out.”

“All of these actions we are doing just show more and more how undemocratic Turkey is. A normal democracy would never have reacted like this,” he said.

In the Scandinavian country, Nato membership was long taboo, especially on the left. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine flipped public and political opinion, as did the prospect of neighbouring Finland joining.

While polls showed a sharp swing in favour of Nato, many are disgruntled that there was little public debate before the previous Social Democratic government announced the country’s bid in May.

Andreas, who describes himself as a “socialist” sympathiser who became passionate about the Kurdish cause because of the war in Syria, does not shy away from being labelled a saboteur.

“For me, sabotage is not a bad word… many political changes have happened through sabotage,” he says.

The Rojava Committee is a “small group” of less than 100 supporters without financial backing, he says, “so we are using the means we have”.

No laws broken

Slow-moving negotiations with Ankara have also raised fears the Nordic country, which has long proclaimed itself a “moral superpower”, is prepared to sacrifice too much in the name of realpolitik.

Ankara and Budapest are the only holdouts who have yet to ratify Sweden’s Nato membership.

Turkey has also demanded the extradition of some people but the Swedish courts have blocked that.

An effigy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the back of Andreas’ car. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Swedish pundits have stressed that though the mock hanging was in bad taste, it was well within the country’s freedom of expression laws.

Prosecutors said on Monday a complaint of “defamation” had been dismissed and decided not to open an investigation.

“We knew it wasn’t a crime because we have people working with law in our group,” Andreas says.

“We are not trying to break any laws and we’re doing what we can to protest,” he adds.

In a sign that their action was perceived as harmless among Swedes, it took place in broad daylight, in full view of passers-by.

“People came up asking: ‘What is this?’ ‘Interesting’, ‘Is it Erdoğan?’ Nobody cared when we did it.”

The group is organising a demonstration against the Turkish regime and Sweden joining Nato on Saturday in Stockholm.

Following last week’s stunt, a small left-leaning newspaper has launched a competition for satirical drawings of Erdoğan, with a prize of 10,000 Swedish kronor (about $950).

Article written by AFP’s Viken Kantarci, with Marc Preel, and edited by The Local.

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Swedish foreign minister disappointed by Turkey not acting on Nato bid

Sweden's Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom on Friday said he regretted Turkey's decision to hold off moving forward on his country's Nato bid, while pushing ahead with that of Finland.

Swedish foreign minister disappointed by Turkey not acting on Nato bid

“This is a development that we did not want, but that we were prepared for,” Billstrom told journalists, adding that the country’s priority was now securing ratifications from the two holdouts – Turkey and Hungary.

Following months of delays, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Friday that he was asking parliament to vote on Finland’s bid to join the Nato defence bloc.

However, he said he was still not ready to move forward on Sweden, which submitted its bid together with Finland in May of last year.

In another setback for Sweden, Hungary announced Friday that it would vote on Finland’s ratification on March 27, but Sweden’s bid would be decided on “later”.

READ ALSO: Erdoğan asks parliament to vote on Finland’s Nato bid alone

Billstrom declined to comment on the news from Hungary, saying he had no confirmation from Budapest.

The Nordic neighbours ended decades of military non-alignment and decided to join the US-led defence alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Their applications were accepted at a June Nato summit, but the bids still needed to be ratified by all 30 of the alliance members’ parliaments – a process that ran into trouble when it came to Turkey and Hungary.

Erdogan has accused Sweden in particular of not honouring the terms of a separate deal they reached in June 2022, under which Turkey had agreed to approve the bids.

READ ALSO: ‘Increased chance that Finland joins NATO before Sweden’: PM

Turkey has sought the extradition of dozens of Kurdish and other suspects it accuses of ties to outlawed militants and a failed 2016 coup attempt.

On Friday, the Turkish head of state said Sweden had still not agreed to extradite a list of some 120 people wanted by Ankara.

In Stockholm, Billstrom insisted that Sweden was living up to its commitments under the deal.

“We are doing everything that is written in this memorandum, but we do not do less and we do not do more than what is written in it,” he said.

READ ALSO: KEY DATES: The milestones ahead for Sweden’s Nato membership  

“This means that when extradition cases arise that are related to this memorandum, there will be decisions that can be positive and that can be negative from Turkey’s point of view and that is how it will simply be,” he added.