Far-Right Idiocy in Sweden

Swedish right-wing provocation and Turkish short-sightedness.

Via Reuters: Protests in Stockholm, including Koran-burning, draw strong condemnation from Turkey

The Koran-burning was carried out by Rasmus Paludan, leader of Danish far-right political party Hard Line. Paludan, who also has Swedish citizenship, has held a number of demonstrations in the past where he has burned the Koran.

Paludan could not immediately be reached by email for a comment. In the permit he obtained from police, it says his protest was held against Islam and what it called Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s attempt to influence freedom of expression in Sweden.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but all 30 member states must approve their bids. Turkey has said Sweden in particular must first take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.

At the demonstration to protest Sweden’s NATO bid and to show support for Kurds, speakers stood in front of a large red banner reading “We are all PKK”, referring to the Kurdistan Workers Party that is outlawed in Turkey, Sweden, and the United States among other countries, and addressed several hundred pro-Kurdish and left-wing supporters.

“We will continue our opposition to the Swedish NATO application,” Thomas Pettersson, spokesperson for Alliance Against NATO and one of organizers of the demonstration, told Reuters.

On the one hand, I find it inherently distasteful when protesters in engage in acts of provocation of this level. Buring the holy book of another faith is just unnecessary in my view. Although I will note that I support the generic right for such protests to exist (and therefore would agree that under free speech and right to assemble rights the permit should have been granted).

On the other, I get it. The highly provocative nature of the act creates the desired reaction. Indeed, I am falling for it, as it is unlikely I would otherwise be writing about political protests in Sweden if they were less dramatic. More importantly, the Turks would not have canceled a planned trip by Sweden’s defense minister without the protests receiving this level of attention.

Earlier on Saturday, Turkey said that due to lack of measures to restrict protests, it had cancelled a planned visit to Ankara by the Swedish defence minister.

“At this point, the visit of Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson to Turkey on January 27 has become meaningless. So we cancelled the visit,” Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.

Jonson said separately that he and Akar had met on Friday during a gathering of Western allies in Germany and had decided to postpone the planned meeting.

Ultimately, the Turks bear the most responsibility for not acting like sober adults (and yes, I realize that expecting Erdogan to behave as such is asking a lot), insofar as it strikes me as unequivocally in NATO’s best interest for Sweden and Finland to join the alliance given Russian behavior in Ukraine. And while I get the fact that this moment gives them a moment of leverage vis-a-vis Swedish politics, I continue to hope that the larger needs will prevail.

The broader problem, for which I have no immediate solution is the problem inherent to having an authoritarian state in a league of otherwise democratic states (although some are backsliding, and I am looking at you, Hungary). Still, one would like to think that outside of ideological resonance that collective security logic would prevail at some point.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. James Joyner says:

    While I find Koran-burning rather childish, it’s effective in the same way that flag-burning is in grabbing attention. The notion that a democratic country should “restrict protests” on the grounds that someone, somewhere might be offended is bizarre to me, as is the notion that an ostensible NATO ally—which commits to such shared values in its Strategic Concept—would demand such as a condition of, well, anything.

  2. Andy says:

    I’m surprised there isn’t an institutional design argument in here, namely the problem of NATO accession being contingent on the veto of a single country.

    But the context for Sweden is that integration of immigrants, primarily Muslims, has not gone well – spectacularly bad, in fact.

  3. @James Joyner: Indeed. That is pretty much what I was alluding to in my parenthetical.

    @Andy: Turkey’s extreme minority veto is the fundamental issue.

  4. @Andy: @Steven L. Taylor: And is an inherent problem in what amounts to a confederated system wherein all member states are ostensibly co-equal (as opposed to a federated system that would dilute member state power in some fashion). I stretch those terms a bit here, as NATO, as an institution, isn’t really a confederation, but rather an alliance.

  5. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And it’s an alliance that was not intended or constructed to fill the role it’s now filling. Every additional country adds another veto point and increases the incentives to free-ride. And there’s no mechanism to kick a country out of NATO or even suspend membership.

  6. @Andy: All true.

  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    He’s probably being funded by Russia, and this is a ploy to keep Sweden and Finland from joining NATO and to try and drive a wedge between Turkey and the rest of the alliance.