Quran Burned Amid Swedish Protest:
- On January 21, far-right Danish-Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan attracted controversy for burning a copy of the Quran in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm.
- Paludan founded the far-right Stram Kurs party in 2017 and has held numerous high-profile demonstrations against Islam and non-Western immigration to Denmark.
- On January 27, Paludan repeated this demonstration in Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, in front of the Turkish Embassy and a mosque.
- While in front of the Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen, Paludan publicly announced: “Once he [Erdogan] has let Sweden into Nato, I promise that I will not burn the Quran outside the Turkish embassy. Otherwise, I will do so every Friday at 2pm.”
Response to Paludan’s Protest:
- Paludan’s original actions in Stockholm invoked three days of reactionary protests across Turkey, particularly on Istanbul’s Istiklal Street in front of the Swedish Embassy.
- Several Western countries, including France, Spain, and the United States, warned their nationals of imminent retaliatory attacks in Istanbul.
- Turkey indefinitely canceled a trilateral meeting between Turkey, Sweden, and Finland that was scheduled for February.
- In a televised address on January 23, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan denounced the Swedish government for blasphemy and lack of respect for “human rights and freedoms... If you don’t show this respect, sorry but you won’t get any support from us about NATO."
- While Erdoğan initially called to block both Finland and Sweden from NATO accession, on January 29, he expressed that Turkey may "give a different response concerning Finland."
- Sweden and Finland first applied to join NATO in 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- While both countries have historically followed policies of military non-alignment, emerging global threats, such as the invasion, prompted military leaders to pursue the collective defense clause that NATO provides.
- Finland could theoretically join the alliance without Sweden, but protecting Finland without the land access provided by Sweden would pose challenges for NATO.
- Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that Finland still intends to join NATO at the same time as Sweden and hopes to do so by July.
- To join NATO, all 30 members must approve potential bids.
- Currently, Turkey and Hungary are the only countries that have not authorized Sweden and Finland’s membership.
- However, the Hungarian Parliament is expected to grant approval in February.
- At NATO’s Madrid Summit in June 2022, Turkey, Sweden, and Finland signed an agreement approving NATO membership for Finland and Sweden contingent upon several conditions.
- Sweden and Finland agreed to extradite dozens of members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey has banned, labeled as a terrorist organization, and blamed for a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Additionally, they pledged not to impose any embargo restrictions on Turkey in the defense industry.
- Turkey asserts that this agreement has not been upheld.
- Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for May, and Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party faces challenges at the polls.
- Critics have accused Erdoğan of using NATO to distract from domestic issues, including inflation and a cost of living crisis.
- Additionally, some suggest that projecting a hardline stance against acts hostile to Islam could help attract religious, nationalist voters.