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INTERVIEW

‘Sweden seeks the support of one dictator to protect itself from another’

The independent MP Amineh Kakabaveh tells The Local why Sweden should immediately withdraw from the Nato accession negotiations to protect its "values and dignity".

'Sweden seeks the support of one dictator to protect itself from another'
Independent MP Amineh Kakabaveh adjusts her glasses in Sweden's Riksdag parliament. Photo. Anders Wiklund / TT

Amineh Kakabaveh is one of the Kurdish Swedes whom Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has labeled a terrorist. In the Turkish state media she is mentioned in one breath with the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – designated as a terrorist organisation by the EU) and the Gülen movement, which Erdogan blames for orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt. The Turkish ambassador to Sweden has even asked for her extradition.

“I thought it was an April Fool’s joke,” she tells The Local of her dismay at being named. “I’m not even from Turkey. I have never fought against the Turkish government, I have never been a member of the PKK. I am simply a politician who cares about minorities, human rights and equality. I am a strong woman who is not afraid to speak out. That makes Erdogan feel threatened.”

‘Politically wild’

Since Kakabaveh left the Left Party in 2019, she has been an independent politician – or a political wild, as it is called in Sweden. In that capacity she’s had disproportionate power. Without Kakabaveh’s vote Magdalena Andersson wouldn’t be Sweden’s prime minister today. 

The government needs her vote for a majority, so she has been able to extract concessions, striking a deal with the Social Democrats last November which guaranteed funding and support to the Kurdish independent region of Syria.  

READ ALSO: Why is Sweden’s government risking Nato talks for a single MP?

The Kurdish cause has always been close to her heart. During her teenage years in Iran, “forced between life and death”, Kakabaveh became a peshmerga, a member of the Kurdish militia in the Komala socialist movement. When faced with the death penalty, she fled to Sweden in 1992. Since then, she says she is no longer affiliated with any Kurdish organisation. These days she only fights – nonviolently – for justice, within Sweden and abroad.

As part of its deal to win Turkey’s support for its Nato accession application, Sweden, according to Erdogan, has promised to extradite 73 so-called terrorists to Turkey. The Turkish president claims these people are associated with the PKK and the Gülen movement.

In addition, Erdogan commands that Sweden stop supporting the Kurdish Democratic Union party, or PYD, whose armed wing in Syria is fighting the Islamic State. Erdogan alleges that this party is no more than a thinly veiled cover for the PKK and that the Nordic country is providing a haven for outlawed Kurdish militants.

In this political power game, Sweden is looking for a delicate balance between appeasing Turkey while maintaining its own moral high ground. The Swedish government has promised Ankara to take counter-terrorism measures. Is Sweden willing to sacrifice the Kurdish community in exchange for a Turkish ‘yes’ vote?

Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson tried to allay doubts by assuring that “we apply Swedish law in Sweden” and that Swedish citizens had nothing to fear.

“Non-Swedish citizens can be extradited at the request of other countries, but only if this is compatible with Swedish law and the European Convention,” he said. 

‘Throwing the Kurdish community in front of the bus’

Not everyone is reassured. In recent months, Kakabaveh has been approached by “hundreds of people” who are deeply concerned for her and their own safety, who no longer dare to attend protests, who are wary of the Swedish security service Säpo, and who fear that, when going abroad, they could be seized and extradited by regimes loyal to Erdogan.

“As a Member of Parliament I have often been threatened so I have bodyguards. But that is of course an exception. Most Kurds have no such security.”

Sweden isn’t just leaving Kurds out in the cold, Kakabaveh argues, it is also squandering its humanitarian ideals and solidarity. Many Swedes, including Kurdish Swedes, are in favour of Nato accession. “But not at any cost. Not by throwing the Kurdish community in front of the bus.”

“We must not forget that the Kurds are heroes who saved the entire world from Daesh [ISIS]. It is the Kurds who have imprisoned thousands of supporters of the Caliphate. We in the west also benefited and still benefit from this. Kurds deserve our support, not our persecution.”

Erdogan not that different from Putin

Apart from the fact that the west needs Turkey, she believes that Erdogan is essentially not all that different from Putin. “The opposition in Turkey is similarly silenced and locked up. If Erdogan had had as much power and resources as Putin, he would have been just as violent. Erdogan’s bombs and administration kill with great regularity. But the moment people like the Kurds defend themselves against a government that threatens to kill them, they are dismissed as criminals.”

The Swedish-Kurdish politician sees it as “very interesting that Sweden is willing to make concessions to Turkey that have absolutely nothing to do with the North Atlantic alliance”.

“Erdogan uses downright racist policies that Sweden then complies with. How can we dance to the tune of such a regime? Sweden seeks the support of one dictatorship to protect itself against another,” she says.

“Sweden must immediately withdraw from these negotiations. We cannot jeopardise our values, dignity and foreign policy. Look at the alliance’s history: has there ever been a Nato country that requested the extradition of a laundry list of people? We must demand the release of the political opposition in Turkey.”

Kakabaveh still has about a month to assert herself in parliament. After that she’ll have to give up her seat and her career in the Swedish Riksdag will – at least for the time being – be over.

Will she miss that position?

“No, I actually don’t think so. This last term in office has been very special, but also turbulent. I played a crucial role during the governmental crisis and I’ve had a decisive vote in subjects that are close to my heart. Legislation against child marriage, honour crimes, extra contributions for retirees, you name it. In fact, I don’t think anybody else could have taken on the task. Being politically independent, I didn’t have to follow a certain party line and I was guided exclusively by my standpoints and ideals.”

‘Sweden has changed due to stupid political decision-making’

She says she has not been tempted to return to the parliament. 

“I won’t be on the electoral list for the coming term of office. There is currently no party I want to be part of. All left-wing parties have shifted to the middle, all parties now engage in economically liberal politics. No party seems to have answers to society’s major problems.”

In her eyes, Sweden’s socialist welfare state has been hollowed out during her years in the country. 

“I arrived in Sweden running from political persecution and have seen the country slowly change. You don’t know how good we had it! When I sought asylum here, there was solidarity, a well-functioning health care system that really cost you nothing, elite schools didn’t exist, and everybody went through the same educational system. The welfare state, schooling, an equal start for children: these form the foundation for an egalitarian society. In the 1990s, when I first moved to Sweden, everyone was talking about the svenska folkshem, the Swedish peoples’ home, about folkbildningen, or educating the people.”

“In the meantime, the situation has changed drastically due to stupid political decision-making. Education and healthcare have gone up for sale and teaching materials no longer correspond to the world we live in.”

“Class differences have increased enormously due to privatisation. Our overconsumption causes environmental problems, poverty and war, while Europe prefers to keep out the refugees created by these crises.”

‘Young Swedes expect someone else to solve their problems’

All today’s problems are interrelated, she believes. 

“But politicians don’t seem to have the energy to adopt a broader perspective. They ask a single question – that’s, apparently, what makes you an adequate policy maker these days.”

After her departure from parliament, Kakabaveh wants to focus her attention on grassroots politics. In 2005 she co-founded Varken hora eller kuvad (Neither Whore nor Oppressed), a feminist and anti-racist movement based on the French example Ni Putes Ni Soumises. She will, among other things, continue her work for that organisation.

“There is a need for progressive, popular movements. I hope more people want to get involved. I can count on broad support among women and others in socio-economically vulnerable neighbourhoods.

“Nowadays very few Swedes are politically engaged. We are all so concentrated on the individual, on our own career, on outward appearances. In France and Spain people still take to the streets. But the younger generations in Sweden expect someone else to solve their problems.”

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SWEDEN AND TURKEY

Swedish delegation to travel to Turkey next week for Nato talks

An official Swedish delegation will travel to Turkey at the start of next month for talks about Sweden’s Nato application.

Swedish delegation to travel to Turkey next week for Nato talks

Turkish news outlets have reported that a delegation from Sweden’s Ministry of Justice will be in Turkey October 5th-6th, and that the scheduled talks will deal with “the extradition of criminal terrorists” from Sweden to Turkey. The Ministry of Justice confirmed to TT that this meeting would take place, and that it would involve senior officials rather than ministers.

Turkey has demanded that people it describes as “terrorist suspects” be extradited from Sweden and Finland. The Swedish government maintains that Swedish citizens cannot be extradited. Further, the Swedish government has pointed out that Swedish law, which applies in Sweden, is applied by an independent court system.

While non-Swedish citizens can be extradited, this can only happen when the extradition is in line with Swedish law and the European Convention on Extradition.

Sweden’s outgoing foreign minister Ann Linde said on Tuesday that the Nato talks with Turkey were “moving along nicely”. 

“My judgement is that Turkey will say ‘yes’ to Swedish Nato membership, however, I do not know when that will be,” she said.

An agreement was signed in Madrid this June by Turkey, Sweden, and Finland, which has also submitted an application for Nato membership. Under that agreement, Turkey lifted its objections to the two countries’ Nato applications. Among the topics covered in that agreement were terrorism, arms exports, and extraditions.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson has said he will keep Oscar Stenström, the diplomat appointed by the Social Democrats to lead Sweden’s Nato process, in place when he takes over as Sweden’s new Prime Minister later this month. 

Only two of Nato’s 30 members have still to ratify Sweden and Finland’s accession: Turkey and Hungary.

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