A Turkish psychology student who applied for an internship at Stockholm University received a shocking response from one of its professors.

(Stockholm University)

A Stockholm University professor barred a Turkish student from attending an internship programme, claiming he cannot host her since Türkiye has been blocking Sweden’s entry into NATO.

TRT World was given access to the email sent by Professor Per Carlbring, who leads a clinical psychology research group at the university.

Fatma Zehra S., a third-year undergraduate studying in the Department of Psychology at Ibn Haldun University in Istanbul, was accepted by an Erasmus+ fund for a summer 2023 internship at a university of her choosing.

One of the internships she applied for was at Stockholm University in Sweden. In an email she sent on November 23, 2022, Fatma outlined her interest in being considered for a research project led by professor Carlbring.

A few hours later, Carlbring replied: “I would love to host you. However, since Turkey does not allow Sweden to join NATO, I have to decline. Sorry!”

“After getting this answer, I was simply shocked," Fatma tells TRT World. "It took me a long time to process it."

The email response Fatma received regarding her application from Professor Per Carlbring on November 23, 2022.
The email response Fatma received regarding her application from Professor Per Carlbring on November 23, 2022. (Fatma Zehra S.)

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO in May, abandoning decades of military non-alignment, a decision spurred by Russia’s war against Ukraine.

But Türkiye – a NATO member for over 70 years – voiced objections, saying the two countries have been tolerating and supporting terrorist groups.

In June 2022, Türkiye and the two Nordic countries signed a memorandum at a NATO summit to address Ankara’s security concerns, paving the way for their eventual membership in the alliance. Seven months have passed since the signing of the memorandum and Sweden it yet to fulfill the agreed recommendations.

Fredrik Jonsson, head of the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University, tells TRT World in a statement that: “We receive many inquiries from students who are interested in visiting us as research interns. We are unable to receive them all, but expect that any request is responded to in a professional manner. In this case, as soon as we learnt about this issue we acted and have handled it according to our routines.”

Professor Carlbring did not respond to TRT World’s request for comment.

Fatma thought her experience could just be the “tip of the iceberg” and was serious enough to register a formal complaint. “If he did this to me, he would do this to other students with different racial backgrounds who apply to the university,” she says.

She proceeded to file a discrimination complaint report with the university on December 5, describing the professor’s response as being “based on political considerations” and “discriminatory if not completely racist”.

“Mixing a simple citizen and student – who wishes to pursue her studies in the best conditions possible – with the political stance of the government of the country she’s from, is an infamous way of thinking and judging one’s skills and character,” she wrote in her complaint.

Fatma Zehra S. filed a complaint report with Stockholm University, describing Professor Carlbring’s response being “based on political considerations” and “discriminatory if not completely racist.”
Fatma Zehra S. filed a complaint report with Stockholm University, describing Professor Carlbring’s response being “based on political considerations” and “discriminatory if not completely racist.” (Gokhan Deniz / TRTWorld)

She received a response from the deputy head of the psychology department, Torun Lindholm Ojmyr, on December 6 apologising for the incident. Ojmyr claimed Professor Carlbring admitted that his behaviour was inappropriate and wrong, and that “several active measures are planned at the department going forward,” including “training on equal terms and the Swedish Discrimination Act”.

However, Fatma feels those statements don’t go far enough. “What I wanted them to do is to take active measures about his behaviour,” she said. Discrimination training is fine, but how can it be measured, she wondered, questioning whether it will be sufficient so that such incidents do not occur again in the future.

Nor has she received a formal apology from the professor directly. “At this point, I am hoping that he would send me an apology, but he has not, and I am disappointed about it.”

“I think this behaviour is childish, racist, and really inappropriate. I am mentally strong, but other students who have insecurities about applying to different programmes, will not be able to recover from such an answer.”

Despite the negative experience, Fatma says her application was accepted by a different professor in the psychology department at the same university, and she plans to go ahead with the internship this summer.  

READ MORE: Türkiye demands 'concrete steps' from Sweden, Finland on extradition

Relations between Türkiye and Sweden continue to be tense. New evidence of PKK and YPG terror supporters organising in the heart of the Swedish capital Stockholm emerged on January 12. Scores of terror supporters gathered outside the historical City Hall and raised anti-Türkiye slogans. They also hung an effigy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, shouting racial slurs and making threats of violence against Türkiye.

Since the Swedish government has failed to crack down on the PKK/YPG safehouses, allowing their supporters to freely organise and conduct numerous anti-Türkiye and pro-terrorism demonstrations in the country, Ankara refuses to yield to such provocations and continues to hold its ground on barring a terror-friendly country from entering NATO.

Amidst this toxic environment, Turkish nationals in Sweden are feeling vulnerable to PKK/YPG attacks. According to Turkish Ambassador to Sweden Hakki Emre Yunt, the Turkish mission has been attacked several times in Stockholm and with every passing day the PKK/YPG supporters are getting emboldened to unleash more violence on Turkish assets and nationals living in the country.

The case of Fatma Zehra S is another addition to the rising intolerance Sweden has been displaying toward Türkiye.

Messages of solidarity

As the news became known, thousands of users on Twitter and other social media platforms, including academics from different parts of the world, sent messages of solidarity for Fatma and condemned the act by the Swedish professor.

Since then, Professor Carlbring has taken down his Twitter account, and there has not yet been any further communication from the professor or the university.

Source: TRT World