The Great Swedish Unknown

Providing unreported news and culture pieces about Sweden

16,000 demonstrate against racism despite reported bomb threat

A bomb threat, supposedly directed at an anti-racist demonstration being held in Stockholm, was initially reported by Aftonbladet this morning, before the police stated that they had received no such threats and the article was corrected. Despite this reported threat, and amidst the presence of police sniffer dogs, 16,000 people gathered in a football stadium to demonstrate against racism and respond to last weeks violent attack by Nazis against an anti-racist demonstration in Kärrtorp. The demonstrators gathered in Kärrtorp before marching to the local football stadium, where bands played and speeches were delivered by members of anti-racist organisation Linje 17.

Demonstrators gather at the football stadium – photo: Stefan Jerrevång

The demonstration today was originally intended to take place once again in the district of Kärrtorp, but it was moved at late notice to the football stadium in order to accommodate the huge numbers of demonstrators that were expected to turn up. The demonstrators included representatives from all the Swedish political parties, notably with the exception of the Swedish Democrats – a right wing party that have faced heavy criticism for several racist scandals over recent years.

In the week since the initial demonstration and attack, thousands more have demonstrated throughout cities in Sweden including Umeå and Gothenburg, which saw a torch-lit procession of over 3,000 thousand people march through the city on Thursday. People have also gathered in Helsinki today to demonstrate against racism and show their support for those attacked in Kärrtorp.

People gather on Avenyn in Gothenburg before departing towards Järntorget – photo: Peo Wennander/Sveriges Radio

The demonstration in Stockholm today passed without major incident, with one arrest being made by police as they spotted a group of Svenska motståndsrörelsen near the football stadium and a further drug-related arrest being made inside the stadium.

Whilst all those arrested last Sunday have now been released, further arrests have been made in the past week with 3 more members of Svenska motståndsrörelsen arrested on suspicion of rioting as well as one member of left wing organisation Revolutionära fronten arrested on suspicion of attempted manslaughter.

It is now known that half of the Svenska motståndsrörelsen attackers are teenagers, with one being a minor. It has also been reported by Aftonbladet that 9 members of Svenska motståndsrörelsen involved in the attack “have clear links to right-wing extremism, terrorism or violent and Nazi organizations and/or convictions relating to serious threats and violent crime”.

The police have also come under further criticism concerning their level of preparedness on the day, after they revealed that they had information that there was a potential threat against the anti-racist demonstrators yet did not pass on that information to those involved with policing the demonstration in time. Police spokesman Kjell Lindgren told TT that this is “not acceptable” and that the police “will now take steps to find better procedures so that information continues to get through at the right time”.

 

For more pictures of the demonstration see here.

The giant burning goat of Sweden

Since moving to Sweden I have had the joy and hilarity of learning about some of the oddest cultural quirks and national traditions you could possibly imagine. Perhaps the most fantastic of all of these “traditions” is the nearly annual destruction of Sweden’s largest straw goat, a tradition made all the more beautiful by the fact that it is completely illegal.

A typical Gävle goat – photo: wikimedia

Straw goats are a common sight in Sweden in the run up to Christmas, with knee or waist high straw goats being common decorations outside shops or restaurants and smaller ones serving as popular tabletop decorations. The town of Gävle, however, has taken it upon themselves to one-up this tradition by constructing straw goats up to a height of 14.9 metres and weighing over 3 tons, so large that they have even held Guinness world records.

The idea of constructing the giant goat to mark advent was first thought up in 1966 by Stig Gävlén, an advertising consultant, who then passed the task of building the goat onto his brother Jörgen and, somewhat ironically, the local fire department. This first goat lasted until New Years Eve, when it went up in flames at the stroke of midnight. The town has continued to build them yearly since with 28 of the towns giant goats successfully burnt down over the years, with several more suffering attempted arson or other damage to them.

Burnt down to its metal frame – photo: Herald Sun

Naturally the council of Gävle have taken increased measures to protect their famous giant goat as the tradition has continued, this has included hiring security guards, installing surveillance cameras and even fireproofing the straw once the goat has been built. Yet such measures have often failed to stop the arsonists from succeeding in their goal of burning down the goat, who often do so by using a variety of humorous and inspired tactics – 2005, for example, saw the goat burnt down by two people dressed as Santa Claus and the gingerbread man, with the use of a bow and a flaming arrow. The only thing protecting the goat in 2010 was a guards honesty, after he was offered 50,000 kronor (around 5000 pounds) to turn his back and allow two men to steal the entire structure with the use of a helicopter.

The town of Gävle, especially its authorities, consistently reinforce the statement that they believe it is a “shame” that the goat is consistently attacked and burnt down, as well as reminding the public that anyone caught attempting to destroy the goat will be punished. Despite this, there is absolutely no doubt that in reality the town, and in fact the majority of Sweden, treat the repeating arson as a joke and an amusing tradition. This is shown by the fact that since 1988 it has actually been possible to place a bet on which day you think the goat will burn down and since 1996 giant straw goat enthusiasts and arsonists alike are able to watch the goat go up in flames live on webcam. Except for the year 2009, when the webcams were actually put out of service by hackers shortly before the goat was set alight.

A picture of four men sporting burning goat tattoos, complete with dates, was posted online following the 2012 goat being burnt - photo: Flashback

A picture of four men sporting burning goat tattoos, complete with dates, was posted online following the 2012 goat being burnt – photo: Flashback

This year, the goat is to be fireproofed for only the third time in its history. The method has not been popular with local people in the past as the fireproofing liquid turns the straw a dark brown colour, however the council claims to have found a type of fire retardant which will not change the colour of the goat from its natural straw colour. It is impossible to tell whether the goat will be burnt down this year, but we can be sure that the tradition of trying to torch the giant goats will continue as long as the town of Gävle chooses to keep on building them. 

Nazis attack anti-fascist demonstration in Stockholm

Yesterday (Sunday 15th of December) an anti-fascist demonstration in Stockholm was attacked by 30-40 Nazis who were armed with bottles, firecrackers and even knives.

Nazi attackers seen armed with shields – photo: metro.se

The attackers threw stones and firecrackers at the crowd before charging the demonstration and attacking the protesters. Two anti-fascist demonstrators were stabbed during the commotion and were taken to hospital along with two police officers. Eventually the attackers were driven out into a nearby forest by the demonstrators, after which Aftonbladet reports that 28 Nazis were arrested, with “some” of them being charged with attempted murder. Others will potentially be charged with rioting, assaulting a police officer and hate speech according to the police.

The anti-fascist demonstration was originally called by the local community in response to racist graffiti, including swastika symbols, in the area of Kärrtorp in Stockholm. There seems to have been a very small number of police – between five and ten police officers – present at the demonstration when it began and at the point when it was attacked. This has been verified by the police, who stated that they had less than ten police officers present, as they did not believe anyone would attack the participants of the demonstration. Comments by protesters on the facebook event and activist site Motkraft have since criticised the “slow response” of the police and pointed out that it was left to them to defend the crowd, including young children, and drive the Nazi attackers away from the square where the demonstration was being held.

The attack has since been officially claimed on the home website of a Nazi group known as Svenska motståndsrörelsen (Swedish Resistance Movement), a group that “wants to create a Nordic national socialist republic consisting of the Nordic countries… and possibly the Baltic countries”. Last month the group held a march through Stockholm on the 9th of November to commemorate Kristallnacht – the night when, in 1938, the Nazi black-shirts carried out a pogrom that saw 30 thousand Jews arrested and Jewish owned property destroyed throughout Germany.

Svenska motståndsrörelsen on a previous demonstration in 2011 – photo: Nyheter24.se

Whilst such levels of far-right violence as the attack on Sunday are not a common occurrence in Sweden, the extreme right have a long history of organised attacks against anti-fascist concerts and demonstrations in Sweden. Information from expo.se also shows that white power nationalists have been responsible for at least 23 politically motivated murders since 1986.

There is more to Sweden than meets the (UK medias) eyes.

It feels like the UK, amongst other countries, is on something of a Swedish “kick” at the moment. Of course IKEA has always been popular in the UK, but more recently it seems impossible to escape the invasion of Swedish television dramas onto the BBC or the numerous Swedish delicatessens in trendy London suburbs. Even our newspapers and social media seem to pay more attention to what Sweden is doing politically or socially, most often in a very admiring “look how great Scandinavian liberalism is” sense. Most recently this was concerning the feminist film rating system – the Bechdel test – which is being introduced in some cinemas in Sweden, another aspect in an endless stream of examples commonly spread as to why Sweden is such a liberal paradise.

All of this makes it seem rather strange to me, as a UK citizen living in Sweden, that something as important and high-profile as a protracted, three month long gang war in the city of Gothenburg wouldn’t be reported by the UK media.

Of course and unfortunately, every large city has gang problems and the occasional shooting, but since two men were shot dead in the Hisingen island area of Gothenburg on the 4th of September, a rampage of gang violence spanning almost three months followed. The most recent shooting was on the 17th of November in the area of Hjällbo, at 16.30 outside a kindergarten. Surely such an extended display of violence would warrant at least a brief, journalistic acknowledgement by the same media that sings Sweden’s praises as a “liberal democracy” and broadcasts countless Swedish TV dramas and films?

Herein lies the problem – Sweden is a paragon of liberalism and harmony in the eyes of the UK media. Sweden is referenced in the media to illustrate the flaws with our society and what we could learn from our Scandinavian friends, as such to report on the negative aspects of Sweden is to damage the strength of its status as a liberal paradise in future articles.

At this point I should say that yes, I do believe that the UK could learn much from Swedish politics and culture and yes, I am aware that the UK media widely reported the Stockholm summer riots of 2013. However I believe that such reportage did not consider, and did not investigate, the root causes of the riots. Instead some slight reference was perhaps made to youth unemployment, after which the discussion was quickly left behind in favour of pictures of burning cars.

In order to provide a more balanced view of the state of Swedish society and politics, I intend to write articles here concerning things which do not come to the attention of our national media and show that, like the UK and any other “liberal democracy”, the country faces just as many issues. Some future articles will include an introduction to REVA, the latest anti-immigration initiative in Sweden, as well as the Swedish Democrats – a political party who are showing themselves to be a growing force on the right-wing of Swedish politics.

I also intend to write the occasional culture piece to show how beautiful Sweden is as a country and provide some humour. The first piece in that trend shall most likely concern kräftskiva (which means lobster party), and I shall most definitely write an article about Swedish humour and comedy sometime.

Until then, please bookmark this blog and check back regularly if you are interested in Swedish politics and culture.