Repression in Nordic countries

Polis[tord björk] To understand what can be done about repression issues at ESF it could be
useful to know something about the situation in the host countries. I am not
an expert and my knowledge is superficial but I may have a general picture
which may be of use to you. I guess that it is of importance that Nordic
organisations get involved to make repression and important issue at ESF-5.
The information and opinion below are from the perspective of Friends of the
Earth Sweden and are not to be seen as the opinion of any organisation. They
can be published for non-profit purposes.

On general level repression is growing as well as its counterpart, growing
tension among people in common. Its most severe small-scale expression is on
the one hand class and racist exclusion of segregated suburbs were Rosengård
in Malmö were ESF will have some of its venues is the most extreme in this
city and maybe all of Sweden. Here the youth since beginning of this decade
throw stones at ambulances and fire brigades when they come to try to help
people, which causes problems. This kind of tensions have now spread all
over Sweden, even to my little home town Kristianstad with some 35 000
inhabitants and its most segregated suburb. Sweden have three of Europes 10
most segregated cities with high unemployment rates and the accompanying
social problems.

Yet still Sweden has some positive political aspects which also higlights
repression and racism. Malmö is the lovenest for Danish couples if one have
wrong colour on the skin. New very strict laws prohibits Danes from falling
in love and then marrying the one they love if this person have the wrong
genes from a foreign country, so many thousands have emigrated to Malmö.

Society in general is also more organised on the micro level to focus on
protection and security with so called grannskapssamverkan, neighbours
cooperating against crime. There is some excellent litterature on this
subject by Magnus Hörnqvist.

But there are a lot of people more knowledgeable on this subject than I am
concerning how police and security expansion develops in the Nordic
countries at the moment.

Concerning more immediate repression against movements there is three sides
to it at least – against free zones, against summit and other movement
protests and meetings and finally terrorist laws.

Squatter conflicts

Concerning attacks against free zones the most severe is to destroy commons
that have been conquered like Christiania by forcing them to split up into
market shares instead of communal living. But more media interest have been
given to the highly conflictual situation around Ungdomshuset – the youth
house in Copenhagen. More than 2 500 people have been arrested in this
conflict during a year, more than during any other civil conflict the last
50 years in the Nordic countries as far as I know. This conflict took a
successful Gandhian turn on 6th October which means that the municipality
now after thousands of people non-violently overwhelmed the police and
conquered a building is at least in words stating that they now are willing
to give the youth house initiave a new house. And in fact, a month ago a new
youth house was established.

This struggle is full of experiences learned and of interest concerning how
to beat or at least handle repression both in media, by the police and
politicians. House occupations also have spread significantly in Finland
inspired by the Copenhagen events. A week ago a severe attack by neo-nazis
took place in Helsinki against a squatted house, the first time since the
riots against the world youth festival 1962 that such right wing extremism
beocomes violent in Finland. In Norway the youth houses Blitz, Hausmania and
Hjelmsgate in Oslo and UFFA in Trondheim every time now and then are
threatened which so far have ended in new agreements with the politicians
and no acute situation is in sight, on the contrary has the Danish
politicians been criticised on quite high level in Norway for their way of
dealing with the youth house conflict. This as well in Sweden were different
forms of free zones have a small tendency to grow at the moment.

Summit protests

Concerning attacks on summit protesters and demonstrations this is an issue
that yet have not been resolved. The police actions against the Counter
conference at the EU-Summit encircling it with 150 containers and then
causing chaos by attacking demonstrators at many occasions still is a heavy
blow to the popular movements in Sweden and their relation to all
parliamentarian parties whether left or right. Contrary to all other
countries I know of the left and green party leaders sided with the police
and media against the demonstrators in spite of that both parties were
members of the coalitions that organised the counter conference destroyed by
the police and the big demonstrations. Afterwards the Left party have
learned something although never in public stated something about their
mistake during the Summit when their leader lied in massmedia against the
demonstrators and the coalitions organising demonstrations thus legitimizing
further escalation of state violence against reclaim the streets and next
days ínternational demonstration. The Green party leader used similar
wordings as the Left party but never directly lied to legitimate further
escalation. Furthermore for some reason four of the top Green leaders were
personally beaten to the ground by the police, arrested or in other ways
harassed by the police during the summit protests while no single Left party
leader had this kind of experience to my knowledge. But afterwards the
Greens were so confused that they could not make any systematic political
intervention. But still it is the Greens who have an MP who was in the midst
of the organisation of the international coalition organizing the protests,
the left party and its youth never were present in any significant way in
coordination of the coalition, they wanted their leaders to speak at the
demonstrations while the Greens did lot of solidarity work in the
coordination of the protests. The local social democratic leader in the city
center gave flowers to the police. The liberals and conservatives did not
have to do anything as the social democrats and left helped them together
wiht mass media to say what they wanted. One local liberal politician made
an appela that all school pupils should travel to St Petersburg to learn
more about the crimes of communism to vaccinate them against any left
extremist undemocratic ideas. In this way they should stop throwing stones
at shopping windows or the police. Today the local liberal politician who
brougth forward the St Petersburg idea is head of the liberal party and
minister of education. A Swedish conservative MP became spokesperson for the
biggest European party, EPP, when it succesfully introduced the idea that
the crimes of communism had to be condemned in the Council of Europé.

The main organisers of the EU-critical international coalition during the
Swedish EU-presidency with 87 organisations as members were SAC, the radical
small syndicalist trade union and Friends of the Earth Sweden. The main
stream trade union LO in Sweden refused as the only trade union in EU to
partcipate in demonstrations calaiming it was not thei tradtion to
demonstrate. Many LO sister trade unions in Denmark and Norway participated
in the EU protest demonstrations in Gothenburg. In the ESF process including
a planned demonstration Friends of the Earth Sweden is still one of the
organisations that have participated from the beginning, this time with
Swedish LO trade unions while SAC is passive.

SAC was severely criticised internally and from others because of the riots.
Their allied among anarchists were totally condemned by all parties and the
media. Trials put people in prison in total for 50 years, ten times more in
total than after any other riot the last 100 years in Sweden. People really
suffered as many were unorganised among the imprisoned and almost no
political solidarity work was done. For some reason that I still do not
understand the left refused to organise any collective support, apart from
Norway were one International Socialist activist accused of throwing bottles
at the police was supported by everybody, including his political enemies
among the left and trade unions as in Norway they saw it as a question of
principles and unity against repression and as such important.

During three years Friends of the Earth tried to get other organisations to
make common statements and act but never succeded with one late exception.
Attac never could decide themselves but liked to sit in the TV sofas and
generally discuss the issue while SAC had become so scared that they almost
forgot anything else than traditional trade unionism. The anarchists saw
their picture of society as confirmed and saw no reason to fight repression
jointly apart from the direct solidarity work with those in prison. And in
general both SAC and the anarchists withdrew and many times were actively
forced out of networks by the joint forces of the media, left party and the
marxist leninist party.

The result of the shift among SAC syndicalists from general politics to
trade unionism has caused a good focus on organizing paper less workers, new
trade unionisms among precariat and the like and is certainly not only bad.
Back to basics is sometimes a necessary tactic. But this means that SAC,
especially in Malmö is against ESF and sees it as a reformistic tool in the
hands of social democracy and Attac. Before the EU-summit in Gothenburg
Friends of the Earth had similar problems with parts of the anti EU left who
refused to cooperate with SAC and Friends of the Earth on an EU-critical
plattform. But not all anarchists and syndicalists have the isolation
position and maybe something can be done about it, especially of content as
repression, righ wing extremism and similar issus which alterglobalisation
actvists in CIS and CEE countries sees as very important comes to Malmö.

In Norway the developemnt was different. Also Oslo had its heyday
antiglobalisation demonstration during av World Bank meeting in 2002 with
almost as many participants as in Gothenburg. Afterwards there was also here
as in Gothenburg a Reclaim the streets party with as many or more
participants as in Gothenburg, 2 000. When the police started to shoot at
demonstrators in Gothenburg at the street party at 10 o.clock at night the
head of the World Bank event police force, also head of the Greenland
district in Oslo, the most criminal district in Norway was seen going around
in a light blue summer uniform skirt blowing soap bubbles together with the
demonstrators. Not one incident apart for some small graffiti incident
happened during the summit in Oslo in spite of that activists took the
chance to occupy a house and other small things which the police considered
as acceptable for the time being.

In Denmark it was a bit more tense but a lot more similar to Oslo than to
Gothenburg. In Finland the social democratic foregin minister the day after
the Gothenburg summit spoke to a large North-South development meeting in
Helsinki heavily critizing the Gothenburg head of police. Finland is still
somewhat old-fashioned society were trust among people is considered
sometimes more important than media. The Foreign minister happened to be
member of Attac and had recieved the sharp criticism from his fellow finnish
Attac members who were present in Gothenburg so he was well informed through
different ways and was as sharp as ever we who represented the EU-critical
coalition in his criticism of the police.

In general Finland is a very consensusorinted society and any kind of
violence is very badly seen against the police. When Finland had the
EU-presidency another social democrat and long time alternative movement
activist, Thomas Wallgren in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam organised citizen watch
groups that observed what the police were doing and immediately reported in
media their views. This made the media picture completely different from
that in Sweden after the EU-protests in Gothenburg. When we in Sweden
approached the Left and Greens 2001 asking them to do what the left parties
in Denmark and the socialdemocrats did in Finland later they had refused
stating that they as political parties could not do such a thing as going to
the spot and observing and then maybe criticising what the police were
doing. The whole escalation against the EU-critical demonstrators during the
Swedish EU-presidency started in Malmö against a demonstration close to were
ESF will take place.

Other conflicts

Against antiracist antifascist demonstrations there is also problems. There
are clashes regularly between antiracists and right-wing extremists.
Recently also clashes between radical trade union activists and police occur
with a trial against many strike picket line activists from the SAC
syndicalists in coming. Also the environmental movment has recently made
actions against airport to protest against air traffic. This has been
labelled attempt to sabotage air traffic and can give up to four years in
jail. Actions took place this spring at Malmö airport and among the arrested
dressed as a polar bear was Kajsa Lindqvist, chair of Friends of the Earth
Sweden. The longest succesful occuaption of an airport a month ago toook
place in Stokcholm in a protest against the deportation of a refugee. In
general civil disobedience among different movement is rising although there
has not been any larger actions recently. The police and courts have been
fairly selective so far in their response, thus occupation of streets to
protest against climate change has been fairly tolerant opposed by the
authorities while actions against airports more strict. Climate actions
regularly takes place in Malmö. Here when actions took place in 34 European
countries at the international climate action day 8 the of December last
year the most radical action was in Malmö when a street was occupied. These
kind of actions started in 1969, expanded during the Interntional traffic
revolution in 12 countries in 1970, had a peak in the late 1970s, restartaed
again 1986 and reached a climax in the early 1990s and have now reemerged
again. Recently for the first time since 1969 a car ran over one of the
demonstrators and escaped but he was later caught.

Terrorist laws

Finally concerning terrorist laws there are some odd differences among the
otherwise fairly similar Nordic countries. The first organisation in the
Nordic countries to be convicted as a terrorist organisation according to
the new laws were Greenpeace in Denmark. Greenpeace activsts had entered a
corporate building and made a bannerdrop protesting against GMO. This
verdict caused also mainstream environmental NGOs to react. The more known
case is that against Oprör/Rebellion who publically collects money to the
liberation movements PFLP and FARC labelled terrorists by EU. Due to that
their spokesperson became ill the trial against the organisation was

What happened during this repression is of interest to understand Nordic
political culture. The Danish case was brought to the public by a number of
well-known Swedish figures supporting Oprör. This support was publicised by
the Class struggle, a highly respected daily in Norway started by the
marxist leninist maoist party who owned it only to some years ago and it is
still at radical left daily. This was read by the minister in the red green
government of Norway which made the government to state something in
principle, which was that they refused to put up PFLP or FARC on their
terrorist list, as they do not accept EU as their boss in these matters.
Thus was what completly legal in Norway seemed completly a terrorist crime
in Denmark.

Now another trial took place in Denmark against the firm printing PFLP and
FARC t-shirts selling them and gving a part of the price to humanitarian
actvities of these liberation organisations. This trial have just ended with
an interesting result in the lowest court. The court thought about the
defintions of murder and terrorism. It came to the conclusion that murdering
people does not automatically mean that you are a terrorist (Also in Denmark
groups killed German occupants and Danish “unpatriotic” people during WWII).
Thus the printers were free (for the time being).

In Sweden the state is not as provocative as in Denmark, it does not make as
extreme laws as in Denmark or does not use them afraid of causing problem to
itself. So against internal opposition the escalation that according to
similar lines already started in the late 1990s with Gothenburg 2001 as a
climax before the WTC attack has not detoriated much further, it was fairly
bad already. But against some people there has been severe actions in the
new situation after September 2001. Two Egyptians were kidnapped at Bromma
airport by CIA with the help of the swedish government to be transported to
torture in Egypt against Swedish law. This has caused some debate for many
years. Four Somali people were also put on economic blacklist by US-UN-EU
implemented by the Swedish state, one of them a local social democratic
politician. This caused not only debate but massive civil disobedience among
many wellknown cultural persons that publically paid the somali persons
money which was illegal. But the state did not react. Two curds have also
been sentenced in a trial accused of supporting economically a curdish
organisations accused of being terrorists in Iraq. So the Nordic countries
do have its share of War on terror and the former social democratic minister
of justice was one of the trongest supporters of stronger EU measures
against personal integrity.

Ideological media situation and ideological authority

Another kind of repression is ideological. Mass media is more and more in
the hands of commercial interest and were there is Public service media they
adjust to the commercial media whoi tend to promote the interest of
business. In Denmark there is no daily belonging to any of the three left
parliamentarian parties, social democrats, socialist peoples party and
Red-Green Alliance. All dailies are center or right wing with one exception,
Arbejderen which is owned by a small marxist leninist party and run on very
low-budget level with ca 4 000 copies. In the other Nordic countries the
situation is a little bit better but not much, in Sweden also the
environmental movement and in Finland the Green party have weeklies. In the
field of magazines Denmark is also lacking any left-wing magazine of some
size, there are very few and circulation is max 2 000, In Norway and
esepcially Sweden the situation is a lot better and in Finland outstanding,
the radical magazine Voima (Power) owned by a publishing house close to the
Peace Committee that has a wide range of movements using the magazine has a
circulation of 50 000 in a country with 5 million inhabitants.

Racism and xenofobia is spread among the population in about the same
proportion in most Nordic countries according to European opinion polls. Yet
the political expression is very different. During the Muhammed caricature
crisis the Danish prime minister refused to meet with ambassors from Arab
countries and the media made the issue a question of liberty of expression
only. At the same time in all Nordic countries educational books are full
with caricatures of semitic crooked nosed and full beared violent persons
attacing the viewer. These antisemitic caricatures from the 1930s are
presented as the racists political attack on a minority among the
population, which they were. When exactly the same crooked noosed violent
semitic caricature was used against the muslims it was seen as only a case
od liberty of expression. This provoked muslims to react in Denmark and the
rest of the muslim world. Millions participated in boycots against Danish
companies, burned a Danish legation and demontstrated violently. Today
Denmark is one of the most racist coutnries on Earth with the left Socialist
Peoples party spearheading violent attacks on muslims freedom of expression
adn the Danish islamic party. The party leader have bluntly stated that he
wants them to be kicked out of the country, a statement that made his party
so popular recently that they became bigger than the social democratic party
in the opinion polls while the Red green Alliance with a muslim
parliamentary candidate almost lots the election this autumn.

In Sweden a similar crisis were Muhammed was portrayed like a dog gave a
somewhat different result. The Conservative prime minister immediatly went
to the mosque in Stockholm stating that he understood that muslims were
offended but that the law of freedom of expression allowed this. He also
invited Swedisg muslim organisations and diplomats from many muslim
countries to discuss the situation. The result was that soon Swedish muslim
organisations protested against the offense against Muhammed but at the same
time stated that protests had to be non-violent and no considerable protest
wavwe against Sweden occured. The artist also made his reaction clera, he
made a jewish pig caricature showing that he equally offended both muslims
and jews and also Christians of necessary. Thus both Swedish politicians and
artists reacted completly different from the Danish. The Danish prime
minister could not go to any mosque as there is noone in Copenhagen, the
closest regular mosque is in Malmö were it has been since 1970.

The racist or xenofobian parties have different positions in the Nordic
countries. In Denmark the Danish Peoples party has a strong position and the
Rigth wing government have to rely on their votes in parliament. In Norway
the very populistic Progress party have a more vague ideology and have had
great success among the voters. In Sweden right-wing populist parties who
have existed on the parliamentary level in all the other Nprdic countries
never have succeded with the short exception for the short-lived New
democracy party that gained seats in 1991 and lost them again in 1994. But
there is a party, Swedish Democrats with more than 3 percent of the votes in
the last election. Their roots are in right-wing extremism, roots they
carefully tries to wipe away. They are strongest in the country in Skåne
were Malmö is the capital. Here they have amny seatsiuj in the regional
parliament and in quite a few municipal parliaments as well.

A special swedish model for state ideological propaganda is an authority,
Forum for living history, that at first was attempted to inform about the
holocaust and promote tolerance. Some of the state propaganda against
intolerance towards jews also has been directed against islamofobia. But
also all kind of “extremism” is seen as guilty of crimes towards humanity,
especially communism. This part of purpose of the authority has stadily been
growing and is now a full scale country-wide offensive filled with notions
stating that Lenin started concentraions camps killing 10 000 people already
in the autumns 1918 while the concentrations camps set up by Americans in
the Phillipines and by the british in South Africa had a very different
purpose, to move the civlian population during times of war. The authority
was a social democratic intiative and is still supported by many social
democrats and the present center-right government. 400 historians have
recently protested against the institution.

Those interested in repression issues can become active on the fse-esf
represssion email list., Subscirbe at Nordic organisations
interested in cooperation


Tord Björk. Coordinator EU Committeee, Friends of the Earth Sweden