Malmö-Gothenburg-Malmö 2001-2008

How the Swedish
parliamentary parties betrayed the Global Justice Movement

It happened in the most unlikely
country at a most unlikely place. The great international step
forward in the repression against the global justice movement summit
protests begun right in the middle of the cradle of the Swedish
workers movement in Malmö. Some weeks later police were for the
first time shooting at protesters in Gothenburg at an EU Summit and
built a wall of containers around a counter summit, convergence
center and school complex used for accomodation to end up violently
storming the protest gathering arresting 456 people. The
parliamentary parties supported the escalation of the repression of
the demonstrators that followed, with Left Party leader Gudryn
Schyman as a main betrayer of the movements. With this support the
police could attack any demonstration and use any weapons legitimated
by all parliamentary parties. 7 years later the global justice
movement in Sweden and internationally gathers again in Malmö to
exchange experiences on lessons learned and what conclusions to draw
for the future. 

Ministers of finance in EU members
states met in April 2001 in Malmö. A demonstration with permission
from the police was called by a number of organisations from the
local Transport workers union to the Peoples Movement No to EU and
the Malmö group for Asylum to refugees. Right in front of the old
headquarters of the first workers daily in Sweden, Arbetet, the
police attacked and arrested 266 demonstrators in the demonstration.
An official commission later claimed the police action was
unjustified. All parliamentary parties in the local police board
claimed directly afterward it was an act to promote democracy. The
stage was set by Swedish parlimentary parties to betray popular
movements under the first Swedish EU-presidency. 

The situation was well prepared by
social democratic changes of Swedish political culture. Before
popular movements built on participatory democracy had been highly
respected and supported in Sweden as organisations supposed to
combine the willingness of people in common to live as they preached
and at the same time act in common to change society indepedent from
the state. In 1998 this was changed. Millions of Swedish crowns were
given to a campaign against racism in daily life under the leadership
of Mona Sahlin, today social democratic party leader. This campaign
was not allowed to adress political issues. Popular movements
critical towards racist EU policies should have no support at all
contrary to the earlier democratic tradition in Sweden when political
change and individual moral were supposed to be united and not split
apart. Simultanously the social democratic government started a
campaign against extremist ideologies as nazism excluding from
consciousness that fascism had the workers movement as its main
protagonist ending with a campaign against communism. Foreign policy
also shifted side from support of the Palestinians to become more
close to US and Israeli positions. Independent economic policy had
been replaced by adopting neoliberal EU policies. 

In opposition to this two main
coalitions were formed before the EU presidency 2001. Friends of the
Earth Sweden and the small radical trade union Central
Organisation of the Workers of Sweden initiated a broad
antineoliberal and EU-critical coalition also including main stream
trade unions from Denmark and Norway, Euromarches and many others and
the Popular Movement No to EU initiatied a coalition against Swedish
membership in the EU. Both coalitions planned demonstrations and had
the Greens and the Left party as members. 

The social democrats had a clear
opposing vision. The big trade union LO under social democratic
leadership declared that it was not in the tradition of the labor
movement to demonstrate and thus they were not going to take to the
streets which made them refuse to discuss demonstrations during the
EU-presidency. ABF, Workers Education Association joined hands with
Rotary and Lions to organise an NGO Forum in Gothenburg two weeks
before the EU Summit. An open space Free forum was strongly supported
delinked from taking political standpoints and creating coordinating
resurces for demonstrating popular movements. Separate charities and
foundations as well as some popular movements were given money to
arrange seminars on EU issues delinked from action all over Sweden.
The international EU-critical and the national No to EU demonstration
coalitions had no support and wellfunded competitors. The EU critical
5 day counter summit had 200 euro in support from official funding,
the open space free forum 200 000 euro until in the very last minute
some money for third world participation was given to the counter
summit. Popular education should be split from political action was
the will of the parliamentary parties in total contradiction to
earlier Swedish democratic tradition. 

The brake with earlier democratic ways
in the relation between the state and popular movements was clearly
seen when the police stormed the counter summit at Hvitfeldtska
school at the same time as president Bush arrived to the Gothenburg
airport. The first US-EU Summit started with head of police Håkan
Jaldung ordering the attack on the Counter summit using all possible
laws ”to the maximum” according to his own statement. According
to research by Hans Abrahamsson from the Attac movement US
intellegence agents had planted a false information claiming that
hundreds of Italian activists dressed in white overalls and protected
by foam gum would force themselves into the hotel of president Bush.
The preparation of the attack was supposed to take place at
Hvitfeldtska. The Swedish security police with many agents inside the
school did not believe in the horror story. Jaldung that had gone to
the US 40 times to get special police education ordered the storming
of the school placing US national interests above Swedish national
interests. The offcial claim by the police that there was weapons
inside the school was proven to be false. As a provocation to start
riots the police operation worked with predicable results. 

Next day Jaldung continued his tactics
the same way now soon supported by all parliamentary parties. A
demonstration with 2 000 participants some blocks away from the EU
conference walked and stopped according to the plan discussed
together with the police. But Jaldung ordered anyway a large scale
attack from all sides, first with dogs, than with mounted police.
While the riots on the day before had been more limited this time the
predictable counterreaction was stronger. Some demonstrators forced
the police to flee with the help of throwing cobblestones against
horses and riot police. The police had heard a rumour that the police
head quarter was to be attacked and withdrew some of their forces
from the main avenue to protect themselves. 200 people, out of whom
50-70 were active according to the police report, were given room to
smash the windows of the shops on the high street. National public
service television edited the news by presenting the course of events
in the reverse order, cutting clippings showing how demonstrators
throws objects at the police first and how police attacked with dogs
after. The rest of the media used language as Gothenburg had been
raped and planted the false informatin that there had been property
damage for 100 million Swedish crowns. The shop owner organisation
presented later that the figure was 5 million. Also some leftist
journalists joined the trend and called the activists terrorists. 

The EU parliamentary committee met the same afternoon. According to
Green MP Yvonne Ruwaida the foreign ministry used the occasion for
giving the information that 3 vehicles loaded with weapons had been
confiscated by the police at Hvitfeldtska something that really
should cause alarm but was false. Now all parliamentary parties with
the Left Party as the main force and the Greens as the most reluctant
started to legitimize further escalation of police attacks on
demonstrators according to the will of the social democratic party
that only the demonstrators were to blame. Left party leader Gudrun
Schyman used her priviliged position in the media to state at prime
time in public service news that the demonstrators damaging property
and police were hooligans with no other intention than to be violent.
Furthermore she stated that coalitions organizing demonstrations were
the left party belonged to most often them had denounced hooligans,
which was totally false. The proposal from the social democrats to
make this joint declaration had been rejected by the demonstration
coalitions that instead had denounced violence, whether it was used
by the police or demonstrators. After the Left party legitimation of
the state violent action and false information against demonstrators
the police escalated the violence further by shooting at participants
at a Reclaim the street party with live ammunition almost killing one
person. The social democratic prime minister started to talk about
”criminal elements with the only purpose to destroy” and soon
about protesters clashing with police as ”fascists” belonging to
a ”military organised group, well equipped, with excellent
communication system, extraordinary well planned and with big
economic resources…” 

The final day of the EU Summit started by a new attack ordered by
head of the police operation Jaldung against the big international
demonstration with 20 000 participants. The attack was derailed by
demonstration guards and mutinity among the subordinate police who
refused to fulfil the order and thus a blood bath was stopped. Later
the same day the police encircled a demonstration against police
violence and arrested most of the 500 participants while a terrorist
police squad stormed the second school were the convergence center
had moved after the police attack on Hvitfeldska. Armed with machine
guns the police arrested all in the school. 

After politicians had legitimized such violent attacks by the police
against the headquarters of political opposition and demonstrations
there were very few protests. Instead the demonstrating organisations
started to quarrel among and within themselves. The courts put some
50 demonstrators in total 50 years in prison with the help of videos
manipulated by the police and claims that all accused demonstrators
had jointly made an attack on democracy. The sentences were more than
10 times higher than normal for the same crime. The political parties
had succeded in their attack on popular movement cooperation
promoting their professional campaign organisations working in
symbiosis with mass media and parliament as the best form of
organising political will. 

The only city were the popular movements were not split apart was
Malmö. Here the experience among both socialdemocratic, trade union
and many other organisations that organised the demonstration during
the EU finance ministerial meeting had set an example. The distrust
against the police and parties that supported the police version was
shared by all. Here there was a basis for rebuilding popular movement
cooperation. Local chapters of the Transport workers, Attac and
Friends of the Earth started a movement that soon became national for
common welfare against privatisation. These three organisations also
became central in initiating the ESF preparations in Sweden. This
time the local chapter of the Central
Organisation of the Workers of Sweden in Malmö refused to join the
movement cooperation efforts claiming that ESF was an European plan
by Attac and social democrats to build a new reformist party. The
ranks of experienced activists needed for the practical ESF
preparations was filled with members of the Left party and their
affiliated student and youth organisations. 

Whether ESF in
Malmö will be a place were popular movements can regain strength
against the antidemocratic tendencies among professionalised
parliamentary parties in the hands of mass media is still to be seen.
But their betrayl in Sweden of the global justice movement will be
addressed at a seminar on criminalisation and repression of social
movements including other experiences of summit protest and policing
of popular movements. It will be the first time that the focus of the
post Gothenburg 2001 debate not will primarily focus upon the
conflict between police and demonstrators and instead bring up the
issue of the conflict between all parliamentary parties and
independent popular movements. A Swedish lesson learned which
may have consequences also for what conclusions to draw for the
future of the global justice movement in many countries. 

Tord Björk, coordinator of the EU committee, Friends of the Earth

Source: email


One response to “Malmö-Gothenburg-Malmö 2001-2008”


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