I landed in Copenhagen on Monday. After a train ride, I finally made it to Sweden. I’m down in southern Sweden for a few more days before heading to Stockholm. With about a year in Sweden in front of me I had a few things to take care of. One of which was getting a cell phone set up. The number I have had for nearly ten years was unceremoniously taken from me. With good reason, I suppose. It had been over a year since I had used it. So it goes.
But I would like to be able to contact people, so I headed in to Helsingborg and with no trouble at all had a new Swedish phone number. Everything worked exactly as it should. It was easy and cheap. But because it was so easy and cheap, I had some time to spare and one more important purchase to make. A beard trimmer. My luscious facelocks need to be properly cared for while abroad.
I headed to the nearest Clas Ohlson only to met by police. Everywhere. Lots of them. Police in full uniform. Police with little vests with the word “dialog” on them. Police in vans. Police. As I continued walking I noticed a fenced-off square with a single podium in the middle and a lone table just to the side. Sverigedemokraterna. Resident racist and current party-leader Jimmie Åkesson was speaking in Helsingborg at noon. Awesome. Because what better way to be welcomed back to the country than by a rally of racists. I went and bought my beard trimmer and headed back to the square. I was curious.
A crowd had gathered. An all-white crowd had gathered. Maybe 200 people. Posters exhorting “Heja Jimmie” were passed out. A group of maybe a couple of hundred crowded closer to the fence. And in the mean time, a small group of protesters gathered just behind the group. Mostly young people. And then he arrived. Cheers went up. As did boos. And then a family of four directly in front of me turned their back. They said nothing. They did not boo. They did not chant. They did not sing. They silently turned their back on the aforementioned racist.
Behind me chants erupted sporadically. Inga rasister på våra gator. Inga rasister på våra gator. Inga rasister på våra gator.
Two younger men made their way to the front of the crowd with a photoshopped A-4 printout of Jimmie Åkesson in a Nazi-era uniform. They said nothing. They did not boo. They did not chant. They did not sing. They just held their pieces of paper above their heads. That’s when the guy standing next to them took notice. And by took notice I mean confronted them and tried ripping the piece of paper from their hands. One man held on tight to his paper only to then be pushed by another man with short-cropped hair and a black jacket featuring epaulets that was vaguely reminiscent of fascist Germany. Probably just a coincidence though. The police made their way over and calmed everything down. Ish. These two would be in the center of several more confrontations in the 20 minutes that I stood and watched.
But I turned my attention back to the family of four in front of me. They had been joined by an older man with a black tank top and a barrel chest to rival any. He was short and squat and looked like he had seen things. As Åkesson continued spewing nonsense, the father in the family who had turned their backs began to shake his head. With good reason. Åkesson had begun claiming that folks were no longer safe in their homes. And this man’s head just went back and forth. No. Back and forth. No. Back and forth. No. He did not boo. He did not chant. He did not sing. He just shook his head. He did not agree.
And that’s when it happened. An older man, maybe in his seventies steamed over. His face red, his finger jabbing into the chest of the silent man. A threat erupted from the old man’s lips and the police hustled over. That’s when I noticed the son of this family make a beeline out of there. Scared. His father, now protesting to the police, explained that his son shouldn’t have to see people threatened. That’s when the purple-haired old lady piped in. (Why do old ladies dye their hair blue or purple?) Then don’t bring him here!
Her solution was so simple. If you don’t want to hear hate and fear mongering, don’t bring him to a Sverigedemokraterna rally. It makes sense, really. Of course, I’m sure she didn’t realize the irony in her statement. At this point, the police were heavily involved as I stood staring silently at the purple-haired woman, shaking my head in disbelief. She turned to the police officer next to me. Can’t you remove these people? The officer responded. No. According to Swedish law, they have a right to be here. She scoffed. That’s too bad. Hopefully we can get that law changed. Shame you don’t use water cannons. We could rinse this garbage off the streets.
So that’s the rhetoric being used by at least some of the Sverigedemokraterna supporters. I’ll be honest, I didn’t hear much of what Åkesson said. I listened to his fear mongering for a while. I listened to a speech that sounded eerily familiar to that spewed by Ted Cruz in the US. But really, I was concentrating instead on the crowd around me. The dynamics. The protesters. The racists. The police. It was fascinating. It was scary. It was disgusting. It was sad.
Welcome to Sweden. And election season.