Monday, September 01, 2014

Protests Against Swedish Neo-Nazis

At 11:34am on Sunday, August 31, I received the following alert from the US Government:
“A large area of central Stockholm will be cordoned off by police on Saturday, August 30, 2014 between 09:00-18:00 hours due to an authorized political meeting being held by the Neo-Nazi “Svenskarnasparti” (The Party of the Swedes). A demonstration against Svenskarnasparti is expected, estimated at 10,000 people, positioned at Gustav Adolfs Torg, just outside the MFA. The demonstration is scheduled to begin at 14:00 hrs.”

Quick aside: the MFA is the Ministry for Foreign Affairs or Utrikesdepartementet.

So the warning came a day late. In fact, I’d already heard about the warning coming from the US about the demonstration. I went to the protest against the neo-Nazi group anyway. Mostly because I can’t believe there are neo-Nazi parties in Sweden that are given police protection under the guise of freedom of speech to hold rallies in the middle of Stockholm.

That's a lot of peaceful protestors.
I went with a couple of friends. We arrived around 1:15. There were thousands and thousands of people in Kungsträdgården. I saw one estimate of 14,000 people. My time spent trying to estimate the number of fans at a basketball game for my job years and years ago had ill-prepared me for crowds of that number, so I’ll just trust the reports that there were over 10,000 people there. I finally left around 4:45. A lot happened in between.

While I was there, I saw over 10,000 people peacefully protesting against a handful  of neo-Nazis. The number floating around the crowd was that there were only 75 neo-Nazis at their rally. So the anti-Nazis far outnumbered them.

I saw people with their families. Parents and children holding balloons and little heart placards. Grandparents with their grandchildren. Old and young and everything in between.

I saw people singing and dancing. In several languages. I saw signs. Flags. Banners. I saw musicians playing drums. Even a saxophone.

I saw a whole lot of people who were there to protest the neo-Nazi party that, for some reason, continues to be given credence in this country. Unfortunately, many of the reports I read afterwards focused on 15 minutes of commotion.

And if you’ve been paying attention to the news, no doubt you saw that there were clashes. I also saw that. A group of plainclothes police walked into a crowd. They stood there. Doing nothing. Then something happened. I still don’t know what. They circled up and pulled their batons. The crowd gave them space. They called for the police in riot gear. There were two young men who were aggressively yelling, maybe ten feet from the police officers. But at this point, there was no one throwing a thing. Not a thing. People had been throwing things. Mostly smoke bombs. There were also people yelling to stop throwing things. But as the riot police arrived, I didn’t see a single thing being thrown. And then they charged.
Tensions running high. 
The crowd turned to run. There was white smoke and people running with their mouths covered, coughing. Turns out it was most likely fire retardant, which the police use to disperse crowds. And it worked. Of course, the police in riot gear, the plainclothes police, the mounted police, the K9 unit, the police vans heading straight into a crowd didn’t hurt either. What did hurt, at least I imagine it hurt, was the police baton smacking against the back of two demonstrators as they ran away. There were undoubtedly more people who felt a baton crash down on them. I only saw two. Apparently, if you’re not fast enough, even turning to disperse and run is not enough to keep you from taking a baton to the back.

At this point, I thought it best to go home. I was in no way interested in clashing with a police force that seemed all too ready to clash. And then I started reading about what happened. As if the 15 minutes of bull-rushing police officers were the story. As if the story of the day should have been about a imagined (and wholly false) full-scale militant attack by the protestors.

The story should be that many in Sweden will not tolerate neo-Nazis. And that many in Sweden are growing tired of the protection granted to hate-speech spouted by the neo-Nazis. The story should be about over 10,000 peaceful protestors and an atmosphere that was really, quite calm orderly, Swedish, for the vast majority of the time.

Welcome to Sweden. And anti-Nazi protests.

*(September 2, 2014) I've had some comments/emails about my comments about neo-Nazis being protected under the guise of freedom of speech. First, I am always torn by free speech issues, mostly because I am not an absolutist when it comes to freedom of speech. I think it is dangerous to fetishize the idea that every single utterance is protected. Including hate speech. Of course, I really like the idea that you can say things that aren't popular and not be prosecuted for that. It can be useful, you know, government tyranny, crushing of dissent, etc. Hence, the being torn part.

That being said, Sweden has a pretty straight-forward law against hate speech, which is why I am confused by the police protection being offered. It states (and I found the English version):
A person who, in a disseminated statement or communication, threatens or expresses contempt for a national, ethnic or other such group of persons with allusion to race, colour, national or ethnic origin or religious belief shall, be sentenced for agitation against a national or ethnic group to imprisonment for at most two years or, if the crime is petty, to a fine. (Law 1988:835)

Which seems to me covers the entire platform of Svenskarnas parti. But still they have police protection. Now THAT being said, I'm not even going to pretend to know exactly how all that stuff actually works in real life, but it seems like it should cover a lot of the nonsense being spouted by the neo-Nazis.

10 comments:

  1. I decided against going to the protest since I didn't want to bring my 3-year old. It was reassuring to hear the whole thing went down relatively peacefully. What happened in Malmö is just awful.

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  2. I was coming out of the nearby underground station just as it got a bit noisy (4 pm-ish). At no point was it threatening, or even CLOSE to a riot (I've experienced much worse in London, Bangkok and – wait for it – Holland on New Year's Eve). It's really sad that the press just focuses on what they consider to be the real news, instead of the fact that there were 1000s of people demonstrating against a very small neo-Nazi party which also has a right (argh) to have their voices heard.

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  3. Nazis make me want to puke my guts out, all over their faces.

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  4. Well aside from maybe 15 minutes-ish, this was very safe and calm.

    And I thought I should add this, because I've had some comments/emails about it in terms of the neo-Nazis being protected under the guise of freedom of speech. First, I am always torn by free speech issues, mostly because I am not an absolutist when it comes to freedom of speech. I think it is dangerous to fetishize the idea that every single utterance is protected. Including hate speech. Of course, I really like the idea that you can say things that aren't popular and not be prosecuted for that. It can be useful, you know, government tyranny, crushing of dissent, etc.

    That being said, Sweden has a pretty straight-forward law against hate speech, which is why I am confused by the police protection being offered. It states (and I found the English version):
    A person who, in a disseminated statement or communication, threatens or expresses contempt for a national, ethnic or other such group of persons with allusion to race, colour, national or ethnic origin or religious belief shall, be sentenced for agitation against a national or ethnic group to imprisonment for at most two years or, if the crime is petty, to a fine. (Law 1988:835)

    Which seems to me covers the entire platform of Svenskarnas parti. But still they have police protection.

    Now that I've typed all this, I realize that I'll probably just add this as on at the end of the actual post.

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  5. The thing is, hate speech is against the law, you cannot however preemt the law by not allowing someone to speak.

    Basically we cannot try someone for hate speech prior to it happening, and since we have the right to protest well it becomes a clash.

    We have to give them the right to rally, since we cannot deny them that right based on that hate speech might occur (regardless of their manifesto in this case).

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    Replies
    1. I kind of wondered if that was the case. Of course, it seems silly considering they are neo-Nazis and, as you mention, their manifesto, but I suppose I understand. Doesn't mean I necessarily like it though.

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  6. I'm ashamed of being Swedish when they allow neo Nazis to hold their speeches in the first place.

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  7. Why should you be so concerned for free speech? How have restrictions against free speech ever affected you significantly? Apparently then, it's a matter of intellectual truth. In that case, why simply protest neo-Nazism; Oppose it proactively by supporting the very crux that ignites the neo-Nazi's fire - Reach out and help Israel! A little light dispels much darkness.

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    Replies
    1. I have no idea what is going on here. That was quite a jump.

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