Why Sweden is discussing Tess Asplund
It’s a picture that gives you goose bumps – a lone, black woman defying a march of neo-Nazis, standing silently with her fist raised in an “Amandla!” gesture.
The photo of Tess Asplund’s silent stand against racism went viral this week. It was taken by David Lagerlöf, a photographer with Expo, the antiracist foundation in Stockholm, during a rally on International Workers’ Day last Sunday by members of the far-right Nordic Resistance Movement.
It was a gesture of defiance: An “Afro-Swedish” (as Asplund describes herself), petite woman staring defiantly at the group of about 300 neo-Nazis marching towards her.
The antiracism activist, who said she often raised her fist at antifascist rallies in a gesture borrowed from Nelson Mandela, was quoted as telling local radio station P4 Dalarna that she jumped out on impulse: “I just thought: you shouldn’t be here. Then one of them stared at me and I stared back. He didn’t say anything and neither did I. Then the police came fairly quickly and took me away.”
The picture sums up a worrying wave of “antiimmigrant” sentiments spreading across Europe following attacks from the Islamic State and the huge numbers of refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.
Right wing political parties in Austria, Finland, France and the UK have attained various forms of success, and the ironically named right wing Sweden Democrats party is the country’s third largest.
“Their main mission is to say that we should assist people in their home countries instead of bringing them to Sweden,” Elisabet Idermark, senior adviser of international relations at Stockholm University, explained to a group of global journalists recently.
Sweden has taken more refugees per capita than any other European country – 190 000 last year, a huge number for a nation of 10 million inhabitants.
Recently, there have been numerous attacks on refugees.
“The Swedish Democrats were growing in opinion polls, but they also have a black side – they carry out activities that aren’t accepted, and are displaying bad behaviours, terrible ‘accidents’ where someone has set fire to homes for refugees,” said Idermark.
In 2013 many people were injured in the Kärrtorp attack, when 30 to 40 members of the Swedish Resistance Movement attacked an antiracist demonstration in the Stockholm suburb. Last year the Sweden Democrats expelled its Sweden Democratic Youth organisation because of accusations of racism and connections to extremist groups.
“The rest of the Swedish society is against these types of activities. But [the Swedish Democrats] are now going down in their opinion polls because of these bad activities,” said Idermark.
Yet Sweden has a history of immigration. Its own royal family “represents the migrant situation”, says Idermark. The king, Carl XVI Gustaf, descends from the Bernadotte family, which was “imported” from France. “The queen [Silvia] is originally from Germany. The king’s mother is also from Germany. The princess [Madeleine] married an American [Christopher O’Neill].”
This immigration is reflected in the general population. According to figures from the national statistics bureau, Statistics Sweden, 20% of Swedes have a foreign background. About 1.5 million Swedes were born outside of Sweden (coming mainly from Finland, Iraq, Poland and Germany), and 0.5 million have two parents born outside of the country. Also, if you’re a refugee, Sweden – with its incredible social welfare system – is the place to be. And migrants fulfil muchneeded spaces in the labour market as Sweden recruits people from abroad. Swedish people are well educated. Nobody wants to be a cleaner, or a mechanic. It’s a big country with a low population.
Hans Sundstrom, a legal officer from Kammarkollegiet, the oldest authority in Sweden, said: “In Sweden, we have a long history of elections and free elections. It’s an old democratic system in which we think of ‘the whole’ and try to find middle ground. The left doesn’t get everything and the right doesn’t get everything. That’s very Swedish. And that is carried through society – the compromising.”
“We like consensus, and when you have consensus, you think that everyone should respect the consensus. In Sweden, you discuss and discuss and discuss, so that nobody disagrees, because you’ve reached an agreement and you can move forward in that way. It goes through the whole system – from companies to families. Discuss, and then come to a decision.” Visser visited Sweden as a guest
of the Swedish Institute
AMANDLA! defiance Swedish activist Tess Asplund raises her fist in