Why Swe­den is dis­cussing Tess As­plund

CityPress - - News - ALISON VISSER news@city­press.co.za

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

PHOTO: TT NEWS AGENCY / PA

AMANDLA! de­fi­ance Swedish ac­tivist Tess As­plund raises her fist in

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