At a time when European right-wing movements are becoming louder, the neo-Nazi demonstration in Sweden should become a conversation starter.
Some of you may have noticed there was a neo-Nazi demonstration last weekend in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city. This small country has been on the international media radar ever since Trump mentioned it in one of his (in)famous speeches back in February – and right-wing extremists have profited. Just what does this mean for the rest of Europe?
Sweden, Trump and Nazi
Ever since President Trump referred to the supposed disastrous state of affairs in Sweden in one of his speeches regarding Europe’s refugee crisis, radical groups from all political sides within the country have gathered around the notion Mr. President was referring to in his speech. The wild imaginary, LEGO-like, build-your-own-worldview-and-spit-it-all-over narrative style.
Of course, it would be ridiculous to blame the speech for a rise in extremist groups, but they surely did get some free, global marketing material. The Charlottesville incident left many disappointed over the president’s reluctance to clearly condemn white supremacy and neo-Nazi movements.
This is where you might actually want to take a good look at what´s going on in Sweden right now. The far right is on the rise, as is a lack of open conversation. The Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration party, continues to grow in popularity. As in the rest of the world, alternative media sources have been popping up, spreading political propaganda and claiming to be the sole bearers of“the truth”.
“The far right is on the rise, as is a lack of open conversation”
Propaganda channels sharing both religious and political extremist material are now present in most global social media outlets. In Sweden, the debate in mainstream channels is next to absent.
What is there instead? Verbal orgies where like-minded people cuddle up and support each other in safe-spaces for those who claim a black-and-white worldview with NO room for debate. These forums include the obligatory exclusive slang and rhetoric, the general sense of group belonging and purpose, and a grievance narrative – the one they keep telling themselves to keep the safe-space relevant.
Violence, action, and dress-up – Welcome to the NMR
As if that weren’t enough, some of these groups have gone far out of the story-telling space of things and right into action. One of these groups is the Nordic Resistance Movement (Nordiska motståndsrörelsen, NMR), ”a right-wing extremist, militant neo-Nazi organisation and political party” aiming to crush the “ruling elite” and replace it with a national-socialist model.
The NMR have gained fame for their dress-up events with matching clothes, marching and screaming out self-victimising, racist, bumper-sticker-esque quotes. In preparation for last week’s demonstration in Gothenburg, this neo-Nazi group used a marketing strategy based on humour, ridicule and activism.
By casually throwing around jokes online, a few days before the demonstration, they tried to score points in order to paint a picture of themselves as ordinary men who are just a little bit angry and want to make Sweden great again.
This group has units located in strategic places around the country. They hold talks on racial purity and train for eventual combat. They portray themselves as a bunch of family guys while they operate as a militant, extremist battle-ready group.
The public debate is heading right off a cliff
A little less than three weeks ago, a group of NMR neo-Nazi protesters showed up on the streets of Gothenburg and were allowed to march there without having filed a request to demonstrate at the police station.
Criticism was directed at the police for allowing them to gather that day. Counter-Nazi groups loudly protested the very notion of considering to allow anything Nazi-oriented to occur. Experts debated on the number of radicals and their reasons for joining the NMR.
The reporting focused mostly on Left-wing extremists from other countries who were expected to be present on Gothenburg´s streets last Saturday.
While all of that is important, isn’t it all reminiscent of the reporting of Charlottesville? The spotlight was directed at one figure and whether or not Nazis should be allowed to walk on the streets, proclaiming their hatred. The Regressive Leftists simply wanted to restrict their rights through the usual pattern – describe, restrict and defeat by narrative.
While all of that is important, isn’t it all reminiscent of the reporting of Charlottesville?
As good as it is to respect freedom of speech, whether through the public service channels or through alternative media sources, no one is really addressing the potential sources of these radical, polarised views.
The ones who have tried to do so in Sweden for the past years have been labeled as the Alt-Right, thus delegitimising any and every attempt to further explain themselves.
Where the potential is – civil society needs to take back the right to speak
How did this spectacle go then? Depends on who you ask.
The Nazi group didn’t even reach the starting point of their walk in Gothenburg due to the massive counter-demonstration by people who weren’t that happy to see Nazis on their streets. There were massive police resources in place, needed for two main reasons – to protect and direct the Nazis, and to fight back a group of violent, radical extreme Leftists. The latter fought against both the police and other counter-demonstrators.
The Swedish, however, are not about to shut up and conform. In academia, many have come forward to counter the underlying issues that have created a space for political extremism. Göran Adamson, Professor of political sociology and author of “Multiculturalism – A Critique from the Left” made some great points about the current state of Sweden in a recent interview.
With regards to freedom of speech, he said, “You should have a look at the last few years in Sweden. Because I think that politicians, journalists and academia have, whether they know it or not, carefully created a situation that is, I would think, on the brink of explosion.”
Communities have been invited for conversation on underlying societal issues. This must continue to do so in order for a healthy society to prevail. This past Nazi demonstration in Sweden should become a conversation starter both here and throughout Europe. At a time when European right-wing movements are becoming louder, this could serve as an invitation for civil society to begin using its voice even more to defend human rights. For all of us.