The report below first appeared on the Unite Against Fascism website on 2 October.
Big thanks to Asa and David for their contributions, below; hats off to Swedish anti fascists!
Asa – Last Saturday was a brilliant victory for anti-fascists in Gothenburg, where over 10 000 people gathered and successfully stopped the Nazis from marching through the city. It was the biggest anti-racist protest for a long time led and organised by the left. The Nazis did not get to go a single metre of their intended route and were stuck outside a supermarket for hours.
To understand why the Nazis were marching it is important to know something about what has played out in the last year.
Gothenburg is host to an annual book fair with around 100 000 visitors in September. This is a commercial event where various publishers promote themselves, and it is an arena for many literary and political seminars. In 2016 the book fair decided to accept a far-right magazine called Nya Tider (New Times) as an exhibitor. This provoked much criticism and an intense debate followed.
In August 2016 a real circus ensued where the book fair’s invitation to the Nazis was withdrawn and then given back again several times over, until the final decision to let New Times in was announced. This really showed that the leadership of the book fair were clueless how to deal with them and incredibly politically naïve.
The ongoing book fair debate has been framed around the issue of free speech. However, the people who initiated a boycott of the book fair have responded with increasingly sharp arguments about why it is not really about freedom of speech, and perhaps a local activist said it best; Nazism is a crime – not an opinion.
After the book fair in 2016, a boycott was set in motion by several authors. In 2017, a video surfaced in which journalists are visited in their homes by fascists and told to stop investigating the far right. Behind the camera is the editor of New Times. Still, the book fair believes that New Times should be welcome as exhibitors in 2017.
Allowing the Nazis back to the book fair again this year was the final straw for many, and the boycott grew and the work with the alternative book fair intensified. It was called the Book mass (instead of the mainstream event Bokmässan).
The violent Nazi group Nordic Resistance Movement, (Svenska motståndsrörelsen), which has connections with New Times magazine, said that they would hold a march near the book fair, on the main day – Saturday 30 September.
Two weeks previously, 50 Nazis marched around in the centre of Gothenburg, like a rehearsal of what they wanted to do on a bigger scale at the end of the month.
No antiracist organisations knew about this and no real counter demonstration could be mobilised in time. They marched in uniforms and with symbols connected to the far right so the police could have arrested them for hate speech but chose not to. The Nazis were confident and boasted that 1,000 of them were going to come back and march down the central avenue in two weeks’ time.
They applied to the police for a permit to march. The police gave them permission which provoked outrage. It would also be the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, that day, and the Nazis would be marching very near the synagogue. The permit to march was appealed by several groups and the courts decided that the police had been too generous with the Nazis and shortened and moved their route.
The media backdrop, familiar to anti-racists in many other countries, was that the counter demonstrators were portrayed as a problem, being described as almost as bad as the Nazis.
There were endless headlines about an extra prison being built, that hundreds of dangerous, anti-racists were going to travel here from other countries, that it was going to be a repeat of the Gothenburg riots 2001 – all trying to scare people away from coming on the protests. Fortunately a lot of people ignored that.
It turned out to be a beautiful Saturday where over 10,000 people from many different walks of life gathered at a football field adjacent to the Nazis intended route. There was an upbeat atmosphere with music, homemade placards, book stalls and a tent belonging to the alternative book fair. There were also many people a few hundred metres down the road, surrounding the place where the Nazis were gathering, shouting anti-racist slogans.
In the end the Nazis were only 400 and remained stuck in a little grassy triangle outside a supermarket for 5 hours. After attacking the police their leader and over 20 other Nazis were arrested. They were eventually forced by the police to walk back to the supermarket car park and go home. It was a humiliating defeat.
This was the biggest antiracist protest for some time in Gothenburg. It was very diverse, and for many it was their first demonstration. There was real joy when we marched down what was supposed to be the Nazis’ route shouting: Inga nazister på våra gator! No Nazis on our streets! meaning it in a very literal way.
This was a significant victory for anti-racists and for the left, even though we are going to have to continue to fight a growing, far-right movement. The left has also begun to win the argument that Nazis should not be given a platform and that there is a connection between racist words and racist deeds. If you invite fascists and racist parties into public arenas you will get a trail of racist violence in their wake.
It is important to point out that the Nazis were stopped because we enormously outnumbered them with a very lively counter demonstration. As it was, it would have been politically and physically close to impossible for the police to fight a way through all those anti-racists to clear a route for the Nazis. The Nazis attacked the police, journalists and photographers. We shouted, we blocked the road and we won.
David from Sweden, adds:
It is worth saying that hundreds of riot police mobilised with dogs, horses, pepper spray and plain clothes snatch squads to curb anti-fascists, but were overwhelmed by the numbers.
The broader context is that the media and the political establishment are divided over how to respond to the electoral success of the far-right Sweden Democrats, who have neo-Nazi roots and hold the balance of power in parliament.
With elections due next year, the Sweden Democrats are threatening to become Sweden’s second largest party, with 15%–20% of the vote.
Traditionally other parties have refused to collaborate with them, but this consensus is breaking down. After accepting 163,000 refugees in 2015, Sweden has slammed the borders shut and the media and politicians have competed to be hard on immigration and asylum.
This has created a climate in which Alt Right publications like New Times are treated respectfully, and outright Nazis like the NRM are allowed into the political mainstream in the name of freedom of speech.
This is despite the fact that three NRM supporters were recently jailed for planting bombs in Gothenburg. An interesting footnote: all the media call the NRM “Nazis”, so always and everywhere the party is referred to as “the Nazi NRM”. This may be the result of a recent court judgement.