07 December 2008

Nazis Schmazis

Lund--Officer Friendly and his Wonder Dog Skip maintain order near the train station.

LUND--The young man got in the big cop's face and yelled, "Why are you protecting them?"
The big cop stood, impassive in his riot gear, and replied calmly, "It's my job. This is democracy."
A hundred meters away 50 or so of the master race stood, chanting, their torches lighting the early Scandinavian night, a phalanx of more than double their number of police standing between them and over a thousand counter protestors, journalists, the curious and people trying to get to and from the train station.
A young woman, veins standing out on her neck, her face twisted in rage, began shrieking over and over, "Democracy allows fascism. Democracy allows fascism." as her face turned purple and spittle hung from her lips. I thought it better not to engage her in a political debate about the rights of free speech, even offensive free speech and instead took the moment to get closer to the Nazis. About that moment torches began to fly back and forth between the groups which were dramatic against the night but more or less harmless. I realized then that I couldn't see any bottles or stones, which are not so harmless, and that it was so dark I wouldn't get any decent photos anyway. I retreated and Lena and I followed from a saner distance until we found ourselves caught between two large groups of police. Suddenly people in front of us began to run from a police charge and we dove over a wall, finding ourselves in the old cemetery. It was cold and late and I was sick and tired of Nazi-types and the early dark I couldn't photograph in and Lena was depressed about Nazi-types in her town so we trudged back home to warmth and light.

I have been trying to figure out this phenomenon of Nazi marches and counter-protest and masked anarchists chucking stuff about even when there are no Nazis in evidence and the odd fact that I've seen more rioting and street violence in Sweden than anywhere else I have been. Strangely, it still seems the safest place I have been as well. Perhaps, in this country of mostly atheistic liberals endowed with equal rights and effective socialized health care and a climate that leaves them in the dark with unaffordable booze for most of the year the need to lash out at anything and provide the soul and body with some sort of excitement is overwhelming. Combine this with the need to believe in something, given that there is no God here, and rage and trouble bubble inevitably to the surface.

The thing that bothers me the most is that all the rioting and property destruction and overheated chanting really has the feeling of playtime. It is a moment when the bored youth can provoke the police into a little tear-gassing and clubbing and then bemoan the existence of police brutality (In the other direction, this is known as entrapment). Where they can don black clothes and masks (either side) and search out some gratuitous violence in a country that otherwise decries such activities as basically un-Swedish--more American really. My big problem with the game, however, is that real stones and bottles and torches fly through the air. These very often fly through the air around civilians and any of these missiles could cause death or serious injury. And no one seems to care about that.

In most of my interactions with Swedes they profess horror for violence, for capital punishment and for gun ownership. They complain about their weather and the lack of general excitement but mostly they seem content with their wonderland of clean water and good hospitals and timely trains. They never condemn stones thrown and dropped on Nazis though they would never say they ought to be killed (unless that slips out when they get drunk enough) and they never seem to question these same missiles thrown at working cops or passers by. Perhaps in their wonderland they don't know that rocks can kill. And what, one might ask, is the fun in having socialism without ever having a taste of the barricades, however pointless, irresponsible and irrelevant they might be.


Blogger Lena said...

This is a subject where we don't agree, and our points of view are maybe even further from each other than first obvious.

In one way the entry provokes me: I don't see it as playtime. And all the hundreds of people there that I can identify with are there precisely because this is not a game. Because Germany is a four hour boat ride away, and we tried ignoring nazis once, in the thirties, and it didn't work.

You also touch an argument often used - that protesting wildly against the nazis only make them stronger. I don't by that argument for many reasons.
First of all being a nazi is about being against. If they don't get resistance they make sure to find it, because that's what nurtures them. In Sweden they do that by assaulting gay people, burning down refugee houses or killing immigrants in small villages. They don't need the resistance in demonstrations, even if they appreciate it.

The demonstrations also is much less for the nazis, than for each other and the public. For each other maybe sounds weird and egocentric, but I do think that it is important. That the individuals that are against nazism and prepared to take a stand against fascism see that they are not alone. The day in the future when it's even more important and perhaps riskful to take a stand, that is what will save us - that we know that others too are prepared to take the heat.

All this said, maybe I should point out to readers that don't know me that I never threw a stone in a demonstration, as 98 percent of the people there. I am afraid of violence - scared to hurt and to be hurt. But I also don't believe in that way of fighting in Sweden today. I hope that the day I find it necessary and constructive, I will dare to use force to protect what I believ in.

Now it's time to go to work, and I will continue commenting later. In later entries - on the diversity of Swedish politics and the history of caring.

1:58 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

I don't agree that this violence is accepted in the Swedish society. It is not.

It is quite clear when you talk to people or read the newspapers that most people react strongly against the violence. And there lies a big problem according to me: that those two percent of the people protesting against the nazis give all of the protesters a bad reputation. Because it is what happens. And it benefits the nazis of course. More focus is put on the violence than the horrible fact that nazis march the streets of Lund.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Andrew Tonn said...

I don't think violence in general is--generally--accepted in Sweden but I also think there is an extreme reluctance to criticize any group on the left even if that group is only 2%, even if that group uses their anti-fascist slant to justify thuggery, even if that violence extends beyond the fascists and injures passersby, peaceful protesters and destroys private property.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Lena said...

Don't jugde the Swedes by what you hear from me. I'm not that representative...

1:11 PM  
Blogger Lena said...

I do think that one thing that makes it harder for Andrew to understand what he sees (not only the stone-throwing, but in general the nazis on the streets and the massive protests meeting them, where academic scholars walk next to masked anarchists and young Al Gore-lovers hop around them dressed in flowers) is the basic diffrerences between American and Swedish politics.

In Sweden we have historically always had a very high voting rate in any election. Most people belong to a union, and many are active.
Although the Social Democrats have usually been in charge, we have seven parties in the Parliament, ranging from The Left Party, over Social Democrats and Liberals to Conservatives. In a few local governments you also find the Socialist Party to the left of the Left, and the Swedish Democrats, or even National Democrats (closing in on brown shirts) to the right of the Conservatives.

Swedes are used to not agreeing with the person next to them. And we are used to that the other person might not be from "the other side" but from the same half of the scale and still you REALLY don't agree.

Walking alongside stone throwers then does not meen that you accept the throwing of stones, but that you accept the fact that in a diverse political landscape, you will quite often struggle in individual questions alongside people who handle the struggle very differently from the way you do. And you have to fight them on that. But not whilst fighting towards your common goal.

The debate about weather to throw stones at Nazis or not is very much alive between anarchists-socialists-social democrats-green movementers-liberals. But not on the street while demonstrating.

3:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well This occured prior to the Bush shoe thorwing incident, but...with that said it goes to show people will do (throw) things to make their points which ever side they happen to be on. Just remember to duck :)

11:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well This occured prior to the Bush shoe thorwing incident, but...with that said it goes to show people will do (throw) things to make their points which ever side they hapen to be on. Just remember to duck :)

11:30 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I'm proud of the President for not getting hit in the noggin!

7:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would have been cool if he would have caught it and thrown it back (both actually) and hit him.

7:28 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home