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Kalle Holmqvist’s speech to Aleksej Sachnin

2022-12-05

Carl-Göran Ekerwald’s acceptance speech

2022-12-05

Nina Björk’s speech to Carl-Göran Ekerwald

2022-12-05

Aleksej Sachnin’s acceptance speech

2022-12-05

Extra Lenin Award to victims of war

2022-12-05

One of Lenin’s greatest and most decisive historical contributions was his uncompromising opposition to Russia’s continued participation in the First World War, which he saw as an imperialist war of redistribution in which soldiers and war victims had to pay for the masters’ rival struggle for territories, markets, and world domination. In a similar way, wars are waged today between great powers without regard to the interests of the people. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has been preceded by vicious attacks against not only Lenin’s peace policy in general, but in the Putin worldview, Lenin has been repeatedly attacked in particular for his equally uncompromising support for the Ukrainian nation, culture, and language. At the same time, an even bigger and more extensive war- and refugee disaster is going on in Yemen, a war that could be ended at any time if the USA, NATO, and the Western countries had seriously demanded this. These wars show the total hypocrisy and lack of interest in the suffering of the peoples of both the US and Russia and make it especially important this year to oppose these wars in every way and support their many victims.

The 2022 award ceremony

2022-12-05

Photo: Olle Asp

Before the award ceremony began, the usual mingling took place in the foyer of the theatre. An exuberant Carl-Göran Ekerwald made his entrance well in advance of the award ceremony, and the 98-year-old author was no less happy when he got to see for the first time his new collection of poems, Kallhamrat, which had just come from the printing house. The newly published book and about ten other titles were for sale for the benefit of the Jan Myrdal Society and Carl-Göran happily signed books for the many book buyers.

After a musical intro in the form of an instrumental potpourri, Lasse Diding started this year’s award ceremony. In his introductory speech, Lasse described the award ceremony as an act of resistance in bad times with rampant climate threats, a government run by Sweden Democrats and nuclear weapons threats. To make a mark against an unequal distribution of attention regarding wars and conflicts in the world, an extra Lenin Award of 50,000 SEK was awarded this year, which is distributed equally between the war victims in Ukraine and Yemen. (Read more about it here.)

Aleksej Sachnin. Photo: Olle Asp

Lasse further talked about the decision to let the awards regain Jan Myrdal’s name (read more about it here) and also mentioned that the grand book about the Jan Myrdal library is now finally, after years of waiting, soon to be in print. Among many others, this year’s Lenin Award laureate Carl-Göran Ekerwald has contributed a chapter to the book.

As usual, the award ceremony then began with Jan Myrdal’s small prize – the Robespierre Prize, whose prize money had been raised to 25,000 SEK from this year’s prize onwards. Lasse Diding gave a background to this year’s laureate, Aleksej Sachnin, and talked about how the announcement of this year’s prize winner was delayed until the last minute since Aleksej fled Russia in the autumn and has now sought asylum in France. After Lasse had read out the justification, it was time for the 2021 Robespierre Prize laureate Kalle Holmqvist’s speech, in which he put the choice of this year’s prize winner in a historical perspective. Unfortunately, Holmqvist could not be there at Varberg Theatre, but a pre-recorded video of his speech was played.

In his acceptance speech, Aleksej Sachnin described, among other things, the flight a few weeks earlier out of Russia to Kazakhstan and how the usually deserted road across the steppe was now filled with a several kilometres long queue of cars. In the cars sat Moscow’s and Saint Petersburg’s fleeing well-to-do middle class, and Aleksey talked about the strong antagonism that exist today between this group and the poor Russians who do not have the same possibility to leave the country.

Before it was time to move on to Jan Myrdal’s big prize – the Lenin Award, there was a musical interlude. The Lenin Award’s own bandleader Bosse Stenholm was this year joined by Stefan Abelsson, Stefan Engberg, Evangelos Vlavianos, Georgios Anastasiadis and guest artist Maria Stellas. The theme of the day was Greek music and in particular the resistance man Mikis Theodorakis, who was actually awarded the Soviet Lenin Prize in 1983.

Lasse Diding and Carl-Göran Ekerwald. Photo: Olle Asp

Lasse Diding began the awarding of Jan Myrdal’s big prize – the Lenin Award by pointing out that it was the first and probably the only time the award goes to a laureate who lived at the same time as Lenin and then gave a background on Carl-Göran Ekerwald’s long life and voluminous authorship. Lasse also described his own first meeting with Carl-Göran, which took place in 2012 when Lasse sought out the then 88-year-old favorite author to shake his hand before it was too late. At this meeting, Carl-Göran described his many future projects and Lasse thought it sounded a bit too ambitious, as statistics show that 90-year-old authors publish, on average, zero additional works during the rest of their lives. But Carl-Göran defies the statistics and from the deep kleptomaniac pockets of the corduroy blazer, Lasse now on stage picked out one by one the more than 10 books Ekerwald has written since the meeting in 2012.

Lasse then read out the justification, which he also likened to a declaration of love to Carl-Göran Ekerwald, before it was time for last year’s Lenin Award laureate Nina Björk to give a speech. In her speech, Björk highlighted, among other things, Ekerwald’s blood-filled humanism and made the analysis that a fundamental question in his writing could be “How should we live?”

Lasse Diding brought out a comfortable armchair on stage when it was time for Carl-Göran Ekerwald to speak. As a thank you for the Lenin Award, Carl-Göran had written the essay “The holy feeling of revolt” and it formed the framework of his magnificent acceptance speech before a devout audience at the theatre.

The award ceremony ended as usual with all the present laureates gathering on stage for a sing-along in the Internationale. The day’s program continued with a member meeting for the Jan Myrdal Society at the theatre before it was time for the evening’s festivities at Hotell Gästis. After dinner and cake, there was more live music by Maria Stellas and the band, who continued and deepened the Greek theme. There was a sing-along as well as dancing and the party lasted into the wee hours.

See the award ceremony in its entirety here:

Nina Björk’s speech to Carl-Göran Ekerwald

Carl-Göran Ekerwald’s acceptance speech

Kalle Holmqvist’s speech to Aleksej Sachnin

Aleksej Sachnin’s acceptance speech

Extra Lenin Award to victims of war

David Ritschard’s speech to Kalle Holmqvist

2022-02-06

Daria Bogdanska’s speech to David Ritschard

2022-02-06

Göran Therborn’s speech to Kajsa Ekis Ekman

2022-02-06

Speech to the 2020 Lenin Award laureate, Kajsa Ekis Ekman

This is the twelfth time the prize has been awarded. It has rewarded socially and culturally critical efforts in a wide range of fields of activity, film, music, science, theatre, and literature. But the award has so far been a memorial to a generation of critics and insurgents, the “’68 generation”. They were all defined by the Vietnam War and anti-imperialism, and they all – except the baby Mikael Nyberg, born in 1953 and subsequently the executioner of late capitalist working life, – had their critical breakthrough in the 1960s-1970s. Nine of the first eleven laureates fit that description.

The very first laureate, the historian of religion and expert on Islam Mattias Gardell (born in 1959), was a bit odd. While the rest of us fought against imperialism and its accomplices, Mattias wrestled with God, according to his own account. By all accounts, he was more successful than the rest of us. It was a well-deserved choice, continuing the tradition of the Soviet Lenin Peace Prize, out of respect for cultural and social engagement and creation outside Marxist-Leninist party lines.

“’68”, in symbolic quotes for a decade (at least), was a creative period of transition, so it is natural that the subsequent awards were directed to that generation. After 1980, the world went downhill, finance capital took power, and social divides widened again. The political dreams of the left were crushed, while cultural achievements were partly preserved, sex and gender relations, anti-racism. But around 2000, neoliberal post-1980 capitalism began to crash, in East Asia 1997-98, in Latin America in the early 2000s, in the United States and Europe in 2008. With the stepchildren of failed neoliberalism, a new, international left-wing generation grew up.

In sluggish Sweden, its growth so far has not had the same breaking power as in England or the United States with the large youthful support for radical movements and anti-systemic politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

But it exists here, and today we celebrate the new left-wing generation’s foremost intellectual representative, Kajsa Ekis Ekman. Kajsa has a combination of empirical overview and intellectual sharpness and depth that I think is unique in Sweden today. The only comparisons I can think of are the slightly older international sisters Naomi Klein and Arundhati Roy. Internationally, one could call the new generation the Jacobin generation, after the wise and challenging radical American left-wing magazine Jacobin. As a former Robespierre prize recipient, Kajsa is a highly qualified representative.

With a quote from Peps Persson, Kajsa herself has called it the “the deceived generation”: “We thought we had all the opportunities… but… we did not get any first-hand contracts and we did not get any permanent jobs. The years go by, and we continue to be loose. Half of all people in Sweden between the ages of 20-27 do not have their own home and half of all employees under the age of 26 have a fixed-term job.” It is the generation of neoliberal exclusion, the one that reintroduced socialism into the political debate in Spain, Greece, England, and the United States.

Kajsa’s most common writing form is the catchy article, also the building block in her books. The articles can be about most things in life and society. Many are fortunately collected in a large volume, Texts 1998-2015, grouped by different genres; debate, essay, literary criticism, economics, foreign affairs, portraits, activism and youthful sins. Such is good advice for stealing from the capital, together with big sister warnings about the risks.

She has also written three brilliant, acclaimed and translated books, Being and Being Bought (2010), Stolen Spring (2013) and the prize posthumous On the Existence of Gender from 2021. All are driven by a fiery personal commitment turned into exhaustive and in-depth critical studies.

Being and Being Bought is Ekis’ examination for the master. A brilliant Marxian – more than Marxist in the traditional sense – analysis of the commodification and reification of the female gender during late capitalism in far-reaching and penetrating studies of the basically similar social ecosystems of sex trafficking and uterus trade, surrogacy. The contemporary sex and uterus industry is analysed from many different points of view on both actual conditions and ideological draperies, and with different methods, with an almost totalitarian reading of all relevant material and with revealing key interviews in several countries. “Our goal is to teach them to become better prostitutes”, said a representative of an EU-funded organization in Amsterdam. The surveys are delivered with a sharp thoroughness that required 456 footnotes, to research reports, testimonies, slimy pimps and to apologetic sayings from both philosophical scatterbrains and slick PR types, as well as to an intellectual framework from Aeschylus’ Oresteia to Marx’ Paris Manuscripts and Sartre’s L’Être et le Néant.

Stolen Spring is a hard-hitting and unbeatable, well-woven combination of versatile report, multicultural diary, national economical information (about the financial crisis) and accurate, devastating critique of the northern European, including right-wing Swedish, myth of the “lazy” and overpaid Greeks.

In the first sentences of the preface, the reader gets the situation in Greece summarized in a flash: “Imagine that one day your salary will stop coming. The months go by. The boss says keep working or you will be fired. At the same time, imagine that everyone you know gets their wages halved or becomes unemployed. That public broadcasting is shut down overnight and that the private radio stations have replaced the employees with a playlist. That DN, SvD, Sydsvenskan and Aftonbladet go bankrupt within six months. That the archipelago is sold to speculators. That the health care is cut down so much that you are encouraged to bring syringes and bandages to the hospital yourself. That one day you will see your friend’s grandmother lying outside the supermarket.”

With its wingspan from domestic and international media coverage and penetrating medical journalism to history of ideas and dialectical materialism and with its 625 footnotes, On the Existence of Gender is a typical, masterful Ekis Ekman work. It dissects the so-called trans issue, a mined field of debate on sex change and the importance of gender, from above all two sides. One is the rapidly emerging market for children’s gender reassignment, mainly among girls just before or just at the beginning of puberty. It is a market that for its profitability is very dependent on taxpayers paying, and Kajsa brings to light the postmodernist ecosystem that has developed, internationally and in Sweden, similar to what she found around prostitution and surrogacy: an ecosystem of very small, articulated personal interest groups, healthcare professionals, idealists, liberal ideologues, specialized media sites, for-profit companies and government money.

Like the target women in Being and Being Bought, the gender insecure young girls, often with other mental problems, are vulnerable and exposed. They are tempted to block their puberty and then move on to hormone treatment and operations, with the risk of severe side effects to an unexplored extent, e.g. sterility. Like prostitution and surrogacy, gender reassignment is presented as increased freedom of choice for children, who should not be hindered by parents’ fears.

The ideological basis for this activity is a new definition of gender, which has gained official status in several countries: a person’s gender is what the person wants it to be. If you feel insecure or uncomfortable with the gender you were born in, you can and should change gender, as early as possible. This is where the market for gender reassignment of children comes from. But freedom of choice of gender also provides another opportunity, more exploited after puberty and by men. You can simply say that from now on I am a woman. Gender is in the head and not in the genitals. That right is now sanctioned in several countries.

What this trans possibility includes is Kajsa’s second perspective. She points to problems with female spaces opened to male trans women, such as locker rooms, women’s classes in elite sports, women’s prisons, and above all to how the logical consequence of gender idealism makes the oppression and discrimination of women invisible and impossible to talk about. The material existence of sex is dissolved. “Avoid the word woman”, it says in the Swedish Care Guide “to describe that bodies look in certain ways.” The book’s critical sharpness ends in a minor chord from a feminist nightmare: “When we try to fight for our rights, we notice that our group no longer exists. The number you have dialled has expired.”

As a reporter, Kajsa has her own distinctive style. She is fearless and both participatory and observant. In Barcelona, she lives in a house where prostitutes live. In Caracas, she lives with a Chavista militant in an “abandoned warehouse occupied by poor people and being converted into housing”. She takes part in the climate demonstrations in Copenhagen and on Ship to Gaza, where a Mossad officer informs her that the Israeli police know which school her son goes to. “Are you not worried that something will happen to him when you are away?”

She flows into all environments, in Athens she has friends along the entire social ladder, from the precariat to the upper class. Both in Athens and in 2019 in Caracas, she interviews businessmen and right-wing politicians as well as left-wing activists. Commitment and involvement are regularly joined with gazes far away and deep into documentary sources.

She is a writer with a linguistic ear, who, for example, unravels the concepts of the personal, the private and their relation to politics, and of the new confusing turns between sex and gender, and the conceptual shifts that unite “homophobic traditionalists and ultraliberal progressive postmodernists”.

The fervent commitment that drives Kajsa’s writing is feminist and humanistic. “What worries me,” she writes of surrogacy, “is the commodification of the human, woman and child.” “Isn’t that the very principle of feminism itself – that women should not be tools for others…?” As she is very aware, it is also the basic principle of Marxist humanism and anti-capitalism. That is why she is on the left in a broad and belligerent sense without joining any of the left’s different political variants.

For me, it is an honour and a great joy to, as perhaps the last laureate of the ’68 generation, be involved in presenting the Lenin Award to a brilliant social and cultural critic from a new international generation, of the rebellious stepchildren of neoliberalism. A critic who is always broadly and deeply prepared, with an analytical hawk eye, and a razor in the computer. Therefore, as in Aftonbladet’s left-wing series a couple of years ago, she can see capitalism as a beard.

Kalle Holmqvist’s acceptance speech

2022-02-06

Thanks a lot! It’s always fun when history is noticed. It does not always get noticed. The culture pages are often about, for example, what was on Twitter the other day or something like that. But it can be useful to have a slightly longer perspective sometimes.

To me, Swedish history is a man named Dick. It is very possible that Dick was not his real name, but that was what he was called. Dick was a slave in the Swedish colony of Saint-Barthélemy in the early 1800s. We really only know one thing about him and that is that he tried to escape, or rather – he managed to escape. It says in a notice in the local newspaper. The notice is included in a book called Slave Trade and Slavery Under the Swedish Flag, by Holger Weiss.

There have always been people who resist. When I was writing the War of the Gods, which is a children’s book about slaves in the Viking Age, I did not want to write about slaves that you feel pity for. You could indeed fell pity for the slaves, but I wanted to write about slaves who escape. It’s really one of the few things we truly know about the slaves in the Viking Age – that they escaped sometimes. Among other places, this can be seen in old legal texts.

There have always been people who have accepted to be oppressed. But there have also always been people who refuse. There are those who immediately when they have got the chain around their feet start planning for how they will be able to escape and one day be free. It is those people who have built this country.

As a matter of principle, I have no idols or role models. But there are three people who have meant a lot for my writing:

One is Jan Myrdal. Sometimes people get upset when you mention Jan Myrdal. Maybe not right here, but in other contexts, and then you get the question what you think about what Myrdal has said about different things. It’s not something I reflect on. Jan Myrdal must take responsibility for what he wrote, I only take responsibility for what I write myself. But I stand for the fact that Jan Myrdal has been of great importance. His books were my high school and my university. Above all, the collection volumes Skriftställning 1–19. When he wrote things, whether he was right or wrong, I personally think he was right many times and wrong many times, it was always properly accounted for, so you could form your own opinion. You should investigate the matter and go to the sources. It taught me not to trust authorities, to investigate things myself and not to believe everything people say. And to not believe everything Jan Myrdal says either.

When it comes to language, there is no one who has meant as much as Sven Wernström. Sven Wernström was initially a typographer and the typographers of the time worked hard to proofread and edit the journalists’ texts. This meant that he had a very straightforward, simple, and correct language.

Another author who has influenced me a lot, not least my children’s books, is Maria Sandel, who wrote books in the early 20th century. Especially about working women in the big cities. She wrote about how difficult it was for them, but also about what they did to have a more dignified life in the midst of all the misery. She wrote about people who help their neighbours, who put potted plants in the window – almost all good people in her books have potted plants, they read books instead of drinking and go to union meetings.

So, I have no idols, but if I were to mention any source of inspiration for what I am doing, it is partly the slaves who tried to escape, but also the anti-imperialist movement of the 1970s, which changed Sweden’s foreign policy through grassroot organization. And last but not least, the Swedish organized working class, the labour movement and the other popular movements. I have learned a lot by being a part of it, among other things by having been union active in Kommunal.

The bourgeoisie usually describes the Swedish working class as stupid and undiversified. That is absolutely not true, everyone who has been out in the workplaces knows that. The Swedish working class is much more multifaceted than the editorial writers are, or for that matter than what the cultural writers are. The working class are Sami, Jews, gays, dikes, and transgender people. They are different on the surface but are united by common interests. Everything we have, all rights, including the right to write what we want in the newspapers without the police coming, we have got it because these people have organized and fought together.

I like to write novels sometimes, especially for children. But there are some things that are not as suitable for fiction. The witch trials are one such thing, it really happened but simply seems too unrealistic. The same is true with the heroes of history.

I do not think anyone would have taken me seriously if I had written a novel about two men, two workers in the late 19th century who had a relationship with each other and stood for it and who seem to have been quite accepted by their neighbours and their families. No one would have believed it. But it has really happened, so it was possible to write the documentary book Frans and Lars about them.

Same with the grey coats. It was a religious revival movement in the 1730s on Södermalm in Stockholm. They were people who sat at home and studied and realized that the priests of the state church were wrong. They stood up in the church and told the priests. This has also happened for real and the book The Grey Coats is based on real protocols.

I’m glad if you like my books, but the only thing I’ve tried to do is describe reality as it is, the working people as it is, and history as it is. Thanks!

Kalle Holmqvist’s acceptance speech

2022-02-06

Thanks a lot! It’s always fun when history is noticed. It does not always get noticed. The culture pages are often about, for example, what was on Twitter the other day or something like that. But it can be useful to have a slightly longer perspective sometimes.

To me, Swedish history is a man named Dick. It is very possible that Dick was not his real name, but that was what he was called. Dick was a slave in the Swedish colony of Saint-Barthélemy in the early 1800s. We really only know one thing about him and that is that he tried to escape, or rather – he managed to escape. It says in a notice in the local newspaper. The notice is included in a book called Slave Trade and Slavery Under the Swedish Flag, by Holger Weiss.

There have always been people who resist. When I was writing the War of the Gods, which is a children’s book about slaves in the Viking Age, I did not want to write about slaves that you feel pity for. You could indeed fell pity for the slaves, but I wanted to write about slaves who escape. It’s really one of the few things we truly know about the slaves in the Viking Age – that they escaped sometimes. Among other places, this can be seen in old legal texts.

There have always been people who have accepted to be oppressed. But there have also always been people who refuse. There are those who immediately when they have got the chain around their feet start planning for how they will be able to escape and one day be free. It is those people who have built this country.

As a matter of principle, I have no idols or role models. But there are three people who have meant a lot for my writing:

One is Jan Myrdal. Sometimes people get upset when you mention Jan Myrdal. Maybe not right here, but in other contexts, and then you get the question what you think about what Myrdal has said about different things. It’s not something I reflect on. Jan Myrdal must take responsibility for what he wrote, I only take responsibility for what I write myself. But I stand for the fact that Jan Myrdal has been of great importance. His books were my high school and my university. Above all, the collection volumes Skriftställning 1–19. When he wrote things, whether he was right or wrong, I personally think he was right many times and wrong many times, it was always properly accounted for, so you could form your own opinion. You should investigate the matter and go to the sources. It taught me not to trust authorities, to investigate things myself and not to believe everything people say. And to not believe everything Jan Myrdal says either.

When it comes to language, there is no one who has meant as much as Sven Wernström. Sven Wernström was initially a typographer and the typographers of the time worked hard to proofread and edit the journalists’ texts. This meant that he had a very straightforward, simple, and correct language.

Another author who has influenced me a lot, not least my children’s books, is Maria Sandel, who wrote books in the early 20th century. Especially about working women in the big cities. She wrote about how difficult it was for them, but also about what they did to have a more dignified life in the midst of all the misery. She wrote about people who help their neighbours, who put potted plants in the window – almost all good people in her books have potted plants, they read books instead of drinking and go to union meetings.

So, I have no idols, but if I were to mention any source of inspiration for what I am doing, it is partly the slaves who tried to escape, but also the anti-imperialist movement of the 1970s, which changed Sweden’s foreign policy through grassroot organization. And last but not least, the Swedish organized working class, the labour movement and the other popular movements. I have learned a lot by being a part of it, among other things by having been union active in Kommunal.

The bourgeoisie usually describes the Swedish working class as stupid and undiversified. That is absolutely not true, everyone who has been out in the workplaces knows that. The Swedish working class is much more multifaceted than the editorial writers are, or for that matter than what the cultural writers are. The working class are Sami, Jews, gays, dikes, and transgender people. They are different on the surface but are united by common interests. Everything we have, all rights, including the right to write what we want in the newspapers without the police coming, we have got it because these people have organized and fought together.

I like to write novels sometimes, especially for children. But there are some things that are not as suitable for fiction. The witch trials are one such thing, it really happened but simply seems too unrealistic. The same is true with the heroes of history.

I do not think anyone would have taken me seriously if I had written a novel about two men, two workers in the late 19th century who had a relationship with each other and stood for it and who seem to have been quite accepted by their neighbours and their families. No one would have believed it. But it has really happened, so it was possible to write the documentary book Frans and Lars about them.

Same with the grey coats. It was a religious revival movement in the 1730s on Södermalm in Stockholm. They were people who sat at home and studied and realized that the priests of the state church were wrong. They stood up in the church and told the priests. This has also happened for real and the book The Grey Coats is based on real protocols.

I’m glad if you like my books, but the only thing I’ve tried to do is describe reality as it is, the working people as it is, and history as it is. Thanks!