In the evening of July 11, 2014, the three girls in the music group Abalone Dots left the stage at the Västervik festival pleased and happy after a successful concert before an enthusiastic audience and proud to have performed their own newly written song, Everything’s for Sale. In the backstage bar, they are quickly knocked off their perch. Moderate Party municipal commissioner in Västervik municipality, Harald Hjalmarsson, is already there with a group of festival sponsors. They are neither pleased nor happy. Rather, they are damn angry! How dare Abalone Dots perform a song such as Everything’s for Sale, presented by the singer Rebecka Hjukström with the words: “The next song is about what I believe happens to society when replacing solidarity with greed and, for example, begin to sell off our common assets. It is something that I think you can see in our country right now and also in this municipality. I hope there will be a change this fall.” Firstly, the gentlemen mean, music and politics do not belong together. Secondly, she has “no damn right to stand on that stage and say such things”, she also risks “scaring off the financiers of the festival” they threaten. Municipality chairman with wife finally announces that they will “throw away their Abalone Dots records” when they get home.
You could laugh at this and find it to be a bit burlesque if it had been an isolated example. But as the catastrophic economic and political implications of neoliberal politics have become increasingly clear – increased class divisions, dismantled welfare, weakened democracy, tax money to tax havens, growing right-wing extremism, and a European unemployment rate of 25 million now – this type of attacks, harassments and threats toward critical voices have become more and more common and more and more crude.
In Dagens Nyheter, an upset Jens Liljestrand calls Nike Markelius’s story about her Fas-3 experiences “societal contempt” and tells the poet Johan Jönsson to “take your fucking class hate and shove it up your ass”.
In anger, Moderate politician Gunnar Axén stops paying his TV license after hearing the poet Athena Farrokhzad’s summer radio program where she talks about racism, class issues and political violence.
Other cultural workers who criticize the neoliberal project are routinely labelled as terrorist huggers, dictatorship supporters, anti-Semites or mass murderer sympathizers, or the left and the extreme right are portrayed as cut from the same cloth and equally bad.
One problem for the neo-liberals is that the left who they so roughly and loudly attack is also the left who most strongly opposes the growing right-wing extremism. In Expressen, Britta Svensson expressed the dilemma very clearly when, at the demonstration in Kärrtorp, she “was not at all, as I thought, on an anti-Nazi demonstration, but at a left-wing meeting with extreme elements”. You want to be an anti-Nazi but not together with the left. You want to have your cake and eat it. What you risk instead is getting rid of the desirable along with the unwanted.
When the artist Timbuktu in the Swedish parliament is awarded the Five to twelve-movements prize for anti-racism, the Moderate Party President Per Westerberg leaves the Chamber. He perceives the award ceremony as “controversial”.
When Kartellen in the song Black pigeons & withered lilies wants to “knock Jimmie black and blue, hoist him in a flagpole” liberal writers choose to ignore the humorous reference to Emil in Lönneberga and instead deprecate the alleged call for violence against Jimmie Åkesson.
But the clearest example is probably the story of the “auntie with the handbag”, Susanna Arwin’s statue based on Hans Runesson’s classic picture from Växjö in 1985, where a woman knocks her handbag in the head of a Nazi skinhead. The picture quickly becomes a symbol of bravery and moral courage. The Board of Culture in Växjö, with a Social Democratic chairman, considered buying the statue. After the 2014 elections, the bourgeois parties gain a majority in Växjö’s Board of Culture. The bourgeois also wants to stand up against the violence. However, not against the Nazi violence but against the so-called statue violence. It’s the auntie’s violence they turn against! The Board of Culture’s Center Party chairman Eva Johansson makes a fool of herself and her followers by rejecting the statue on the grounds that the auntie should have spoken to the Nazi instead. I would like to say that this is to choose one’s windmills with care. Or to put it more clearly: In the choice between an anti-Nazi demonstrator and a Nazi, Eva Johansson chooses to favour the Nazi. And she’s not alone. After Fredrik Reinfeldt’s backdown, more and more members of the bribed middle class, who for 500 SEK a month have legitimized the neoliberal policy, tempted to try to reach an agreement with the xenophobic extreme right in the Sweden Democrats. We have seen this before when the European bourgeoisie in the 1930s shunned the left and flirted with the extreme right. It ended badly. Kleiner Man – was nun? as Hans Fallada’s book is called.
Most amazing, after all, is when the library in the bourgeois-governed Helsingborg refuses to let Pierre Schori, e.g. Cabinet Secretary, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Member of the European Parliament and Sweden’s Ambassador to the UN, talk about his autobiography. His visit is considered a “politically charged question”. “I am based on the guidelines that exist”, says the library’s director, Catharina Isberg. And I can’t help but think that this thing with “just obeying orders” we’ve also heard before.
Of course, to name an award the Lenin Award is as brilliant when it comes to PR as it is to name a suite of novels My Struggle. But Gunnar Hökmark’s or Göteborgs-Posten’s outrage is not about Lenin, but about that they too want to silence the critics of neo-liberalism.
If you want to assume a somewhat longer historical perspective on the issue, you are forced to ask yourself if the bourgeoisie who two hundred years ago was the standard-bearers of freedom of speech is now about to become the grave-diggers of freedom of speech.
I am happy, proud, and grateful to have been elected to this assembly that does not allow itself to be intimidated, threatened, or bribed to silence.
And thanks for the money!