• Sweden edition
Expert faces threats for 'apartheid bus' comment

Expert faces threats for 'apartheid bus' comment

Published: 03 Apr 2013 17:36 GMT+02:00
Updated: 03 Apr 2013 17:36 GMT+02:00

Mikael Hjerm, a sociology professor at Umeå University and an expert on multiculturalism, spoke to The Local in late March about a bus driver accused of separating "Swedish" and "non-Swedish" passengers during a trip in late December.

He explained that despite the shocking incident, prejudice and xenophobia in Sweden were actually on the decline.

One of Hjerm's statements, however, prompted a heated reaction from far-right, anti-immigration websites in Sweden.

"The most prejudiced group is the elderly, who grew up in a different time," Hjerm told The Local at the time.

"To put it very bluntly, when they die things get better."

The colourful formulation was meant to illustrate that societal attitudes toward racism and other issues often require generational shifts to change.

His comments were republished by the anti-immigrant and Sweden Democrat-associated website Avpixlat (literally, "depixelated", but also a Swedish colloquialism meaning to "reveal" or "unmask").

Users paraphrased the professor, stating that he wanted to "kill off" the elderly in Sweden in order to make room for more immigrants. Hjerm's contact details were also published on the site, with readers encouraged to get in contact with him. The page has since been taken down.

Since then, Hjerm has received death threats through calls, texts, and emails. He eventually appeared on Swedish television to apologize for the statement.

While the meaning of the statement is obvious in context, writers and commentors on far-right websites construed the statement to imply that Hjerm was advocating harm against elderly Swedes.

"It's saddening to see that people with blatantly racist attitudes have managed to lift the quote completely out of context and use it to further their own agenda," said David Landes, editor of The Local.

"That Professor Hjerm should be faced with such backlash and feel compelled to apologize is a real shame," he added.

However, it wasn't just the anti-immigrant site that fanned the flames. Hjerm had also been contacted by newspaper Västerbottens-Kuriren (VK) at the weekend and probed for comment.

"The VK newspaper simply played into the hands of this racist society," Hjerm told The Local on Wednesday.

The problem, according to Hjerm, is that just like Avpixlat, VK also misquoted the professor's words and took his statement out of context:

"In the piece, he concluded that older people are more prejudiced than younger people because they grew up in another time when there was a bigger acceptance of apartheid or racial laws in the US," the paper wrote.

"Mikael Hjerm's underlying reasoning wasn't in the article, just the statement: 'To put it very bluntly, when they die things get better'."

The quote, which originally appeared in The Local, had also been cut in half by the VK reporter.

Hjerm was unimpressed with the newspaper's interpretation.

"I had to get on the phone to them to fix their first translation, but even the edited version now online still takes my words out of context," Hjerm told The Local.

"There's much more to the story than just that one line. It's symbolic, in a way, that the writers there made the same slip that caused the problem in the first place."

The professor pointed to a recent piece in The New York Times about societal attitudes toward homosexuality, and how generational turnover is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the shift.

"As a rule of thumb, perhaps about half of the increase in support for same sex-marriage is attributable to generational turnover, while the other half is because of the net change in opinion among Americans who have remained in the electorate," the article reads.

"Societal changes in attitude take time. Over a long period of time, tolerance increases in society, for example, while prejudice and other similar attitudes decrease," Hjerm said of The New York Times article.

"The cause for this is of course very complex but part of the explanation is related to generational turnover. One of the reasons for the generational turnover effect is that the level of education has increased, for example."

When the net hatred debate took off in February after an in-depth investigation by journalism television programme Uppdrag Granskning, worried observers said threats were a direct menace to democracy. Swedes fearing retaliation, fearing for their lives or their families' safety may self-censor, observers noted.

Oliver Gee

Follow Oliver on Twitter here

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Listeria fears prompt meat recall in Sweden
File photo: Andreas Hagerman/Flickr

Listeria fears prompt meat recall in Sweden

After finding traces of listeria in ham sold in Sweden, food companies decided on Friday to recall several Danish cold cuts. READ  

Sweden Floods
More rain expected as floods hit day four
Photo: Anders Kjellberg/TT

More rain expected as floods hit day four

UPDATED: Sweden's floods showed no signs of abating over Thursday night, with highways closed, emergency teams working overtime, and more rain on the way. READ  

Ikea opens first store in the Balkans
An Ikea city centre store in Hamburg. Photo: TT

Ikea opens first store in the Balkans

Swedish furniture giant Ikea has opened its first store in the former Yugoslavia, near Croatia's capital Zagreb. The move marks the company's first step in an expansion to the Balkans market. READ  

Elections 2014
'Sweden Democrats hold the key to elections'
Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

'Sweden Democrats hold the key to elections'

With national elections around the corner, political scientist Stig-Björn Ljunggren says there's a hive of activity behind the scenes, and that the right-wing nationalist party could end up being the key player. READ  

Swedish artist jailed for 'race hate' pictures
Police arrested Dan Park (pictured) and confiscated his art works at an exhibition opening on July 5th. Photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

Swedish artist jailed for 'race hate' pictures

A Malmö court has sentenced Swedish street artist Dan Park to six months in jail for incitement to racial agitation and defamation. READ  

Elections 2014
Sweden elections: How do they work?
Casting a vote. Photo: Shutterstock

Sweden elections: How do they work?

National, regional, and local elections are taking place in Sweden on September 14th. Whether you're a first-time voter or a fresh armchair observer, The Local's beginners' guide will answer the key questions you were too afraid to ask. READ  

Sweden orders textbook on Roma discrimination
A Romani language class in Malmö. Photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

Sweden orders textbook on Roma discrimination

The Swedish government has asked a new commission to create school materials based on a white paper documenting Swedish discrimination of Roma. READ  

Day-care rapist
Day-care rape suspect 'was mentally ill'
Photo: TT

Day-care rape suspect 'was mentally ill'

Social services have ruled that a day-care intern charged with molesting 14 children in southern Sweden was "seriously mentally disturbed". READ  

What's On in Sweden

What's On in Sweden

Autumn has arrived in Sweden, which means grey skies are approaching. But summer goes out with a skip, hop, and a bang - the annual Color Run is taking place in Stockholm this weekend. READ  

Swedes celebrate first day of smelly fish season
Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

Swedes celebrate first day of smelly fish season

On the third Thursday of each August, Swedes celebrate the start of the fermented herring season. The Local finds out more about the worst-smelling food on earth, and collects some of the best reaction videos. READ  

People-watching August 20th
Did you know the Bronx in NYC was named after a Swede?
"Iraq reminds me of the Yugoslav wars. It's the same story."
Swedes slam Danes for 'racist' art
Majority of Swedes favour more or just as many refugees
Blog updates

17 August

Sea Fever (Around Sweden in a kayak) »

"I’m going to keep this post short and sweet as its not something I take any pleasure in writing. After much deliberation I have made the heartbreaking decision to abandon my trip after 1200km due to reoccurring injury. It is not a decision I have made lightly and it is one that has been truly devastating..." READ »


17 August

St. Louis strong (Blogweiser) »

"It’s typically a bad sign when my hometown makes news in Sweden. St. Louis was in the headlines here a few years ago when a tornado struck the airport. The city also caught attention after a politician talked about ‘legitimate rape’. Now, shooting and riots this week in Ferguson, a part of St. Louis, are..." READ »

Lock your bathrooms: Swedish toilet invader on the the loose
'Assange will not leave until safe'
See more images from the southern Sweden floods
Sponsored Article
Find out what gives this Swedish school executive appeal
Serial chicken smuggler caught at Norway border. Again.
This gold coin may be the key to solving a Swedish massacre
The Swedish mentor (and why you may need one)
Food agency warns girls: 'Don't eat stinky fish'
Reinfeldt calls for tolerance to refugees
People-watching August 16-17
Sweden celebrates 200 years of peace
Top ten literal Swedish words
'Terror training should be illegal': Liberal Party
Swedes talk about 200 years of national peace
Islamic extremist shakes Sweden with TV threat
Teacher fined for 'Hitler salute' in German class
Swede asks for epidural and gets disinfectant
Kiruna residents talk life in a town on the move
Swedish dad takes kids to Israel to learn about war
Sponsored Article
Introducing... ID cards and permits in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Housing in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at: