Gothenburg honours nightclub fire victims

Gothenburg honours nightclub fire victims
A memorial to the victims of the 1998 Gothenburg nightclub fire, which claimed 63 lives, will be unveiled on Wednesday night on the tenth anniversary of the blaze.

A torchlight procession is planned to march from central Gothenburg’s Gustaf Adolf’s square at 7:00pm and continue up to Backaplan near where the tragedy took place, and where the permanent memorial will stand.

The memorial, designed by artist Claes Hake, will be unveiled by young people from an association created for relatives of the fire victims, Brandoffrens anhöriga (BOA).

Scheduled speakers include former justice minister Thomas Bodström and representatives from BOA.

The fire broke out late in the evening of October 29th, 1998 in a warehouse near Backaplan in the Hisingen district of Gothenburg. The building belonged to a Macedonian immigrant organization.

The organizers of the evening’s club had told the site’s tenants that they were planning on having a “birthday party” for fewer than 50 people.

In reality, however, party planners had plastered surrounding neighbourhoods with poster and flyers advertising the event and had even sold tickets in advance.

On the night of the party, nearly 400 guests, predominantly teenagers with immigrant backgrounds, had arrived to dance and mingle in a room on the building’s fourth floor which was meant to hold no more than 150 people.

Shortly before midnight, smoke began pouring into the room from the emergency stairwell behind the stage where a DJ was performing.

Panic erupted shortly thereafter as hundreds of young people scrambled to make their way out of the only available exit, a single door just 90 centimetres wide.

All told, seven different fire stations were called in to battle the blaze which claimed the lives of 63 young people between the ages of 12 and 25. An additional 213 people were injured, 50 of whom sustained serious and life altering injuries.

As the fire took place at a time of heightened ethnic tensions in the city and claimed victims of a predominantly immigrant background, rumours swirled in the weeks following the blaze that it was a deliberate racially-motivated attack.

Posters appeared around Gothenburg proclaiming, “60 young immigrants have died, now 60 Swedes will die”.

Police and fire investigators eventually determined that the blaze was intentionally set by four young immigrants from Iran who were upset at having been denied entry to the event.

As an act of revenge, they set a small fire in the building’s fire escape.

The flames quickly spread when they reached a pile of chairs which had been placed in the stairwell to allow for enough room on the dance floor.

The four were convicted of arson in 2000. Three received prison sentences ranging from seven to eight years, while the fourth was sentenced to three years in a juvenile detention centre.