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Sweden seen as land of bribes in EU sculpture

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16:38 CET+01:00
A controversial art installation in Brussels has made a less-than-subtle jab at Sweden's alleged involvement in attempts to bribe Czech politicians into approving a massive order for the Gripen fighter jet by the Czech military earlier in the decade.

Swedish aerospace company Saab on Friday downplayed the significance of the artwork, which refers to the company's fighter planes as “an inconvenient truth”.

“It's important to remember that this is a work of art,” Saab spokesperson Ulrika Fager told The Local, adding she had yet to see the piece herself.

“The point of a work of art is often to spark debate and get people to react, and it seems this piece has succeeded in doing so.”

The installation, entitled Entropa and created by Czech artist David Černý in conjunction with the country's chairmanship of the EU presidency, includes artistic representations of all 27 EU member states.

Černý's sculpture has ruffled feathers because it employs many controversial stereotypes often associated with various countries.

Bulgaria is particularly displeased with being portrayed as a Turkish toilet, for example, while France is depicted as a labour strike.

Poland has Catholic monks planting a rainbow flag, and the Netherlands is dotted with Muslim minarets.

Sweden is depicted as an IKEA ‘flat-pack' cardboard box.

However, with a hole toward the bottom of the box, viewers can also see a small piece from the Saab JAS-39 Gripen aircraft.

In the exhibition's accompanying catalogue, a fictional Swedish “artist” by the name of Sonja Aaberg, created by Černý, philosophizes about the misconceptions people have about Sweden.

“Most Europeans see Sweden as a country of civic peace with a successful economy. Sweden is environment-friendly, politically correct and open to foreign nationals and sexual revolution,” the catalogue reads.

“Populist politicians throughout the world exploit similar social engineering. […] I respond critically to this European hypocrisy with an IKEA flat pack in the shape of the Swedish kingdom, which conceals an inconvenient truth.”

Back in 2001, Saab, then working with UK-based BAE Systems, attempted to sell 24 Gripen aircraft to the Czech Republic.

While the deal was eventually scrapped, investigators in the UK, Czech Republic, and Sweden all began investigating the deal after a 2003 report by a British newspaper that two Czech government officials had been offered bribes to help secure the deal.

In 2004, the Czech defence ministry instead agreed to lease 14 Gripen aircraft for 10 years in a deal worth about 5.7 billion kronor ($700 million).

The Local's attempts to get a comment on the matter from the Swedish government and the prosecutor heading the corruption probe were unsuccessful, but Fager emphasized Saab's continued willingness to cooperate in the investigation.

“We've been very open the entire time and have been doing our best to cooperate,” she said.

Fager added that no charges have been filed against any Saab employees in relation to the investigation, emphasizing the company does not tolerate corruption.

“Bribery is by no means an acceptable way of doing business at Saab,” she said.

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