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Sweden's press leaps to the defence of the 'open society'

Peter Vinthagen Simpson · 26 Jul 2011, 19:39

Published: 26 Jul 2011 19:39 GMT+02:00

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The Swedish media has been producing reams of column inches since a 32-year-old man turned his apparent hatred of the Norwegian society in which he lived into a path of death and destruction in the worst terror attack in the country's history.

The topics and analysis have of course been disparate, but common to all of the opinion pages in the major media outlets has been the theme that the attacks should not cause society to react by turning inwards and shutting the door to outsiders.

Katrine Kielos, writing in Sweden's largest daily Aftonbladet shortly after the full scope of the horror of the massacre on Utøya became known, argues that "our openness must be cherished".

"We are open, democratic and multicultural societies. Some may say that it makes us weak. That Norway is a naive country. Now the nightmare of terror has been turned against the part of the world which is least equipped to deal with the attack."

"They are wrong."

Per Gudmundson, writing in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) daily, argues that the open society would soon be lost if we heeded the call for security services to monitor every form of ideological extremism.

He continues to argue that the perpetrator of the attacks, while personally responsible, could not have carried them out "without either the daily contacts with the outside world or ideological sustenance from like-minded people" and urged a greater vigilance among citizens.

"When did you speak to your neighbour last," Gudmundson rhetorically asks, pointing out that the perpetrator had long circulated in extreme-right circles and had sent out several signals "that all was not as it should".

The Sydsvenskan daily followed a similar theme, arguing that the police and broader society shoulder some responsibility for not having noted the man's oft publicised political convictions and years of preparation for the attacks.

"But the sad truth is that an open society can never guarantee that violent acts are not repeated. However, more must be done to mitigate the consequences," arguing that the police response was not good enough.

"Preparedness must be improved, the response must be faster. Only then can an open society protect its population."

The Expressen daily was among those commenting on the ideological climate of debate in Sweden and how the killer’s identity as a white, blonde right-wing extremist struggled to fit in with the perceived picture of a terrorist among Sweden’s far-right.

Kent Ekeroth, one of the Sweden Democrats 20 members of parliament, has courted controversy both within the party and outside for comments made on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

Expressen highlights several posts by Ekeroth where he draws the conclusion that the attacks were perpetrated by Muslim extremists and then continues to demand his right to “make a political issue” out of it.

“Kent Ekeroth is not alone in abandoning political and collectivist language and switch to an individual and psychological, when he learns that the perpetrator is Norwegian. "Maniac", "madness," "maverick" and "tragedy" were far more common words today, than "terrorist", "terrorist attack" and "extremism”.

The Sweden Democrats have since complained that, due to expressed similarities in their underlying political ideology, they are being made guilty by association with Behring Breivik.

The Dagens Nyheter (DN) daily also wrote on the theme of the public discourse, both in terms of its tone and in its defence.

“We always have the same debate when something horrible happens in someone's name - an ideology, a religion, a world-view. It was your rhetoric, your discourse, while admittedly milder, that caused the attack and indirectly contributed to the deaths."

The newspaper warns that arguments such as these render it impossible to express a single opinion.

“Too much self-censorship can cause considerable damage for freedom of speech and thus democracy.”

But, DN warns, the tone of the public discourse “has importance, words carry weight”.

“All who participate in the public debate - in political debates, on internet forums, in letters to the editor columns - are personally responsible for keeping the discussion on a dignified, civilized level. The terrorist, even if he is called a “lone lunatic”, is however rarely alone. He comes from a culture, a context...”

The last word is far from said or written on the terror attacks which have left a country in mourning and a continent searching for answers. But what is abundantly clear is that the defence of the “open society” in Scandinavia, naive as it may seem to some, is as vehement as ever.

Story continues below…

Where the main newspapers stand:

Dagens Nyheter, "independently liberal", Stockholm-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Svenska Dagbladet, "independently liberal-conservative",

Stockholm-based, owned by Norwegian media company Schibsted.

Sydsvenska Dagbladet (Sydsvenskan), "independently liberal", Malmö-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Aftonbladet, "independently Social Democrat", Stockholm-based, owned by trade union federation LO and Norwegian media company Schibsted.

Expressen, "independently liberal", Stockholm-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

07:15 July 27, 2011 by Gamla Hälsingebock
There is a growing disagreement as to the acceptance of openess and multiculturalism in European society in general, as we know.

The topic of immigration is a "hot" issue lately and it will probably get hotter as more citizens become fed up with the idea of ethnic diversity and multiculturalism.

The wheel is coming full circle and the common people want to embrace nationalism and preserve their native cultures.

Which political party/parties will prevail?
13:26 July 27, 2011 by IXUS
I'm not sure how any Swedish newspaper can be classed as "independent" when it relies on a subsidy from the government establishment to continue publishing.

I'm also wondering how Aftonbladet can be classed as "independent" when it is part owned by the trade union federation. Does this independence mean it is free to criticise the unions? Nope, didn't think so.

But I'd agree with one thing, there is a clear lack of plurality in the Swedish media, with not one centre right conservative newspaper. Add in the liberal left bias of state owned Swedish TV and radio, and is it any wonder that most Swedes are no better than walking talking political clones, incapable of thinking outside of their little Swedish box of certainties as fed to them by the state, and the state subsidized and state run media.

Lets be honest, Sweden does not have either a properly functioning media, or a properly functioning democracy, as the latter depends on the former to function properly.
15:27 July 27, 2011 by Streja
ixus, can you not read? Check the list again, plus there are more newspapers in Sweden apart from that list.

Liberal in Sweden does not mean left so you must be American.
18:35 July 27, 2011 by Keith #5083

I have lived in 3 different 'democratic' western countries in my 60+ years. I have visited many others.

I am not sure where you live, but I can say from my life experience that Sweden has the nearest thing to responsive and responsible democracy I have found anywhere. That's one main reason I continue to live in this society which is not my country of birth. Of course there is a direct relationship between media and politics, the latter is wholly dependent upon the communication of it's ideas/ideologies no matter which 'democratic' society..

Perhaps you could tell us where you,personally, have found your 'properly functioning democracy' - and we can all learn........!?!
17:51 July 29, 2011 by judgejack
Today's media runs the politics of the World. What country with a Left or Liberal media is now not living in the nightmare of a Left or Liberal government? The Politically Correct Police march across our Planet without opposition or criticism. The idealistic Scandinavia has led the incestuous way of media-government domination. Public Opinion no longer guides Democratic governments. Media Opinion is the central influence on Government. The Norwegian tragedy may not be a direct outgrowth of a rejection of the region's politics. It is clearly the act of a mentally unbalanced man. But that doesn't change the fact that the media-government coalition is in charge of the life of people who were once free.
12:12 July 30, 2011 by Streja
judgejack, people in "Scandinavia" can think for themselves actually.
00:41 July 31, 2011 by countrysidedrive
From my experience Swedes privately do not want so many foreigners living in Sweden. They privately do not want Muslims and/or dark skinned people in Sweden. Publicly they would never voice this opinion. And anyone who does voice this opinion is instantly called many foul things. Generally speaking Swedes in private are very racist. Publicly they are not racist. And from my perspective they are also very passive, kind and caring to all. But without immigration the Swedish economy would be stagnant. Maybe if Swedes had at least four children per family and didn't move away then the government wouldn't need immigration.
17:47 July 31, 2011 by jostein
Multiculturalism seems to make our societies worse places to live in, by any objective measurement such as medium age, difficulty in finding housing, sense of security, crime etcetera.

The swedish "Journalistparty" have shamelessly exploited this terrorist and his victims to attack anyone who points out said effects of multiculturalism. This sordid tactic is a world apart from for example the discussion in Norway.
20:31 July 31, 2011 by planet.sweden
@ Keith #5083

I have to agree with IXUS. In my view Swedish democracy is a typically watered down EU version rather than the real deal. The establishment retain control here pretty much regardless.

In answer to your question to @IXUS I'd personally offer up the United States and Switzerland.

The first has a vibrant press and media, too vibrant for many tastes but there it is all the same. The right have Fox News, while the liberals are fully represented by MSNBC and the brazenly abusive Keith Olbermann (Ok he was sacked but his style lives on), to the more gentle liberalism of CNN and CBS. Talk Shows of all stripes are everywhere as are bloggers and authors. The First Amendment - which Sweden has no functioning equivalent of - sees to that.

The Presidential system is also more sensitive to changes in public mood than the multi Party coalition system favoured in Sweden. One man can embody peoples hopes and can be interrogated and held to account in an election far more readily than can a collection of nobodys hiding behind the weasel words of a coalition.

Swiss democracy deserves a special mention as it has taken the idea of a senate vote and extended it to the entire population through referendums.

Swiss voters can demand a binding referendums at local or national level, and referendums are a central feature of Swiss political life. It is not the government's choice whether or when a referendum is held, but it is a legal procedure regulated by the Swiss constitution.

Sweden has managed 6 referendum in the last 100 years, but crucially all have been called by the government, and non have been binding on the government.

That's the difference between the democracy I applaud in Switzerland and the one you appear to admire in Sweden. The first gives power to the people, the latter doesn't trust the people and leaves power with the establishment.

The Swedish system also scores nul points as although we have now arrived at 2011, the Swedes have yet to introduce a secret ballot. To put this into perspective how far Sweden is lagging it's worth noting that the Ancient Greeks introduced their first secret ballot in 139 BC. The Swedes are a conformist lot, and to be seen by their neighbours taking a ballot paper not approved of by the majority is more than most have the stomach for. Again this favours the prevailing establishment, and shows the shallowness of Swedish "democracy".

As you say Keith, you live and you learn.
11:15 August 1, 2011 by Streja
The two party system in the US is like a colaition system as there are many different versions of what a democrat or republican is.
18:17 August 3, 2011 by TomJones27
@planet.sweden.... The US as a functioning democracy?? I'm sorry, but it's a corportacracy or cleptocracy run by Wall Street. The corporate lobbyists make the laws in this country and we have the largest prison population in the world spending roughly $600 billion dollars on incarceration, which is slowly being privatized for profit (see Arizona). So the incentive is to put more people in jail and use the prison population for cheap labor. So the for-profit motivation is to make stricter laws to even more people in jail to get more tax payer money to fund these prisons. And don't get me started on the military industrial complex in this country.

Also, the corporate media doesn't report this or buries this information on the back pages. The two party system is two sides of the same coin, so you'll get nothing but propaganda from both sides trying to preserve the aristocracy of the plutocracy. And they have convinced the citizens of this country to take sides; red team vs. blue team not realizing that they should be on the same team. Politics in the US is like sports. One side wants their team to win and the other team to lose, when they don't realize they both lose.

The media in this country is good at using fear as the catalyst to have the citizenry fight against each other, while the corporate\bankster crooks steal all the countries wealth out the back door. Good cop, bad cop.

You say Swedes are a conformist lot. You should look at the sheeple or cattle in the US. Zombie consumers with high rates of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. So the US is not shining example of democracy that you think it to be.
10:10 August 4, 2011 by eppie
@planet sweden

Oh dear, what a misconception.

In the US you know al media is partial and not objective.....the fact that you can find papers or channels from both sides of the poltical spectrum doesn't make that good. News is about the truth, not by averaging out the opinions of several media.

The US is teh paying ground of the super rich. Look at the new national debt agreement and the inability of politics to tax the superrich. I a few years the economy will crash even harder than now, and at that time all the super rich have moved their assets to europe, south america or china.

Switzerland is indeed a nice example of a well functioning state......if you don't care about ethics.
18:30 August 6, 2011 by motti
@#12 what makes you think that all the news and views in europe is totally factual, without partiality? In Norway, all the news media is comtrolled by the bolsheviks. oops sorry, that should read socilaists. There is no mainstream centre or rightwing avaialable. One needs to find blogs or reach out on the internet for real impartiality. In the uk, there is a choice between left and right, and one can giuage what is biased, impartial etc. Is that the case in Sweden? I don't know, which is why I am asking?
15:03 August 7, 2011 by cogito
@IXUS (#") what you said is so good it is worth repeating. "Lets be honest, Sweden does not have either a properly functioning media, or a properly functioning democracy, as the latter depends on the former to function properly."

I follow media in six different nations. Sweden's "journalists" are by far the worst.

Swedish media, especially the state-run radio and TV, practice auto-censorship to a degree that is usually unacceptable in a democracy.

Just one example. The Swedish media were complicit in covering up the massive forced sterilization of undesirables.This racial hygiene program, which was on the books until the 1990s, was exposed by a non-Swedish journalist.
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