Almedalen Dispatch: white skin, black masks

According to some critics of the Almedalen political week the seminars and events are as whitewashed as many of Gotland's houses. Peter Vinthagen Simpson takes a look and wonders if something really is rotten in Visby.

Almedalen Dispatch: white skin, black masks

Almedalen has been dismissed as a white man’s talking shop, most virulently by Aftonbladet’s Ehsan Fadakar in his Tuesday column “No immigrants in white Almedalen”.

Fadakar in turn received some criticism for his definition of immigrants as non-white, but after having attended several seminars discussing the other while the other is nowhere to be seen, his broader point has gained some credibility.

A seminar on Wednesday about the role of religion in the public space featuring an atheist and three Christians can be given the benefit of the doubt as essentially the discussion concerned faith in general and its role in society.

But a seminar organized by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) entitled “Africa is a great country”, with the express purpose of problematizing Swedish prejudices about Africa surely has higher ambitions?

The seminar discussed the work of photographer Jens Assur. The Sida-funded project consists of 40 photographs with the aim of presenting “another picture of Africa” and to inform the observer that it is a continent of 55 nations.

It took 17 minutes for anyone to mention the name of a country (Tanzania) and and a further 18 to mention a city (Kigali). The phrase “in Africa” had by then been mentioned over 100 times.

While the experience and knowledge of the panel with regards to the African continent should of course be respected, their glaring uniform whiteness did not go unnoticed.

An audience question pointing out this fact was met with the responses: “I accept the criticism, it is not ideal, we have to try harder”, a warning about the risk of “inverted racism”, and a third warned of “tokenism”.

In response to a question about why women appear largely absent from the exhibition, Assur told The Local:

“The photos are largely of construction and this is a male-dominated branch.”

Can there be any greater “tokenism” than lavishing four million kronor in development aid funds on a rich white photographer to take pictures of his definition of modernity, which as good as excluded half the population?

No you don’t have to be from Africa to discuss Africa, you don’t have to be Muslim to discuss the decibel level of the call to prayer, but if you are seeking to paint a new picture of a marginalized continent, shouldn’t its people be given a brush?

Peter Vinthagen Simpson

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Almedalen Week explained

Almedalsveckan first began in 1968 when Sweden’s former prime minister, Olof Palme, was due to take the ferry home from a summer holiday in Gotland.

Local residents asked if he could stay a moment and give a speech. Standing on the back of a nearby truck, Palme spoke to the small crowd, thus beginning what was to become an annual Swedish tradition.

43 years on, things have evolved enormously and the event has become a platform for Swedish politicians from every party to have a voice.

It is however also a week for the humble citizen and thousands flock to the island to participate in the workshops, speeches, seminars, and the mingle parties.

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Swedish PM Löfven to skip Almedalen politics festival

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has again chosen not to attend the Almedalen political week this year.

Swedish PM Löfven to skip Almedalen politics festival
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at Almedalen in 2018. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT

The PM told newspaper Aftonbladet that he would not take part in the event, which gathers political leaders and grass roots activists from across the country.

Taking place every July since 1968, Almedalen is a unique festival where political parties, businesses, media, and other organizations gather for a week of seminars and events.

“Almedalen has become too much the realm of lobbyists and business interests and not enough a place for popular movements and individual citizens,” Löfven said to the newspaper.

Instead of appearing at Almedalen, Löfven will embark on a tour of the country, as he did in 2017.

“I want to see all of our country and hear about the dreams, problems and challenges faced by different parts of the nation, and shape policy based on that,” he told Aftonbladet.

Social Democrat economic spokesperson Magdalena Andersson, the Minister for Finance, will take Löfven’s place on the stage at the week-long political festival.

Almedalen political week is scheduled to take place between June 30th and July 7th.

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