Vilks: 'I might be able to sneak out of hiding'

The Local Sweden
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Vilks: 'I might be able to sneak out of hiding'
Swedish artist Lars Vilks has been under police protection since 2007. Photo: Björn Lindgren/SCANPIX

Controversial Swedish artist Lars Vilks has been in hiding since the deadly Copenhagen shootings of which he is believed to have been a target. He tells The Local about his role in the Swedish integration debate, why he feels he's not 'responsible' for the safety of others, and tries to sell one of his paintings to our reporter Emma Löfgren.


What is your situation at the moment?

I am in a secret location and then you have to stay there until further orders are given. I think I might be able to sneak out eventually. Hopefully they will let me out at some point in the next few days. It is fine to be here for now and they tell me it's necessary, but it would be nice to breathe some fresh air soon. When you're in a secret location you're very safe, but it's also a question of how things develop. We can still hope that Paris and Copenhagen were relatively isolated events. If there's another attack soon things will probably have to be reevaluated, but otherwise I think they might let me out in the next few days. But I will not start acting on my own – if you agree to this kind of protection you have to either buy the whole package, so to speak, or completely say no to it.

Are you climbing the walls yet?

Not at all so far, because just these couple of days after the attacks in Copenhagen I'm getting a lot of phone calls, people want to interview me, there are debate articles to be written. That said, I obviously feel the physical need to stretch my legs. But for now, it's not too bad. I've got a small painting studio here as well, with my brushes and paper. There's quite an interest in my paintings right now. I've been doing some of my usual stuff, but I can't do that forever, so I've also started doing a few portraits. Perhaps you want your portrait painted? It's pretty cheap.

Are you frightened?

No. That was a long time ago. If you have bodyguards you're surrounded by professionals. I have no reason to be scared.

Who exactly is controversial artist Lars Vilks?

Should more have been done in Copenhagen in terms of security?

Yes, I think everyone agrees on that, but what can you do? Now everyone knows, and has to accept the consequences. As tragic as this whole story is, it has taught us something.

Were you afraid for your safety after the Charlie Hebdo attacks?

I don't really have to feel anything. Other people take care of that for me and it's not for me to decide what's safe and what's unsafe. But no, I don't think so. It's an impossible carousel. We saw after the attack in Copenhagen that my protection works. Perhaps people should have been a bit more prepared, but how could you have foreseen what was about to happen? But, I think it is important to also talk about protecting the protection. It's those who help protect my life who take the blows.

Was Dan Park, another controversial Swedish artist, also there on Saturday?

Yes. He was one of those who stayed seated at his table when the shooting started, while others were trying to hide under the tables. Park is a very calm person, leisurely in a way. When extremists beat him up he usually just lets them do it, then brushes himself off and puts on an unbroken pair of spare glasses he's been carrying around in his pocket.

Dan Park, who has been convicted several times of incitement of racial agitation, speaking at a
far-right Pegida rally in Malmö. Photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT 

Park was assaulted in Denmark on New Year's Day, and now this attack in Copenhagen. Is Denmark becoming dangerous for Swedish artists?

No, Park has been beaten up many times in Malmö too. Nobody cares about Park, because this is what you refer to as 'the good violence'. It's a terrible story, the left wing denounces the violence but not from their hearts. The best thing would have been to just leave Park alone. He was a fairly local artist until he started getting all this publicity for his opinions.

Should Swedish authorities do more to protect artists?

When you receive a threat and report it to the police nothing happens, and that's probably because there's little that can be done. From the jihad side, the threats are a lot more serious, but there's also a lot more self censorship among artists. The right-wing side does not have the same kind of violent nature and has settled for threats so far.

Do you think you have played a part in whipping up tensions?

But what choices are you supposed to make? You're not allowed to debate the question because you will stir up emotions, but this is the main ingredient of a democracy. I have received many threats, but those are not of interest in the public debate of hatred and threats – the threats from right-wing extremists reap a lot more rewards in media.

But do you think you have a responsibility for the safety of people around you?

That's the make-or-break question that constantly rears its ugly head in this debate. But of course I don't have such a responsibility. It's the person who acts against the rules of society who is responsible.

The scene of the attack at a cultural sentence in Copenhagen, which killed one person.
Lars Vilks is believed to have been the target. Photo: Ola Torkelsson/TT

Is the cost of your police protection to Swedish tax payers justified? 

Well... that's a political question. They have decided that freedom of speech is worth that price. [Lars Vilks' police protection was estimated to cost six million kronor in 2011] The policies that are being carried out in Sweden get these kinds of consequences, with the integration problems you create in Sweden and Denmark. If I don't have any protection I would become a relatively easy target, and that would cripple freedom of speech. The threats coming from that direction would become devastating. Sweden and Denmark have huge integration problems and it is in those environments we see a growth of extremist and criminal elements, down to there not being enough resources to deal with this, and also the immigration volume.

Are you saying there wouldn't be a threat to you if these 'problems' did not exist?

Yes, probably not. If the authorities managed to carry out a successful integration process and create an understanding for our values they would surely be able to solve this as well.

Is freedom of speech in danger?

You could put it like this, that there aren't many who would dare to voice any kind of criticism of Islam or anything that has anything to do with the Prophet. So that's a kind of self censorship for the artists. There have also been threats to artists coming from the right-wing extremist side of the spectrum, but those threats have so far only been threats.

TIMELINE: How the Copenhagen tragedy unfolded

The Danish Free Press Society is selling signed versions of your Prophet Muhammed painting. What's your connection to them?

They printed that and a painting by Kurt Westergaard in 2010 and they made this offer. An artist of course tries to sell his work and they gave me a good deal. They get their part of the money, some goes to the cost of printing, and some of it goes to me.

What will happen to the Lars Vilks Committee now?

I think it will continue. It has suffered a real blow, this was an historic event. If members for personal reasons think it has all become a bit too much, I understand that. I think it will continue though, but obviously if they organize a similar event again they won't leave anything to chance.


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