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'Multicultural' flag ban at high school graduation

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'Multicultural' flag ban at high school graduation
Students at a different graduation. Photo: Sofia Sabel/Image Bank Sweden
16:22 CEST+02:00
A high school headteacher has been slammed for banning students from waving Swedish or other international flags and singing Zlatan Ibrahimovic's alternative national anthem, just in case their "multicultural" efforts instead promoted xenophobia.

Across Sweden, high school students traditionally wear sailor hats, hold Swedish flags and decorate themselves with blue and yellow accessories as they celebrate graduation and look forward to their first summer of freedom.

But when pupils at multicultural southern Swedish school Sunnerbogymnasiet in Ljungby asked to hold the flags of different countries, their headteacher said no.

"We do not want anyone to feel offended on this joyous day," Jimmie Nilson told local radio station P4 Kronoberg.

He added that he did not want those waving flags from other countries to come across "xenophobic views" from students waving the national flag, saying he felt it was "really a shame" that this had led to a ban on flags.

But some pupils were outraged at the decision.

Tilda Ragnarsson told Sweden's Expressen newspaper: "We are a multicultural class, which is great fun. Therefore, we wanted to do something for everyone in the class, we were all supporting this."

She added: "The Swedish flag has not been a taboo before, but now it's like xenophobic forces have taken over it," she added.


Sweden's distinctive flag as seen at a football match against Germany in 2013. Photo: TT

The school also stopped pupils from copying star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic's version of Sweden's national anthem "Du Gamla, Du Fria" which he released last year in collaboration with Volvo with the help of his friend, music producer Max Martin.

The player, whose parents were born in Bosnia and Croatia told Swedish newspaper Dagens Industri at the time that he felt his alternative rendition demonstrated that "we are all different, yet similar".

It includes lyrics such as "I want to live and die in Sweden".

"One thing could lead to another and suddenly Zlatan's national anthem could become a debate about something completely different," argued Nilsson.

"I don't want to risk anything," he added.

"It is sad that it even have to be a discussion about this, but we respect the principal's decision and have chosen a different song," said Ragnarsson.

"We have absolutely no xenophobic opinions and had chosen Zlatan's song because we thought it was a good fit for everyone."

Swedish media reports of the row became the most read and most shared stories across the country on Wednesday as thousands of people joined in a national debate about whether or not the school had made the right decision.

Some suggested the head teacher had been too influenced by reports of growing racist rhetoric in Sweden following the rise of the nationalist Sweden Democrat party (SD), which scored 12.9 percent in the country's last general election in September 2014.

"Is it any wonder that more and more [people] trust in the SD, when our own national anthem and flag are taboo?! When can we be proud of Sweden without being afraid of being called racists and creating debates," Jennie Lundgren, a local politician for Sweden's centre-right Moderate Party wrote on Facebook.

Author Carl Göran Lindgen suggested on Twitter that Nilsson would end up losing his job over the row, writing "back door opening for the headmaster".

Twitter user Christer Andersson went even further, posting: "SCANDAL. Banning flags and national anthem....the head teacher should take responsibility. RESIGN!!!!!". The Local has contacted Jimmie Nilsson for comment.

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