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Sticky debate over mayor's 'negro ball' rant

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Sticky debate over mayor's 'negro ball' rant
A man eating a chocolate ball. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
11:22 CEST+02:00
A Swedish mayor who said he could not understand why the word 'negerboll' ('negro ball' in English) could offend black people has stirred up a row, just months after the term was scrapped from dictionaries on racist grounds.
Kjell Hedvall, who is mayor of Lidköping municipality in central Sweden and a member of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's Social Democrat party, commented on Facebook over the weekend that he could not understand why using the word was inappropriate.
 
"Who has found that it is offensive? I know lots of dark-skinned people who just laugh at this nonsense," he wrote.
 
The term 'negerboll' (negro ball) was historically used to describe 'chokladboll', a sweet chocolate snack covered in dried coconut. But it was removed from new Swedish dictionaries in March after being deemed derogatory by Svenska Akademien (The Swedish Academy), an independent cultural institution set up by the Swedish royal family to monitor the Swedish language.
 
The organisation was not immediately available for comment on the latest scandal involving the popular sweet snacks on Monday.
 
But Hedvall wrote on Facebook that "a negro ball has nothing to do with racism", adding that "Sweden has never had slaves".
 
"It is a good ball to eat. How can a pastry that is so positive turn into racism?" he asked.
 
His comments were made in response to a post by Johan Lundberg, a Left Party politician who argued that there should be more overt political correctness in the community.
 
"We need...more people standing up against racism and racist terms," he said, urging his followers on social media to adopt zero tolerance in their everyday lives.
 
 

Chocolate balls are very popular in Sweden. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
 
Hedvall has not responded to The Local's requests for a comment, but he defended himself in an interview with Sweden's Aftonbladet newspaper, saying: "That this word is more offensive than others, I do not understand".
 
However his remarks have caused a huge stir in the Nordic country, with articles about his Facebook comments among the most read on Swedish news sites according to media monitoring site Socialanyheter.
 
Maria Bylin, a spokesperson for Språkrådet (Sweden's Language Council) told The Local: "'Neger' as a word, on its own and in compounds such as “negerboll”, is today a word that most Swedish people find offensive."
 
She added: "It is degrading and it hurts people, because it is historically associated with racism and slavery. By using a word with such a history and such associations attached to it, a politician runs the risk of being associated with racism."
 
Integration and racism are hot topics in Sweden, which is currently experiencing high levels of immigration from African countries including Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, as well as the Middle East. The total number of asylum requests in 2015 is expected to top 74,000
 
Last year the Afro-Swedish National Association reported centre-right Moderate Party politician Eva Sidekrans to police for selling chocolate balls labelled as 'negerboll', arguing that she was inciting racial hatred. She later apologised for the move.
 
 
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