Opinion: Racism alone does not explain far-right school attack

We're wrong to blame acts of violence on racism alone, argues equality strategist Marcus Svensson two years after a far-right sympathizer killed three people at the Kronan school in Trollhättan.

Opinion: Racism alone does not explain far-right school attack
On the one-year anniversary of the 2015 school attack at Kronan. Photo: Thomas Johansson/TT

It's two years since Anton Lundin went into the Kronan school in Trollhättan with a clear plan that he would die that day, but not alone. Fifteen minutes later, he is lying on the floor inside the school in a puddle of his own blood. Shot by the police. His plan has succeeded and he takes three other people with him in death.

The pain, sorrow and fury caused by Anton's actions is something Kronan and Trollhättan will have to live with. However, it is high time that we learn something from the incident. Because that which must not happen, happened. But it must never happen again! We owe it to the victims to be brave and seek a deeper understanding than we so far have done.

In order to actually learn something from the attack at Kronan, and in fact from all acts of violence, is that we do not take the easy way out and go for the first explanation we find.

Calling the Kronan incident racist is perfectly correct, but it does not help us. It does not explain Anton's choice to die and kill. Being fascinated by Vikings and regretting that “the immigrants take our jobs” does not kill people. I believe so many stick with the racist explanation as a defence mechanism. They protect themselves by creating a “them” – the racists – in relation to an “us”. We are not racists, therefore we are not to blame. We distance ourselves from Anton and his actions. But I would argue this is where we go wrong.

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Anton's violence, when he had decided to kill through “suicide by cop”, was targeted at immigrants. And it's beyond all doubt that the political rhetoric at the time and those online forums he lived his life on helped him choose the target of his violence. So he sought out Kronan. But opinions do not explain who will commit acts of violence.

Anton's self-loathing formed the underlying reason behind the attack on Kronan. It was so strong that he felt he could not live. That is evident from a secret letter he wrote to a computer gaming friend online. This is where we find the explanation behind Anton's murders. Anton did not kill anyone because he was a convinced racist who was going to purify the nation. Anton killed because he hated himself and his life. We must therefore ask the question: why did he hate himself and his life to the point where he was ready to commit the ultimate act of violence?

Police cordons the day after the Trollhättan school attack on October 22nd 2015. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

There's no need to speculate. There is research about violence and destructivity. The theoretical explanation is as simple as it is explanatory. Violence in, violence out. Someone who is the target of violence will also carry out violence. People who went to school with Anton testify that he was bullied in school. Being bullied is being exposed to violence, again and again without anybody stopping it. Being exposed to bullying could be likened to being exposed to torture. Being exposed to bullying is also the strongest contributing factor to why young men become school shooters, according to American research. They should know, if anyone!

We have to be self-critical and take responsibility for what happened to Anton in his life. As adults, we have a responsibility to act if we see and hear about children's vulnerability but we also have a responsibility to get politically involved for a society where children are not exposed to violence without adults acting. Can we say we have taken this responsibility? My answer to that question is no.

Note that I am not trying to defend Anton's actions. They were reprehensible and are to be condemned. What I want to prevent is that we, in the near future, will have to learn another name of a young man (because they are always men) whom we have chosen not to see but who eventually steps out of his shadow and into the historical narrative. Let us therefore be brave and self-critical. Let us from now on decide that all arenas in which there are children and young people living and developing should be free of violence. Homes, schools and leisure facilities. But just making that decision is not enough, lip service will not save us – we need to walk the talk!

This is The Local's translation of an opinion piece first published by GP. It was written by Marcus Svensson, equality strategist for Trollhättan municipality and expert on violence prevention.

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Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Sweden’s second city is the site of Scandinavia’s largest urban development project. But there is rising concern that the costs outweigh the benefits, says David Crouch

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Last week, residents in the area of Fågelsången (birdsong), a quiet street at the very heart of Sweden’s second city, woke up to read the following news: “Explosions at Fågelsången: On August 8, week 32, we start blasting around Fågelsången and are expected to be done by week 40. When blasting, for safety reasons, no one is allowed to go out, open their windows or be within the blasting area. We will work weekdays 7am to 5pm.” 

Blasting deep holes in the granite – along with sprawling roadworks – has been the reality for central Gothenburgers for the past four years, as a vast rail tunnel is being dug to link the current terminus with other parts of the city and enable smoother connections with other routes. The aim is to triple rail passenger numbers and eliminate traffic jams on the main road through the city, at a cost of 20 billion crowns (€1.9 billion).

This railway, known as Västlänken (the West Link), is not the only big construction project in the city centre. It is just the largest element in a gigantic scheme to revive the docks area along the river, which was destroyed by a global shipping crisis in the 1970s. The great rusting cranes opposite the opera house and the disused Eriksberg gantry are an important aspect of Gothenburg’s skyline and self-image. The areas on the north bank were also home to many recent immigrants and a byword for poverty. The city’s mayor famously, and shamefully, referred to it as “the Gaza strip”.

So in 2012 the city launched an ambitious plan. Christened Älvstaden, the RiverCity, municipal investment aimed to build an attractive, modern waterfront while creating tens of thousands of homes and jobs. It is by far the Nordic region’s biggest urban regeneration project. A YouTube video commissioned by the city authorities a few years later neatly sums up both the breathtaking scope of this vision and the exciting / brutal (choose your own adjective here) nature of the transformation it would bring: 

The RiverCity revolved around two flagship projects: a new bridge over the river, the Hisingsbron (Hisingen Bridge), combined with major new office developments right in the centre; and Karlatornet, Sweden’s tallest skyscraper, which would literally tower over Gothenburg like a beacon of modernity in a city that traditionally has had strict rules against high-rise buildings. 

Add to all this a proposed high-speed rail link with Stockholm, and you have a recipe for quite spectacular urban upheaval involving billions of tons of steel and concrete. Visit Gothenburg today and much of the city seems to have been turned into a building site. There is a forest of cranes, while smart new office blocks puncture the skyline – a genuine metamorphosis is under way.

But many Gothenburgers are either uneasy or downright unhappy. The RiverCity is a vanity project to gentrify the docklands, they say. Karlatornet’s 73 stories of luxury apartments will be a scar on the landscape and a symbol of Gothenburg’s new love affair with finance and real estate, a slap in the face for the city’s proud industrial values. Västlänken is a vit elefant, a costly project that will deliver questionable benefits, many believe.  

Opposition to Västlänken was such that a new political party, the Democrats, took 17 percent of the vote in 2018 with its headline demand to stop the project immediately. This caused a revolution in local politics, overturning decades of Social Democrat rule. 

And now the gloss on these big-ticket construction projects is starting to fade. Karlatornet was the first to run into trouble. For most of 2020 building work was at a standstill, raising the threat that this flagship of regeneration would be nothing more than an unfinished stump, after American financiers pulled out of the project. The new Hisingen Bridge is open to traffic, but its construction was fraught with setbacks and the final cost to the taxpayer is still unknown. “There has been an awareness from the start that this was a high-risk project,” one of the project’s bosses said ominously this spring.

RiverCity is more than two billion kronor over budget, and facing accusations of mismanagement that evoke Gothenburg’s old nickname of Muteborg, or Bribetown, after a proliferation of municipal companies in the 1970s led to conflicts of interest, with politicians sitting on company boards. Opponents of the scheme argue that in any case it is unlikely to solve any of the city’s fundamental problems, such as the ethnic segregation that has created immigrant ghettos in outlying suburbs.  

In May, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published leaked minutes from Västlänken management meetings in which one of the main contractors on the project said it would be delivered billions over budget and four years later than its official 2026 deadline – in other words, four more years of earth-shattering explosions, roadblocks and associated upheaval. With local elections only months away, the Democrats have taken out advertisements on billboards and in local media demanding that top politicians tell the truth about what is going on. For opponents of the scheme, this is exactly what they have warned of all along

Next June, Gothenburg will officially celebrate its 400th anniversary, postponed from 2021 because of the pandemic. Visitors will experience a city on the move, with pristine new motorways and sparkling office blocks. So for Gothenburg’s urban planners, there is light at the end of the development tunnel. In the case of Västlänken, however, they will be hoping that the light is indeed that of an oncoming train. 

David Crouch has lived in Gothenburg for nine years. He is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It, a freelance journalist and lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.