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Neo-Nazi disturbances at Almedalen could 'change the nature' of Swedish political staple

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Neo-Nazi disturbances at Almedalen could 'change the nature' of Swedish political staple
Members of neo-Nazi group NMR speaking at Visby during Almedalen week. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
15:28 CEST+02:00
Disturbances and alleged violence carried out by the Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR) at this year's Almedalen political festival are part of the neo-Nazi group's attempts to be more visible in the build-up to the Swedish election, The Local has been told.

NMR heckled a speech by Centre Party leader Annie Lööf and allegedly assaulted a woman at this year's event in Gotland, with one man arrested and investigated on suspicion of assault linked to hate crime.

Jonathan Leman, a researcher at anti-racism foundation Expo, explained to The Local that it is all part of a strategy from the neo-Nazi group ahead of the autumn Swedish general election.

"There has been an increase in their activity in recent years – more people, new recruits – and, it's election year. During election year they try to be more visible, hand out leaflets in public, things like that. And they are participating in this year's elections. So now more than before there's more public engagement by them. We've seen that during the whole year and we see that in Almedalen as well."

NMR has doubled its numbers at Almedalen this year compared to 2017, when it caused controversy by attending the politics festival for the first time.

"Last year there were about 50 of them and they kept mostly to their tent and its vicinity – which was enough to cause a stir, scare people and create a lot of tension. However this year they are sending groups out on 'missions' as they call it, of about 8-10 people. They show violent and erratic behaviour, and are seeking conflict," Leman said.

"We've seen some violent events already against men and women at Almedalen. Now there are around 100 of them there, so double the amount of activists, and they're also actively engaging with people all over Visby, which is different from before. They have a system where they are rewarding people for this kind of behaviour," he added.

READ ALSO: 2017 set new record for neo-Nazi activity in Sweden

The organizers of Almedalen explained to The Local that they denied NMR an official presence at the week, but beyond that there is not much they can do due to the right to protest enshrined in Swedish law.

"Region Gotland said no to renting out space to that organization. It was appealed but Region Gotland won. Prior to that our main organizers said no to allowing antidemocratic and violent organizations to publicize their events in our official program," Almedalen Week project leader Mia Stuhre noted.

"The police granted the permit they have now, without the involvement of Region Gotland, our politicians, or Almedalen Week. In the fundamental laws of Sweden we have the valuable right to express ourselves and demonstrate. The police granted a permit based on that."

Stuhre would not comment on reported instances of violence, saying they are in the hands of the police, but said that "what we can work on is continuing to raise the question of what is acceptable at a democratic meeting place. Thinking differently and having differences in opinion are part of democracy".

READ ALSO: Breaking down Sweden's anti-Semitism problem

There are concerns that if things are allowed to go on as they have this year the staple of the Swedish political calendar could be fundamentally changed, Expo's Leman warned.

"Some people think that if this is how it's going to be, then the event will need guards – that has been said and I think it's understandable. Essentially, that if it's like this we'll need guards at every event," he said, noting that Expo has observed violence at many of the NMR events prior to Almedalen.

"But if we have guards at every event, it's not Almedalen anymore. It changes the nature of it. So there is now an expectation that the authorities should do more, and that if it's allowed to continue this way then it will threaten the future of Almedalen," he concluded.

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