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

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.

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

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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What’s the Swedish Christian Democrats’ abortion contract all about?

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden's Christian Democrats on Monday presented an "abortion contract", which she wants all of Sweden's party leaders to sign. What's going on?

What's the Swedish Christian Democrats' abortion contract all about?

What’s happened? 

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden’s Christian Democrat party, called a press conference on Monday in which she presented a document that she called “an abortion contract”, which was essentially a pledge to safeguard the right of women in Sweden to have an abortion.  

“There is room for signatures from all eight party leaders,” she said. “I have already signed on behalf of the Christian Democrats.” 

What does the so-called “abortion contract” say? 

The document itself is fairly uncontroversial.

It states simply that Sweden’s law on abortion dates back to 1974, and that it grants women the right to an abortion up until the 18th week of pregnancy, with women seeking abortions later in their pregnancy required to get permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare. 

“Those of us who have signed this document support Sweden’s abortion legislation and promise to defend it if it comes under attack from forces both within our country and from outside,” the document reads.  

Why have the Christian Democrats produced it? 

The decision of the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade, and so allow US states to ban abortion has aroused strong feelings in Sweden, as elsewhere, and Busch is seeking to send a strong signal to distance her own Christian party from the US religious right. 

Abortion has been a recurring issue within the Christian Democrats with several politicians and party members critical of abortion. 

Lars Adaktusson, a Christian Democrat MP, was found by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper to have voted against abortion 22 times when he was a member of the European parliament. 

The party has also in the past campaigned for the right of midwives and other medical professionals who are ethically opposed to abortion not to have to take part in the procedure. 

So why aren’t all the other party leaders signing the document? 

Sweden’s governing Social Democrats, and their Green Party allies, dismissed the contract as a political gimmick designed to help the Christian Democrats distance themselves from elements of their own party critical of abortion. 

“It would perhaps be good if Ebba Busch did some homework within her own party to check that there’s 100 percent support for Sweden’s abortion legislation,” Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, said. “That feels like a more important measure than writing contracts between party leaders and trying to solve it that way.”  

In a debate on Swedish television, Green Party leader Märta Stenevi argued that it would be much more significant if Busch’s own MPs and MEPs all signed the document. 

It wasn’t other party leaders who needed to show commitment to abortion legislation, but “her own MPs, MEPs, and not least her proposed government partners in the Sweden Democrats and even some within the Moderate Party”. 

She said it made her “very very worried” to see that the Christian Democrats needed such a contract. “That’s why I see all this more as a clear sign that we need to move forward with protecting the right to abortion in the constitution,” she said. 

How have the other right-wing parties reacted? 

The other right-wing parties have largely backed Busch, although it’s unclear if any other party leaders are willing to actually sign the document. 

Tobias Billström, the Moderates’ group parliamentary leader, retweeted a tweet from Johan Paccamonti, a Stockholm regional politician with the Moderate Party, which criticised the Social Democrats for not signing it, however. 

“It seems to be more important to blow up a pretend conflict than to sign the Christian Democrats’ contract or look at the issue of [including abortion rights in] the constitution, like the Moderates, Liberals and Centre Party want to,” Paccamonti wrote. 

The Liberal Party on Sunday proposed protecting abortion rights in the Swedish constitution, a proposal which has since been backed by the Moderate party and the Centre Party