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Why Benny Andersson from Abba is joining the fight against a new prison

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Benny Andersson is one of the people backing a campaign against a new prison in Svedala. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT
09:17 CEST+02:00
Benny Andersson from Swedish legend pop group Abba has thrown his weight behind a campaign to vote down plans for a major new prison in Svedala, the leafy area outside Malmö.
"I've lived and had a business just outside Svedala for nearly 25 years now ... in fantastically beautiful surroundings and fields," the pianist and composer said in a video posted on the Fängelsefritt Svedala (Prison Free Svedala) website and Facebook page.
 
"I think it's crazy to dump a huge prison in the nature there is here. Svedala is much too beautiful for that." 
 
There are now only days to go before residents of the Skåne municipality vote on Sunday in a referendum on whether to build the facility, which the Swedish Prison and Probation Service says is necessary due to rising numbers of people being convicted. 
 
 
Linda Allansson Wester, the local Moderate party mayor, who supports the prison, welcomed Andersson's praise for the municipality. 
 
"I've not met Benny from Abba as an active citizen, but it's great that he values the municipality and sees Svedala as the pearl that it is," she told the Kvällsposten newspaper
 
Sunday's referendum comes as a result of a year-long campaign by Fängelsefritt Svedala, which has led to protests against the plans and even launched its own local party Älska Svedala (Love Svedala) ahead of last year's local elections. 
 
The group handed in a petition demanding a referendum to the municipality signed by 2,263 people last September, and in December the municipality ruled that the referendum should go ahead. 
 
The Prison and Probation Service plans to build a prison for between 150 and 300 inmates in Svedala, going part of the way to meeting the 600 additional prison places it believes will be needed in Sweden by 2029. 
 
If the service gets the go-ahead and also decides to also move Malmö's pre-trial detention centre to the site, the new Svedala institution could become Sweden's largest prison. 
 

A "prison, NO" campaign sign in Svedala. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
 
In February, the service issued a report explaining why prisoner numbers had grown by 513 in 2018 despite falling crime rates, and why it expects them to continue to increase, with an estimated 9,500 prison places needed by the last year of the next decade. 
 
The report put the increase down partly to rising population levels, partly to rising police numbers, and partly to tougher sentences for a number of crimes. 
 
Andersson's stepson Johan Strömberg, who lives permanently in one of the two neighbouring farms the superstar owns in Svedala, said the municipality had tried to "steamroller" citizens. 
 
"One of the proposed sites would be visible from our house all the time, so of course he [Benny] wanted to get involved," he told The Local. "I don't know who wouldn't get involved if they wanted to build a prison as large as the airport right by your property." 
 
He said that his mother Mona Norklitt was at the farm at least once a month to visit the couple's horses, with Andersson coming slightly less frequently. 
 
Andersson was previously heavily involved in a campaign to save Slussen, the traffic junction linking Stockholm's Gamla Stan to the island of Södermalm. 
 
 
Wester said that she did not believe the prison would have a damaging effect on the municipality. 
 
"I don't think that it is likely to have a negative impact on the municipality's brand," she told Kvällsposten. "I think people in Svedala want a more lively municipality day in day out, with more business, and to do that we need to get more people working in the municipality."
 
A poll carried out for the protest group found a clear majority for the no side, with the 'yes' side and the 'undecideds' having a combined 49 percent of the vote.

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