In the picture, first published by right-wing populist site Nyheter Idag, a 15- or 16-year old Karkiainen is sitting on a kitchen counter in the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, who is now her sambo (cohabiting partner). Her right arm is raised in what could be interpreted as a Hitler salute.
“I have no memory of making that kind of gesture,” Karkiainen said in a Facebook post. “I understand how it looks, but I’ve never done something like that in order to sympathise with the despicable ideology Nazism stands for. If I did, it was done ironically or as a less-than-successful attempt to ridicule the ideology.”
She also denied making a Hitler salute in an interview with the Expressen tabloid, which also published the picture.
Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said when asked about the photo at a press conference on Covid-19 on Tuesday that she had “spoken with Ida Karkiainen about this, but has full confidence that this is not something which reflects her values – something which she has also been clear about”.
Andersson did, however, describe “that kind of gesture” as “extremely inappropriate”.
In another Facebook post, Karkiainen further explained her conversation with Andersson: “I have reassured her that I am completely opposed to all forms of racist symbols and white power statements. There must not be any doubt about this. All values that differentiate between people are completely unacceptable.”
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Additionally, Karkiainen went into more detail about her background growing up in the northern Swedish town of Haparanda, addressing, among other things, her partner’s band.
Karkiainen’s partner, 36-year-old Mattias Lind, is a drummer in nationalist hard-rock band Raubtier. The controversial photo was taken in an apartment Lind and Karkiainen were sharing at the time.
“Our apartment was not a white power environment. Punks, raggare, hard rockers, death metal fans, talented girls and messy guys all hung out there. Sometimes, there were parties. Music was played by lots of people who wanted to control the song list. Music which I don’t stand for. I usually turned it off if I noticed that someone had put white power music on, but I probably didn’t every time,” Karkiainen said in her later Facebook post.
Raggare refers to members of a Swedish subculture, which emerged in the 1950s and was inspired by American greasers. Raggare are mostly small-town communities – from Swedish towns like Haparanda – known for their love of rockabilly music, leather vests, pomade and old American cars. Prejudice towards this subculture is based on the fact that historically, raggare had questionable morals, loud mouths and often archaic attitudes towards women.
“We often discussed politics, I usually tried to speak out if someone said something stupid or racist. Haparanda is a small town and everyone knows everyone. That’s why I feel secure that everyone knows exactly what kind of person I am and that I stand up for the idea that every human is of equal worth.”
Karkiainen also re-addressed reports that her partner’s band have a Confederate flag hanging in their practice room, something she had previously dismissed in the Expressen interview, saying that she “had no influence” in how the band decorated their practice room.
The Confederate flag, known in Sweden as a sydstatsflagga or “southern state flag”, was the flag used by the pro-slavery southern American states during the American civil war. It is a symbol commonly used in the USA among right-wing extremists and white supremacists. In Sweden, it is instead generally connected with raggare culture, often used as a nostalgic symbol for the American south – although its racist connotations have been increasingly debated in recent years in Sweden too.
“I should have made it more clear in an interview that I was against the Confederate flag in my partner’s band’s practice room, and the racism it represents, not just stuck to the fact that I am not responsible for what their practice room looks like,” she said.
“I have also had questions about an item of clothing my partner has with a Confederate flag on it. I’ve asked him to throw it out for a long time, but I’m not responsible for his choice of clothing.”
“I have always been secure in my beliefs that all people are of equal worth, stood up to racism. Everyone who knows me can confirm this. This is also what led me to becoming a proud Social Democrat,” Karkiainen concluded.