Teacher Olle Linton, 44, founded the ‘Teachers against racism’ group in Sweden in 2014. It now counts 3,179 members. Linton tells The Local Voices why he felt it was necessary.
When did you start your group and why?
I started the group (Lärare mot rasism) in early spring, 2014. I wanted to gather teachers from around the country online, to have guidance and to support each other in fighting against the trends of fascism and racism in Sweden, which have increased over the last three years in schools, as well as in the society as a whole.
Unfortunately, you can’t talk about the rise in racism without referring to the refugee crisis. The influx of refugees to the country was one of the main reasons for the surprising growth of these movements. Because of the refugee crisis – in which we should remember the refugees are the ones suffering most – the far right, and specifically the Swedish Democrats, grew drastically.
These movements made pervasive progress within the society and especially among young people. This made it a hard task for teachers to deal with the growing xenophobic views among high school students.
Youngsters who might be nervous about their future absorb what they hear either from the far right campaigns, or from their parents, and they then adopt these views very easily.
How does the group help tackle this rise in racism?
I wanted to create a network for support, discussion and advice. To help teachers deal with students or their parents, when they endorse an 'excluding' ideology.
Teachers are raised to respect and defend the equal rights of every human being. To respect the fact that all humans are equal.
Have you yourself had to have a discussion with someone with ‘racist’ ideologies of any form over the last three years?
Not personally, but I have witnessed almost all types of racism, both in public and in school classes.
Have you witnessed these ideologies among school pupils?
Yes. Some, for example, may express racism openly in classes, and others write graffiti featuring ‘white supremacist movements’ or the slogan “keep Sweden Swedish’” and so on.
Many of these students could take it seriously and believe in these slogans and ideologies, even without understanding their meanings and implications. The far right parties address young people by attracting them with emotional discourse.
They have good speakers, they misuse facts or found their ‘sermons’ on total lies. They exploit the nervousness and possible confusion of the youngsters, presenting them with easy solutions by blaming everything on migrants.
Therefore, the teachers' role in that context is critical. They need to be able to deal with these views, to try to change them through persuasion - of course without any disrespect to the person holding those views; they are still a human being worthy of respect.
But still, we must stand firmly against racism.
How did the group grow?
We grew steadily, and now our group is made up of 3,179 members, of which almost 3000 are teachers. Some are very active and others are less so. We constantly hold discussions and raise awareness, publishing news, articles and so on.
Sometimes, teachers may share their experiences about a specific case, and they'll instantly start getting help from other users.
How do you feel about Sweden's role in the refugee crisis?
The world is in an acute situation with all the mess around us, and you just can’t be passive to what’s happening nowadays. I think those who are settled and able to help, should help. Why not?
What do you think about the changes to Swedish ethos regarding migration?
I think the far right parties forget, or try to forget, the fact that Sweden has a long history with migration, and that migration has always been a benefit for this country. Otherwise, Sweden would have been isolated.
They try to forget the fact that this country has become very successful due to being open and accepting others.
Now, most people have become more sceptical and hesitant, and I think this is largely a result of the far right rhetoric.