A Chat with One of the Last Original Swedish Greasers
Raggare are modern-day greasers who are as important to Sweden’s national identity as meatballs, ABBA, and blue-eyed blonds. This is despite the fact that the raggare subculture is all about the appropriation of American cars, rock ’n’ roll, and tough-guy leather jackets. And it’s become so commonplace in Sweden that nobody looks twice when greasy-haired small-towners cruise by blasting oldies while waving the Confederate flag from their classic hot rods (or shitty Volvos if they can’t afford the real thing) on their way to the biggest American car show in the world: the annual Power Big Meet in Västerås.
Raggare first came on the scene in the 1950s, as Swedish teenagers took inspiration from the American films and music flooding postwar Europe thanks to the Marshall Plan. Sweden had remained neutral in the war, so its industrial infrastructure was left unscathed and its export economy boomed. Suddenly, even working-class youths could afford cars, copies of Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock, and tickets to Rebel Without a Cause. The US became synonymous with hope, dreams, and modernity.
Still, this was the 50s, and Sweden was very conservative. The raggare—whowere swimming naked, having sex, fighting, and drinking—quickly became a favorite scandalous subject of the tabloids. Naturally, the subculture spread as rebellious youth across Sweden and the rest of the Nordic nations began to fetishize the rough-and-tumble American youth immortalized in the movies of the time. For greasers in the US, having an American car obviously wasn’t that big of a deal. If you managed to get your hands on one in Sweden, however, you were the owner of one of the coolest clubs in town: a living room on wheels equipped with a stereo, a make-out couch, a moonshine-filled trunk, and a dance floor wherever you parked.
We Interviewed the Egyptian Feminist Who Was Kidnapped for Posing Nude
In December, Aliaa Elmahdy participated in a public nude protest outside the Egyptian embassy in Stockholm, Sweden. Despite the freezing weather, she stood sandwiched between two other, also naked, members of the radical feminist organization Femen with the words “Sharia is not a constitution” in red paint across her chest and stomach. In the photo of the three-person rally above, she doesn’t look uncomfortable at all, or even angry—she seems more amused that someone’s taking her picture than anything.
This wasn’t Aliaa’s first time making headlines for nudity: In 2011, while living in Egypt, she uploaded photos to her blog in which she wore nothing more than a flower in her hair, red shoes, and thigh-high polka-dot stockings. This was, she claimed, a form of protest against “the oppression of women in Egypt.” After the image went viral and she began receiving death threats and was kidnapped, the 21-year-old was given political asylum in Sweden, where she linked up with Femen—the international activist group founded in Ukraine best known for their topless protests across Europe on behalf of women’s rights and against religion and the sex industry.
Femen has succeeded in gathering a lot of attention for, among other things, protesting the inclusion of Islamist countries in the Olympics and taking a chainsaw to a cross in Kiev, Ukraine that was a memorial to victims of Stalin’s murderous regime. The group has been criticized for many things, including being“inarticulate about what it stands for.” But regardless of how you feel about the organization, it’s undeniable that Aliaa had to have some balls to pose nude in Egypt, and her actions have made her a pariah in her homeland. Even though that Stockholm protest was 2,000 miles away from Egypt, the Egyptian interior ministry is still bringing charges against her for “blasphemy” and “damanging the country’s reputation.” After finding out that she’s recently started up a Femen branch in Egypt—a country that has become notorious for committing violence against women—and has asked Egyptian women to email nude photos for her to post online, I got in touch with her to see how much progress had been made.
VICE: Hi Aliaa, how’s your work with Femen coming along? What do you guys do?
Aliaa Elmahdy: We make nude protests—like the one we made in Stockholm. We protest about many issues, about gay rights, about prostitution. In Egypt, and maybe everywhere to some degree, when a woman claims her body—when she’s naked but not for sex—it just annoys people so much that she’s not covered. They think there’s something wrong with her.
Do your parents approve of your work with Femen and what you’re doing?
They know what I’m doing, but we’re not in contact.
So they disapprove?
The Iron Pipe of Swedish Fascism
Photo by Christian Storm
Last November, the Swedish newspaper Expressen published a leaked video that showed neo-fascist members of Swedish parliament running amok through the streets of Stockholm, wielding pieces of scaffolding pipe and shouting slurs like “Paki” and “little whore” at innocent bystanders. They are members of the Sweden Democrats, a political party that was a marginal outlier ten years ago with no hope of ever getting elected to parliament. But in a 2012 opinion poll, the Sweden Dems came out with 11 percent of the vote—which would make them the third most popular party in the country.
At first glance, the upswing of fascism and racism in Sweden appears surprising. The nation has no long-lasting history of colonialism, and far-right movements played a relatively insignificant role in 20th-century Sweden. So how did this ragtag group of anti-immigrant nationalists rise to such a prominent place in Swedish politics? And what made the Swedish people vote these hooligans into parliament?
Fascism seems totally out of place in Sweden, an affluent country with a well-functioning welfare system. But in the past couple of decades, xenophobia has festered under the surface of prosperity. Starting in the early 1980s, a handful of racist groups emerged, the most notable among them Bevara Sverige Svenskt(Keep Sweden Swedish). Distributing flyers that instructed Swedish girls to “avoid unprotected sexual intercourse with Negroes with deadly AIDS” and demanding “repatriation” of non-Nordic immigrants, the BSS functioned as a breeding ground for far-right activists. In the mid-80s, fascist rallies were held in central Stockholm to commemorate the death of the 18th century’s King Karl XII, a figure they positioned as their founding father. These rallies, which included hundreds of drunk skinheads communing with sweater-wearing fascist grandfathers, often ended in street fights and wanton violence. Swastikas and Hitler salutes were common sights.
The Sweden Democrats rose from the ashes of this milieu. Formed in 1988, the party was a coalition between ex-members of the BSS and leading figures of Nazi organizations like Nordiska Rikspartiet (Nordic Nations Party). The party spent the early and mid-1990s mobilizing the far right against the Swedish political establishment.
Although sectarian Nazi parties formed in Sweden as early as the 1920s, their “national movement” never gained much traction. The country’s postwar economic boom was made possible by large-scale immigration. In the decades after WWII, the number of Swedes who immigrated from foreign countries increased from about 100,000 to almost 600,000. The Social Democrats’ ideological vision of folkhemmet (the people’s home)—an exclusively Swedish community that spanned all social classes—involved eugenics programs and oppression of the Romani and Sámi people; however, the bulwark of Swedish socialism largely kept the nationalists at bay until recent times.
In 1992, after the serial killer and bank robber John “the Laser Man” Ausonius shot 11 immigrants in Stockholm, the Sweden Democrats arranged a march during which participants screamed that he should have shot more foreigners. A year after, police arrested the leader of the party’s youth wing at a Communist May Day demonstration for possessing a hand grenade.
In the late 90s, however, the leaders of the Sweden Democrats began to methodically sever their far-right connections. Skinheads were excluded, explicit anti-Semitism was dropped, and references to race were discouraged. By cutting its umbilical cord to Nazism, this violent party whitewashed itself into a softer, more respectable opponent of multiculturalism. In 2001, the party split in two, with the anti-Semitic and more militant factions founding the ultranationalist Nationaldemokraterna (National Democrats). The Sweden Democrats strategically presented themselves as invandringskritisk (immigration critical) and socially conservative rather than explicitly fascist. Led by Jimmie Åkesson, a respectable and smartly dressed young man with a self-proclaimed interest in “history,” the party received 160,000 votes in the 2006 parliamentary elections.
Aware of the increasingly anti-Islamic sentiments in Europe, the Sweden Democrats shifted their demonization to Muslim immigrants and scapegoated them for what the party alleged to be social decay in Sweden. They went so far as to appoint Jewish members to top positions and began to aggressively push a pro-Israel foreign policy. As Åkesson put it, Islam was the “biggest foreign threat [to Sweden] since the Second World War.”
With their carefully calibrated underdog image, the Sweden Democrats gained significant support over the next few years. Some former Social Democrats, discouraged by their party’s involvement in dismantling the welfare state, found the Sweden Democrats to be a source of stability, community, and tradition. The party appropriated the Social Democratic vision of folkhemmet and turned it against its designers, accusing the Social Democrats of having betrayed the Swedish people by submitting to multiculturalism, feminism, and “mass immigration.”
We Talked to the Swedish Pirate Party About America’s Infowar
Last week, I reported that The Pirate Bay’s alleged power failure seemed to be caused by a much more complicated tangle of political happenings. It was only a matter of hours after my article was published thatThe Pirate Bay returned to the internet, sailing about, waving its skull and crossbone flag around like the F-U it really is, despite how temporary that F-U may be. However, not all was saved. Its co-founder Gottfrid Svartholm still sits in custody, under an extended detention by Swedish authorities, which may or may not expire this Friday depending on if it is extended for a third time. Legal action was taken against several other sites, including a Swedish torrent site called Appbucket, which now greets any visitor with the same FBI anti-piracy seizure graphic you find if you go to Megaupload.
Interestingly enough, Appbucket is registered under the internet’s public WHOIS system to Gottfrid Svartholm, the same dude dodging charges related to The Pirate Bay and, in an unrelated case, the alleged hacking of a logistics firm called Logica. His name being in the WHOIS registration entry for Appbucket does not necessarily mean he was involved in the operations of the site, and it’s likely that his name got there because Appbucket was being hosted by PRQ, a company that Gottfrid co-founded. PRQ also happens to be the hosting company that the Swedes raided after what appears to be coercement from the FBI. It’s possible Appbucket could have been using a privatizing service offered by PRQ to keep Appbucket’s real owner’s name away from the public WHOIS registry. Since PRQ was co-founded by Gottfrid Svartholm, maybe he just placed his own name there for clients who purchased that service, instead of using general contact info for PRQ itself. Which seems particularly dumb, if that’s the case.
If you look up the WHOIS for another site that would like to stay hidden, Nambla.net for example, which is also hosted by PRQ, you actually get the Toronto address of their domain registar, Tucows, and the email address “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Contactprivacy is an intermediary service for domain name owners who would like to be hard to contact. Seems like the man-boy lovers are slightly more cautious, in this particular instance.
We’ve seen through other cases that the FBI is not so careful when it comes to their anti-piracy raids. When I spoke to DJ Drama in a forthcoming interview for VICE, who was the target of a unwarranted seizure of his mixtape studio, he told me that the FBI went after him after seeing Michael Jackson and Beyonce breaks CDs on his website, which led them to presume he was running a full-scale, top 40 bootlegging business. Really, he was just selling loops and drum beats and the vast majority of his product was free, officially sanctioned mixtapes for underground rappers. It’s possible that Gottfrid’s name on Appbucket gave the FBI a similar boner for justice.
Once again, a major BitTorrent portal has disappeared from the internet into a poof of misdirection and contradictory reporting. Currently, The Pirate Bay is unreachable and, like we have seen before, TorrentFreak is the only media outlet with allegedly official information. They’re saying that Pirate Bay isdown “due to power failure.”
In August, I reported on the Demonoid shutdown. Torrentfreak ran a story that said Demonoid’s servers, which were hosted by a company named Colocall, were shut down by the Ukranians as a “gift to the United States government.” They wrote that the Ukrainian “government investigators arrived at ColoCall to shut Demonoid down” which they sourced from a Ukrainian newspaper. A few days later, after I emailed Colocall personally, Colocall told me “the decision to terminate the contract with Demonoid has been made without participation of the Ministry, because they caused too much trouble for a single customer. This is our own decision.”
Even though we ran an article that said Torrentfreak was “full of shit,” I’m not saying that they’re totally wrong in reporting The Great Pirate Bay Power Failure of 2012. I am, however, very skeptical. Especially given that on their front page they are also running a story about Gottfrid Svartholm, a TPB founder, being“locked up without charges.” Gottfrid, pictured above on the left, was arrested in Cambodia and returned to Sweden last month after dodging a warrant. Besides evading his one year sentence in Sweden for running Pirate Bay, he allegedly hacked into a consulting firm called Logica. He’s currently sitting in a Swedish jail and his detention period was extended yesterday, the same day as the power failure.
Besides the supposed power failure, and Gottfrid being extracted from Cambodia, there’s a third event that is also supposedly unconnected to the site being down. It regards the TPB’s hosting company: PRQ. PRQ not only hosts Pirate Bay, the company was also founded by the creators of TPB. PRQ has also caught some serious heat for hosting NAMBLA’s website. But, more importantly, PRQ is one of Wikileaks’ hosting providers as well. As of right now, the Wikileaks website is still accessible.
Considering the way the internet works now, you kind of assume that when something is popular in one place, it’s instantly popular everywhere else at the same time. So when I stumbled across “Flytta på dej” by Sweden’s Alina Devecerski and instantly lost my shit over the electro-rave-pop track, I figured it was old news even though it had only come out about a month ago.
Turns out I was wrong, and that despite going to number one in the charts in Sweden and Norway, and number three in Denmark (so cute), there wasn’t a single mention of it in any English language blogs. You realize how rare it is for any half way decent song in the world to exist right now without being obsessively blogged about ad nauseum by every single person in the world? What do, say, Icona Pop have that this song, just as infectious and instantly danceable, doesn’t? Well, for starters, “I Love It” is in English (sell outs). Turns out we’re all racist against the Swedish language here I guess, even if we know that Sweden is basically the capital of awesome music adjusted for population inflation, and that would still be true if you erased every other Swedish musician off the face of the earth and reduced it down to Robyn and my personal pick for the most woefully under-appreciated band ever, Kent, who are giant in Sweden, but were met with zero fucks here during their brief attempt at breaking America. (All you revisionist nerds can keep Refused, by the way. They were much better when they were doing white belt scene punk).
So hey, get me, I’m the Rusko of journalism over here, discovering shit that’s already popular in other countries then putting my face in front of it as if that was something to be proud of. I called up the super cute and polite Devecerski to talk about what it feels like to blow up in Scandanavia after years of hard work in the music trenches, and, more importantly, to find out what the fuck it is she’s talking about in the song.
VICE: So has no one at all heard of you in the States yet?
Alina Devecerski: No, not very many more than my cousins. They live in Arizona. They probably heard it.
Who are you? Normally that stuff is pretty easy to figure out, but I can’t read any of your biographical information online.
I’m born 1983. I’m from Stockholm, like a suburb called Sundbyberg. I lived there when I grew up. I’m not very good at telling you things about myself. I’ve been dong music for like ten years. I’ve been writing as an artist only for the last five years now. Then I started working on my own stuff like a year and a half ago.
You were in a girl group or something when you were younger?
The very first band I was in was a girl band, that happened when I was like 17 or 18, still in school, so that’s the first things that happened. The band split up and I started writing more, and doing back up vocals for other artists with friend’s bands and stuff like that. I was never like the lead singer in another band or anything like that, more like doing back up for friends while writing for other people, and surviving as a singer doing demos and stuff like that to pay the rent.
A Hairy Situation
Most of the world views Sweden as a bastion of liberal-socialist tolerance and forward-thinking feminist ideology, but it turns out the country’s open-mindedness extends only so far as its armpits. And if them shits are hairy, all of the talk of acceptance and the perils of prejudice gets tossed down a drain clogged with short-and-curlies.
This hubbub about hair began in March, during the finals of the Melodifestivalen national song contest, when school librarian Lina Ehrin’s unshaven underarm was caught on camera for a split second and beamed directly into the fragile eyes of millions of viewers.
A screengrab was uploaded to Facebook shortly afterward, racking up thousands of abusive comments about how disgusting Lina was for neglecting to shave her pits. A Facebook event page called Ta Håret Tillbaka! (Take the Hair Back!) was quickly created to defend Lina’s right not to shave and urging women to post pictures of their own furry enclaves.
The page quickly garnered 15,000 likes and hundreds of pit pics, the group began organizing real-life protests, and the discussion exploded from the social-media sphere and spilled into the mainstream tabloids. Befuddled by all of this tufted outrage, we spoke with Deidre Palacios, one of the founders of Ta Håret Tillbaka!, and asked her why her fellow citizens care so much about hair.
VICE: What do you mean by saying you want to “take the hair back”? Did it ever go anywhere?
Deidre Palacios: It’s not meant to be taken literally; it’s more about women reclaiming the notion of hair. I thought only my friends would care—I never imagined it would spread like it has. I think the debate makes people think in new ways. A girl contacted me today and told me her boyfriend wouldn’t accept her having hairy armpits. She was really shocked, and it shed new light on him.
Genesis P-Orridge, Cheltenham, 1988
A collective group of artists and musicians located in Gothenburg, Sweden, called Radium invited me to show films a few times at their warehouse-like space in 1986 or ’87.
I was a drug addict at this time, so going to places like this was always a psychedelic experience. I’d get on a plane, begin kicking dope immediately, then be forced to start looking for something to dull the pain as soon as I landed. In Sweden, the favored drugs seemed to be speed, alcohol, and cigarettes. No one slept. I was amazed that the Swedish government gave organizations like Radium free money to promote the kind of stuff that degenerates like me were doing.
On one of these trips, I met Carl Abrahamsson. He was producing a fanzine called Lollipop and offered to organize a film screening for me in Stockholm.
Memory is selective, unreliable, and questionable. There is no “I’ll remember this forever” tool in our brain. So I was very happy to receive this book of Carl’s photographs from that time period in Sweden. The book puts names to some of the hazy images that drift around in my head. It’s nice to see myself with thick dark hair and black stubble, Genesis as a man, Lydia as a shapely sexpot, Freddie Wadling exactly as I remember him, and multiple photos of one of my favorite bands, Union Carbide Productions.
All I remember about Carl and the trip he organized for me was that I was supposed to sleep on a beat-up leather couch in his one-room apartment while he and his girlfriend “slept” in a bed a few feet away. Drug-sick, I couldn’t pass out, and the grunting and squeaking noises from the bed didn’t help. I know lots of people slept on that couch while visiting Stockholm, and I’ve always wondered if having sex while an extra person or persons were in the room was and still is a vital part of Carl’s sex life.