The problem with aggressively mining a single specific site for over a century is that it tends to damage to the local landscape a bit. In Kiruna, for example—a Swedish town that’s been exploiting its iron ore resources since the 1800s—a huge crack caused by extensive digging is now moving towards the suburbs and threatening to swallow up thousands of homes.
The Swedish Police Are Keeping Tabs on Roma Immigrants
Yesterday, it was announced that the Swedish police keeps a registry that contains detailed information about 4,029 people of Roma descent. According to the newspaperDagens Nyheter, more than half of the people on the registry have no criminal record, and there were 1,000 children on the list who are too young to have even committed a crime—some as young as two years old. All of which would seem to imply that when the Swedish police were compiling the list, they were creating a small but perfectly lazy and borderline-racist monitoring network.
Lawyers told the Dagens Nyheter that the database breaks several laws, including the European Convention on Human Rights, police data laws, and the law against general police surveillance registries. Anna Troberg, leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, was quick to express her outrage, tweeting: “I wake up to the news of the police cataloguing Romani. This makes me enraged to all fucking hell.”
A few hours after the registry’s existence was reported, demonstrators took to the streets to give the police a piece of their mind. I ventured out to see what they had to say.
More than 200 infuriated human rights activists, anti-racists, and concerned citizens turned up at a public square in Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city. As often happens at protests, angry speeches were made. One person took to the mic to remind the crowd that, “this was how the Holocaust started,” which seemed somehow both a bit rash and actually quite accurate.
You Can’t Just Walk Around Masturbating in Public, Swedish People
Last week, the Swedish newspaper Mitt i Stockholm reported on a sexual assault case brought against a 65-year-old man who had been seen touching himself on a local beach. Weirdly, he’d been acquitted because “the masturbation wasn’t directed or aimed at any specific person.” No one seems to know what the man was looking at while he pumped away at his groin—the horizon? An empty boat? A gull—but nevertheless, over the weekend, the story started to ooze its way out to international media outlets.
When the English-language Swedish news website the Local picked up the story, however, something was lost in translation—they messed up one of the quotes given toMitt i Stockholm by the case’s wonderfully named public prosecutor, Olof Vrethammar.
The English translation of Olof’s quote, according to the Local: "The district court has made a judgement on this case. With that we can conclude that it is OK to masturbate on the beach. The act may be considered to be disorderly conduct."
The English translation of Olof’s quote, according to me, a Swedish person: “The district court has made a judgement on this particular case. Consequently, you CANNOT imply or draw a conclusion that it’s OK to masturbate on a beach. This deed could possibly be considered as offensive behavior.”
Photographer JH Engström Is About to Release His Fifteenth Photo Book
Swedish photographer Jan Henrik Engström is one of the reasons contemporary Scandinavian photography is acknowledged worldwide. If you were already aware of that, you probably know him better as ‘JH’ and came across him some time after his widely acclaimed 2004 photo book, Trying to Dance. Since that was released, he’s had praise heaped upon him from people like Robert Frank, won prizes all over the place, released a bunch more photo books, and collaborated with people like Anders Petersen and his partner, Margot Wallard.
JH’s forthcoming book, Ende und Anfang, is coming out this October on André Frère Éditions, and is made up of photographs he took at the end of the 20th century while traveling around Europe and the US. Two more of his books, Sketch of Paris (Aperture) and Långt Från Stockholm (Mörel Books), will also be released this year. And, as some of his work will be included in Lost Home (Super Labo) alongside nine other photographers, that brings his number of photo book releases up to 15 by the end of 2013. Which is a lot of photo book releases.
With all this stuff coming out, I figured it was time to catch up for a chat.
VICE: Hey, Jan. You’ll soon have released a total of 15 books—why so many?
JH Engström: A book is the ultimate photographic expression. Photography in painting, sculpture, or installations lose so much, and all you get is a poor reproduction. A photography book in high-quality print does the photograph 100 percent justice. As such, the photo book is what interests me, as opposed to catalogs with photographic art. It’s an important component of the expression. What can be expressed in a book is often more interesting and complex than, for example, a photographic work hanging on a wall. A good photo book also implies a dimension of forward movement.
What does the title of your next book, Ende und Anfang [The End and the Beginning] refer to?
The title means what it says: the end and the beginning. It’s obviously a reference to time. Time fascinates me. A lot has happened since the photos in the book were taken, which has changed our image of the world—the terror attack on New York, for example. The title also poses an intriguing question: when does anything start or finish?
Photographers often have themes for their books, but you seem to avoid that. Why?
I have themes, too. Maybe they’re just not that obvious. I’m aiming for a freer approach to communicating the photographic image. I believe the recipient’s capability of interpreting and drawing emotional and intellectual conclusions is generally underestimated. I have an aversion to overemphasis and pedagogy—I’m not even sure I want the recipient to ‘understand’ my books. But I do want the books to touch the observer.
A Terminal Cancer Patient Talks to an Exonerated Serial Killer
Yesterday it was announced that Sture Bergwall, formerly known as Thomas Quick, has been freed after spending 20 years locked up in mental institutions. He initially confessed to over 30 murders in Scandinavia and the last of his eight convictions came in 1994. Our friend Kristian Gidlund wrote the following article after the two met on May the 14th for the first (and probably only) time in their lives. Kristian is a 29-year-old journalist and drummer in the band Sugarplum Fairy. He suffers from terminal cancer and has, with his blogand book, helped thousands of Swedes to acknowledge death as a natural part of life.
In Sweden, Thomas Quick used to be considered to be the worst serial killer in existence. A predator with his sights set firmly on young boys, who he allegedly sexually abused before stabbing them to death with a knife. He was considered a living demon—evil personified—and he lived 20 minutes away from where I lived, in the valleys of Dalarna.
One day he escaped from the Säter Hospital, the psychiatric clinic where he was locked up, convicted of eight murders—among other things. I remember the panic among all the kids in the schoolyard. Our parents picked us up from school and we had to play inside for the rest of the day.
Twenty years later and I’m facing death. For real this time. The cancer that was discovered in my body has forced doctors to remove my stomach and my spleen. It has forced me to go through two dozen sessions of chemo treatments while feasting on my existence. I’m fading away. I’m headed towards death.
During the past two years, I’ve been blogging about my inevitable demise, and the blog has grown to become quite well-read in Sweden. One day, a comment popped up on one of my entries from Thomas Quick, the walking demon. “I recognized myself in your destiny,” he wrote. “It was an existential recognition. You were standing in front of death, with the cancer. I used to have death by my side and I lived in a valley of death. Although I can sense life today, I can still fully understand your situation of facing the end of life.”
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 “email@example.com.” 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.