(HH: You all thought I was joking with those Patrick Henry Songs vids didn’t you? Well look at this.)
by Paulina Neuding
03/13/2009 12:00:00 AM
“This is how it was last time too,” said a Holocaust survivor, when she was escorted from Malmö’s main square by the police. “We had to leave the square, while they got to stay.”
On January 27th, it had been almost a month since the Israeli military operation Cast Lead was launched in Gaza. A couple of hundred people, mostly Jews, had gathered in Sweden’s third largest city, Malmö, to show their support for Israel. Their slogans–“Israel’s right to self defense” and “Compassion with all civilian victims”–were met with shouts of “Sieg Heil” and “Damn Jews” by a group of mainly Arab and left-wing counter protesters. Stones, eggs, and bottles were thrown, and when a home-made bomb was fired at the Jewish group police finally decided to evacuate. The pro-Israeli protesters fled, while children ran after them with cell phones to report back into the crowd where the Jews were heading.
One protester I spoke with was among those who refused to run. “I already left Poland forty years ago,” she said. “They will not chase me away this time.”
Last Saturday, roughly a month after the mob met Jews off Malmö’s main square, the city was again shaken by riots. Seven thousand activists gathered to stop a Davis Cup match between Sweden and Israel, and the demonstration march was also a manifestation of the ideological confusion that has become the trademark of the Swedish pro-Palestinian movement. Hamas flags and headbands could be spotted next to banners supporting communist groups and feminist causes.
The protesters were met by the largest Swedish riot squad since the anti-globalization riots convulsed the city of Gothenburg in 2001. In order to take on radical Islamists, left-wing extremists, and a small group of neo-Nazis that had announced that they too wanted to show their resentment toward Israel, the Swedish police prepared with 1,000 officers, helicopters, police vehicles on loan from neighboring Denmark, and a platoon of “dialogue officers.” Dressed in yellow vests, the specially educated dialogue police officers were on hand to sooth the violent extremists. But despite the preparation, the police could not prevent rioting.
On their end, left-wing Swedish politicians worked to grant legitimacy to the protests. After war broke out in Gaza, a majority in the local Malmö council decided that no audience would be allowed at the Davis Cup games between Sweden and Israel. The representative of the Left Party (as the Communist Party was rechristened in 1990) made it clear that the decision was due to Israel’s “genocide” against the people of Gaza.
The popular mayor of Malmö, Ilmar Reepalu, who is often referred to by the nickname “Malmö’s strong man,” is one of the most influential figures of the Social Democratic Party. He told the assembled media before the match that, were it up to him, Israel wouldn’t be allowed to participate at all. “This is not a match against just anyone,” he explained. “It is a match against the state of Israel.”
Today Rosengård’s population consists to nearly 90 percent of immigrants, originating mainly from Palestine, former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Iraq, and Poland. Unemployment hovers around 38 percent, and 20 percent of the population subsists on welfare. It is a neighborhood where fire fighters dare not go without police escort. The fire brigade has responded to assaults against its trucks by developing a new “methods of dialogue” with Rosengård’s youths.
In December, the neighborhood was shaken by violent riots after a so-called basement mosque was not extended a new lease agreement. In response, local youths occupied the mosque, set cars on fire, and fired rockets at the police. In the Swedish media the riots were largely described as an expression of frustration and anger, due to social inequalities.
But Rosengård lies in the world’s most generous welfare state. Those who cannot provide for themselves and their families have a right to social welfare, which according to Swedish law must cover the cost for food, clothes, shoes, leisure activities, health and hygiene, health care and medicines, a daily newspaper, a phone, living expenses, electricity, commuting to work, home insurance, membership in a workers’ union and unemployment insurance. The frustrated and angry youngsters in Rosengård get health care at a minimal cost,
free dental care, free school, and free college and university education, with the right to student benefits and loans. Social inequality is, therefore, a poor model for explaining not only a rise in crime the neighborhood has seen in the last few years, but also in political radicalization.
This way Rosengård not only stands as a monument over the once so egalitarian ambitions of the Swedish Social Democracy. The neighborhood has also become a symbol for the fact that too many of the country’s Arab immigrants have brought anti-democratic values from their home countries; values that neither “dialogue police” nor the world’s most generous welfare system has been able cure. And it is also becoming a symbol of a Western country that is prepared to compromise with those values.
During the war in Gaza, leading Social Democratic politicians, among them the opposition leader Mona Sahlin, appeared at protests where Israeli flags were burned and the Hamas and Hezbollah flag were waived openly. Sahlin, a woman who calls herself a feminist, seems to have calculated that photos of her under the Hamas and Hezbollah banners would benefit rather than harm her party. That way, Swedish politicians are also tacitly legitimizing the violence and harassment that the Jewish community is subject to. As a consequence, Swedish Jews feel increasingly unsafe.
Two weeks after Jews were chased from the main square in Malmö under cries of “Hitler, Hitler, Hitler,” the Jewish community decided to organize a second demonstration. This time the police were prepared for violent counterprotests, and swiftly placed their buses between the two groups as soon as they saw signs of aggression. And this time, the Jews got to stay on the square.
One protester, a computer consultant in his mid-fifties, had still armed himself with a knife for the demonstration. His grown-up children, who had never before seen their father carry a weapon, wondered if he even knew what he would do with it.
“What do you mean what will I do with it?” he said with his thick Polish accent. “I will give you time to run.”
Paulina Neuding is an editorial page contributor to the Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet.
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