Sunday, September 29, 2013

A new, violent Sweden

It is my pleasure to welcome half of another writing pair - Anders Roslund of Roslund and Hellström fame - part of the great Scandinavian mystery writers community.  My first introduction to them was via Three Seconds, which I must have recommended to dozens of people.

They have written six books together, and the fact that their names are in about 200 point on the covers and the titles in 20 point says something about their success.  The books are Two Soldiers, Three Seconds, The Girl Below the Street, Cell 8, Box 21, and The Beast.  

They have had great success in finding foreign publishers, and I lost count trying to determine in how many countries Three Seconds has been or will be published.  The same goes for awards - too many to count, including the Crime Writers Association's Best International Novel for Three Seconds.

What he writes about today will strike an unpleasant but familiar chord.  Please welcome Anders Roslund.


So, it happens again. A town in flames. A nation changes complexion. A democracy looks for a new direction.

It started in 1991. August; a quiet Stockholm summer evening. The silence is shattered: a man is shot and wounded. For another six months the whole of Swedish society is wounded; fear becomes a part of all of us. One person dies, and others damaged for life. Slowly a pattern emerges: a Swedish citizen who shot with a rifle and laser sights at victims who all had something in common – darker skin, dark hair, or an immigrant background.

John Ansonius - The Laser Man

I was then the chief reporter for Swedish televison on the story, which was the biggest police operation and trial that Sweden had seen since the 1986 assassination of the prime minister Olof Palme. I reported from the first shots till the last day of the trial. I saw Sweden changed: Nazi flags were raised; there were riots between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators; young people found their way into extreme groups. And out of that time an anti-immigrant party emerged – called New Democracy – which a few months later gained a popular vote and entered Sweden's parliament.

As a journalist I continued to cover the growth of rightwing extremism and xenophobia in Sweden. Just like my fellow journalist and author Stieg Larsson, death threats were made against me, and I lived in hiding with armed bodyguards.

A few years later, democracy and openness had pushed back the fear of foreignness. We could once more be proud of our Sweden.

Until it happened again – but this time the other way around.

This time the new anti-immigrant party, the Sweden Democrats, were formed first. During the election campaign they focused on one issue and were voted into the Swedish parliament. Xenophobia became established. And during the same period we saw it happening again, now in Malmö, Sweden's third largest city, situated a long way south, close to the continent, and with a high proportion of immigrants, who were targeted by a racially motivated gunman. Again and again.

The innocuous symbol of the Sweden Party

Sweden Party poster - Keep Sweden Swedish!

Two decades ago it was an isolated unhinged gunman who foreshadowed the political facts. This time it was hand in hand with a democratically elected parliament.

Malmö had already had dozens of shooting incidents before this happened. The city had developed a gang culture – a large number of criminal groups and networks – which had for years brutally exposed its social divisions. Even before the attacks happened policies on integration had been a disaster.

And now it continues. Again.


Gang related murders in Stockholm and a burning war in the suburbs all summer, shootings, hand grenade explosions and fights between the police and gangs in Malmö, the fiftieth shooting in a short time in Gothenburg, several gang shootings every week in small towns as Eskilstuna, Norrköping, Gävle ... the currents in society that we have struggled against for so long is gaining new strength, new strongholds, new legitimacy. It was a long time ago since Sweden lost its position as the role model of a functional society.

Anders - Sunday


  1. Anders, first of all, welcome to MIE. It is great to have you with us.
    Though I am glad to know the information you offer, your post makes me sad. I have long been ashamed of the violence in the US. We have more of it,, I think, than any "developed" country. But our killers are criminals or in gang fights, or garden variety nut cases. To my knowledge, it is mostly not motivated by what we call hate crimes. I could be wrong. But what you describe here sickens me, especially since it is happening in a land I and many of my fellow American have long admire as a bastion of good government and good will.

  2. Welcome, Anders! Your post is another "nail in my belief" that the worst still lies ahead of us. History (the ebbs and flows of social culture) does seem to move in cycles that last approximately the life of a human being, about 80-100 years, sometimes more, sometimes less. "We" keep repeating these cycles, as generations follow generations, reacting to what came before, and 'forgetting' (via the deaths of generations) what society experienced during the previous cycles. The recent economic troubles are, I fear, mere prelude to something catastrophic (as the Great Depression was prelude to World War II). I'm not predicting a new world war (I sure HOPE not!), as catastrophe can take many forms. But the growing unrest all over the world, environmental problems (global warming, water shortages, resource shortages, destruction of forests, etc), and technical advances (weapons, cheap and easy genetic engineering, dependency on a VERY delicate internet for banking, shopping, politics, etc... all points to an increasingly fragile... cusp, breaking point.

    Most days, I try to ignore all of that, enjoy the day, read a good book. But it's always in the back of my mind, and your piece (along with Jeff's pieces on Golden Dawn in Greece, and many others), comprise an on-going series of "foot-falls".

  3. Like Anna, your post really saddened me Anders. I too was brought up to think of Sweden as a shining light of democracy and good old common sense!
    The London riots in 2011 might have been sparked by an incident which may or may not have had a racist element, but the £200 million plus of damage to property was mainly by hooligans looking for an excuse to be hooligans. It was the first time social media had been used to organise such chaos. Indeed, they tried to get some riots going in Scotland but it was raining and nobody turned up - except those who had tweeted the location as the 'place to start.' The police turned up instead and arrested them.

  4. Anders, you're doing your country a great service--once again. Keeping the world alert to a nation's dirty laundry does have an effect. In Greece, I'm convinced that the relentless criticism of some in the international press of Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi) Party is what galvanized the government into taking the steps that apparently now enable them to prosecute its leadership for serious criminal acts. The influence of a vigorous press in combating such hate groups cannot be underestimated.

    I hope to hear more from you on this subject, Anders, until there is no longer a need for more to be said...