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Malmö-Gothenburg-Malmö 2001-2008

How the Swedish parliamentary parties betrayed the Global Justice Movement

It happened in the most unlikely country at a most unlikely place. The great international step forward in the repression against the global justice movement summit protests begun right in the middle of the cradle of the Swedish workers movement in Malmö. Some weeks later police were for the first time shooting at protesters in Gothenburg at an EU Summit and built a wall of containers around a counter summit, convergence center and school complex used for accomodation to end up violently storming the protest gathering arresting 456 people. The parliamentary parties supported the escalation of the repression of the demonstrators that followed, with Left Party leader Gudryn Schyman as a main betrayer of the movements. With this support the police could attack any demonstration and use any weapons legitimated by all parliamentary parties. 7 years later the global justice movement in Sweden and internationally gathers again in Malmö to exchange experiences on lessons learned and what conclusions to draw for the future.


Ministers of finance in EU members states met in April 2001 in Malmö. A demonstration with permission from the police was called by a number of organisations from the local Transport workers union to the Peoples Movement No to EU and the Malmö group for Asylum to refugees. Right in front of the old headquarters of the first workers daily in Sweden, Arbetet, the police attacked and arrested 266 demonstrators in the demonstration. An official commission later claimed the police action was unjustified. All parliamentary parties in the local police board claimed directly afterward it was an act to promote democracy. The stage was set by Swedish parlimentary parties to betray popular movements under the first Swedish EU-presidency.

The situation was well prepared by social democratic changes of Swedish political culture. Before popular movements built on participatory democracy had been highly respected and supported in Sweden as organisations supposed to combine the willingness of people in common to live as they preached and at the same time act in common to change society indepedent from the state. In 1998 this was changed. Millions of Swedish crowns were given to a campaign against racism in daily life under the leadership of Mona Sahlin, today social democratic party leader. This campaign was not allowed to adress political issues. Popular movements critical towards racist EU policies should have no support at all contrary to the earlier democratic tradition in Sweden when political change and individual moral were supposed to be united and not split apart. Simultanously the social democratic government started a campaign against extremist ideologies as nazism excluding from consciousness that fascism had the workers movement as its main protagonist ending with a campaign against communism. Foreign policy also shifted side from support of the Palestinians to become more close to US and Israeli positions. Independent economic policy had been replaced by adopting neoliberal EU policies.

In opposition to this two main coalitions were formed before the EU presidency 2001. Friends of the Earth Sweden and the small radical trade union Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden initiated a broad antineoliberal and EU-critical coalition also including main stream trade unions from Denmark and Norway, Euromarches and many others and the Popular Movement No to EU initiatied a coalition against Swedish membership in the EU. Both coalitions planned demonstrations and had the Greens and the Left party as members.

The social democrats had a clear opposing vision. The big trade union LO under social democratic leadership declared that it was not in the tradition of the labor movement to demonstrate and thus they were not going to take to the streets which made them refuse to discuss demonstrations during the EU-presidency. ABF, Workers Education Association joined hands with Rotary and Lions to organise an NGO Forum in Gothenburg two weeks before the EU Summit. An open space Free forum was strongly supported delinked from taking political standpoints and creating coordinating resurces for demonstrating popular movements. Separate charities and foundations as well as some popular movements were given money to arrange seminars on EU issues delinked from action all over Sweden. The international EU-critical and the national No to EU demonstration coalitions had no support and wellfunded competitors. The EU critical 5 day counter summit had 200 euro in support from official funding, the open space free forum 200 000 euro until in the very last minute some money for third world participation was given to the counter summit. Popular education should be split from political action was the will of the parliamentary parties in total contradiction to earlier Swedish democratic tradition.

The brake with earlier democratic ways in the relation between the state and popular movements was clearly seen when the police stormed the counter summit at Hvitfeldtska school at the same time as president Bush arrived to the Gothenburg airport. The first US-EU Summit started with head of police Håkan Jaldung ordering the attack on the Counter summit using all possible laws ”to the maximum” according to his own statement. According to research by Hans Abrahamsson from the Attac movement US intellegence agents had planted a false information claiming that hundreds of Italian activists dressed in white overalls and protected by foam gum would force themselves into the hotel of president Bush. The preparation of the attack was supposed to take place at Hvitfeldtska. The Swedish security police with many agents inside the school did not believe in the horror story. Jaldung that had gone to the US 40 times to get special police education ordered the storming of the school placing US national interests above Swedish national interests. The offcial claim by the police that there was weapons inside the school was proven to be false. As a provocation to start riots the police operation worked with predicable results.

Next day Jaldung continued his tactics the same way now soon supported by all parliamentary parties. A demonstration with 2 000 participants some blocks away from the EU conference walked and stopped according to the plan discussed together with the police. But Jaldung ordered anyway a large scale attack from all sides, first with dogs, than with mounted police. While the riots on the day before had been more limited this time the predictable counterreaction was stronger. Some demonstrators forced the police to flee with the help of throwing cobblestones against horses and riot police. The police had heard a rumour that the police head quarter was to be attacked and withdrew some of their forces from the main avenue to protect themselves. 200 people, out of whom 50-70 were active according to the police report, were given room to smash the windows of the shops on the high street. National public service television edited the news by presenting the course of events in the reverse order, cutting clippings showing how demonstrators throws objects at the police first and how police attacked with dogs after. The rest of the media used language as Gothenburg had been raped and planted the false informatin that there had been property damage for 100 million Swedish crowns. The shop owner organisation presented later that the figure was 5 million. Also some leftist journalists joined the trend and called the activists terrorists.

The EU parliamentary committee met the same afternoon. According to Green MP Yvonne Ruwaida the foreign ministry used the occasion for giving the information that 3 vehicles loaded with weapons had been confiscated by the police at Hvitfeldtska something that really should cause alarm but was false. Now all parliamentary parties with the Left Party as the main force and the Greens as the most reluctant started to legitimize further escalation of police attacks on demonstrators according to the will of the social democratic party that only the demonstrators were to blame. Left party leader Gudrun Schyman used her priviliged position in the media to state at prime time in public service news that the demonstrators damaging property and police were hooligans with no other intention than to be violent. Furthermore she stated that coalitions organizing demonstrations were the left party belonged to most often them had denounced hooligans, which was totally false. The proposal from the social democrats to make this joint declaration had been rejected by the demonstration coalitions that instead had denounced violence, whether it was used by the police or demonstrators. After the Left party legitimation of the state violent action and false information against demonstrators the police escalated the violence further by shooting at participants at a Reclaim the street party with live ammunition almost killing one person. The social democratic prime minister started to talk about ”criminal elements with the only purpose to destroy” and soon about protesters clashing with police as ”fascists” belonging to a ”military organised group, well equipped, with excellent communication system, extraordinary well planned and with big economic resources…”

The final day of the EU Summit started by a new attack ordered by head of the police operation Jaldung against the big international demonstration with 20 000 participants. The attack was derailed by demonstration guards and mutinity among the subordinate police who refused to fulfil the order and thus a blood bath was stopped. Later the same day the police encircled a demonstration against police violence and arrested most of the 500 participants while a terrorist police squad stormed the second school were the convergence center had moved after the police attack on Hvitfeldska. Armed with machine guns the police arrested all in the school.

After politicians had legitimized such violent attacks by the police against the headquarters of political opposition and demonstrations there were very few protests. Instead the demonstrating organisations started to quarrel among and within themselves. The courts put some 50 demonstrators in total 50 years in prison with the help of videos manipulated by the police and claims that all accused demonstrators had jointly made an attack on democracy. The sentences were more than 10 times higher than normal for the same crime. The political parties had succeded in their attack on popular movement cooperation promoting their professional campaign organisations working in symbiosis with mass media and parliament as the best form of organising political will.

The only city were the popular movements were not split apart was Malmö. Here the experience among both socialdemocratic, trade union and many other organisations that organised the demonstration during the EU finance ministerial meeting had set an example. The distrust against the police and parties that supported the police version was shared by all. Here there was a basis for rebuilding popular movement cooperation. Local chapters of the Transport workers, Attac and Friends of the Earth started a movement that soon became national for common welfare against privatisation. These three organisations also became central in initiating the ESF preparations in Sweden. This time the local chapter of the Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden in Malmö refused to join the movement cooperation efforts claiming that ESF was an European plan by Attac and social democrats to build a new reformist party. The ranks of experienced activists needed for the practical ESF preparations was filled with members of the Left party and their affiliated student and youth organisations.

Whether ESF in Malmö will be a place were popular movements can regain strength against the antidemocratic tendencies among professionalised parliamentary parties in the hands of mass media is still to be seen. But their betrayl in Sweden of the global justice movement will be addressed at a seminar on criminalisation and repression of social movements including other experiences of summit protest and policing of popular movements. It will be the first time that the focus of the post Gothenburg 2001 debate not will primarily focus upon the conflict between police and demonstrators and instead bring up the issue of the conflict between all parliamentary parties and independent popular movements. A Swedish lesson learned which may have consequences also for what conclusions to draw for the future of the global justice movement in many countries.

Tord Björk, coordinator of the EU committee, Friends of the Earth Sweden

Source: email