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Monday, 13 December, 1999, 10:04 GMT
Sweden's Nazis

National Socialist Front flag The National Socialist Front uses the Swedish flag's colours

By Tim Mansel in Stockholm

It has been snowing already in Stockholm this year - the streets are alternately filled with slush and ice. The worshippers at the mosque on Ringvägen stamp their feet and clap their hands after Friday's midday prayers to keep out the cold.

Jan Hammarlund is well wrapped up when he arrives with a folder full of press cuttings. Jan is gay and a well-known singer, and, as he points out, skinhead violence is nothing new in Sweden.

You just have to look through Jan's cuttings to realise that: 1983, a homosexual waiter killed in his apartment and a swastika carved in his chest; 1995 an ice hockey player, also homosexual, stabbed 64 times; the same year a refugee from Ivory Coast stabbed to death in the street.

What has changed is the victims this year have been policemen, journalists and a trade unionist. And this, says Jan Hammarlund, is what has belatedly woken Sweden up to the threat.

Nazis and violence

Violence is one of the key elements which sustains the Nazi movement.

Make no mistake about the terminology - the far right in Sweden refer to themselves as Nazis, one of the biggest groups calls itself the National Socialist Front.

While these people have picked up many of their ideas from white supremacist organisations in the United States, Germany of the 1930s remains the primary influence.

Kent Lindahl, a one-time Nazi, who now runs a government-sponsored programme to help young people get out of the movement, admits his ideology once bordered on the religious.

His skinhead haircut has now disappeared, so have the big boots. But the ferocious tattoos covering both of his arms remain, and the description of how he used to live is quite chilling.

'The Zionist occupation government'

In his flat there was a table in the hall with a picture of Hitler, and when he came home he would light two candles, one each side of the portrait. He served several prison sentences, but says he never regarded himself as a criminal but rather a prisoner in the war that was going on with what he calls the Zionist Occupation Government.

He was, he says, on a crusade to save the white race.

Dennis is less articulate - he is 23 and with Kent Lindahl's help he has also got out. But the way he describes himself reveals the attraction of the far right for young people. He remembers being a 15-year-old without friends introduced to the movement by an older man who became his friend.

It was like a family he says, you gave 100% and you got 100%t. And for him, brought up by a father who worshipped Lenin and Stalin, it was, as he puts it, the ultimate revolution.

Death threat

Sven Wollter is also something of a revolutionary. He is one of Sweden's best known actors and as he puts it himself, a socialist and an agitator.

He has agitated the far-right to the extent than when he turned up for a show recently he found a death threat sprayed on the wall in red paint.

To meet him now you first have to identify yourself to the two bodyguards provided by the police who go wherever he goes. They then unlock the door to the rehearsal room, where Sven is working above a theatre down near the waterfront.

He seems to be taking it in his stride, but it must be deeply disturbing for a man in his 60s with children and grandchildren to know that they know where he lives.

But why now? What is it about Sweden of the late 1990s that encourages young men to commit acts of appalling violence in the belief that they are racially superior, that they are the victims of a Zionist conspiracy?

Those on the left, people like Sven Wollter, point to the social deprivation that has gone hand in hand with the cuts in the welfare state over the last 10 years.

But that is only part of the answer - many of Sweden's leading Nazis are middle-class and well-educated.

Sitting in his cluttered, little office at Stockholm University, the sociologist Charles Westin points to 1989 as a significant moment. That was when Sweden tightened up what had been extremely liberal immigration laws. And this, he says, sent an unintended signal to the far right.

The following summer there was a series of firebomb attacks on asylum centres in Sweden.

He also points out that while Nazism is a problem for the whole of Europe, Sweden, unlike its Scandinavian neighbours, was not occupied by Nazi Germany, and so general opposition to the Nazis is not as ingrained.

Newspaper campaign

Meanwhile, the battle continues.

In the week when Sweden's four biggest newspapers published their orchestrated condemnation of the far right; when thousands of Swedes turned out in towns up and down the country to demonstrate against the extremists; when the prosecution continued to probe the Nazi connections in the police murder trial; someone scraped a swastika in the gravel surrounding the grave of one of the dead policemen.

And another thing, which is utterly baffling - one of the men sitting inside that snowswept courthouse, charged with murder in the name of national socialism, is black.

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See also:
30 Nov 99 |  Europe
Swedish press warns of Nazi threat
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