The War Against the Swedish Flag

How love of country became racism.

The Swedish flag, with its yellow cross and blue background, originates from the mid-15th century and became the main symbol of Sweden during the second half of the 16th century.[1] Despite its long history, it is only in the 21th century that the Swedish flag is being challenged by parts of Swedish society.  It is a challenge that reveals much about the current discourse in Sweden.

In 2007,  a 13-year-old student was thrown out of classroom in Råneå elementary school in the municipality of Luleå because he had a shirt with the Swedish flag.[2] The teacher who threw out the student had asked the student to take off the shirt or wear it inside out. When the student refused, he was thrown out of the classroom. The school's headmaster said that the Swedish flag may be perceived as a symbol for Nazism and it was school policy that students may not wear shirts with the Swedish flag. Råneå elementary school is not a special school with a special focus, but a conventional public elementary school in Sweden.

The same year, some 14-year-old boys in a school in Malmö wanted to pay tribute to the Swedish national soccer team by having shirts with the Swedish flag on the school photo. The headmaster forbade the students who wanted shirts with the Swedish flag from being on the school photo. The headmaster did not want that it would be perceived as that there is racism in the school.[3]

Ahead of Sweden's national day, June 6, 2014, which is also celebrated as the official flag day, the extreme left organization the “365 movement”[4], called on the people to engage in a "flag hunt," which meant that people would gather Swedish flags on the national day, burn them and take pictures.[5] [6] [7] The most flags and the greatest fire would be rewarded by the 365 movement.[8] According to the 365 movement the Swedish flag was "the ultimate symbol of the nation state, the racist structure that puts up boundaries between people".[9] In Malmö, the 365 movement staged a flag burning on national day evening where a hundred people attended.[10]

In Sweden, the message of an extreme left organization is usually not isolated. Their call to burn the flags was spread to politicians like Foujan Rouzbeh, parliamentary candidate for the Feminist Initiative, a party that has a seat in the European Parliament. Rouzbeh wrote on Twitter on national day in 2014:

"To desecrate the flag tomorrow is to say that enough is enough now. Tear all the barriers, smash all the walls. Down with the nation-state! Long live us"[11] [12]

A letter to the editor of the Swedish union newspaper "Kollega" from 2015 asks: "Dare we now keep the Swedish flag on our walls without being racist?"[13] This is a question that more and more Swedes ask today because one incident after another shows that the Swedish flag is being challenged by sectors of the Swedish society. It is a legitimate question to ask because putting the Swedish flag on the balcony of your residence has in establishment and media circles become a symbol of xenophobia.[14]

In July 2015, Söndrum elementary school in Halmstad detailed in an internal memo rules on when and how the Swedish flag would be displayed or not displayed:

"In Söndrum school, the Swedish flag is used for flag days according to the Swedish calendar.  The school management is responsible for the flagging.  Other use of Swedish or other flag is made in connection with international exchanges.  No other use of the Swedish flag is allowed.  The traditions at the school is something most students look forward to.  When we have days with elements of masquerade and music, the goal is that these days should be perceived as positive by all.  The Swedish flag may not be included in the masquerade costume.  Masquerade and the performances must also be free of elements of weapon.  It is positive and bright emotions that must be highlighted.  If we can also with this rule help someone not to offend another person,  not commit the crime called hate speech[15] or not to break the rules for the use of the Swedish flag, the happiness doubles.”[16]

The reason for this memo was that a pupil had been at a masquerade and painted his face with Swedish flag colors while holding a toy gun.

It is important to point out that the Swedish flag is no Swedish version of the American Confederate flag. The Swedish flag is Sweden's official flag in all sports events and diplomatic meetings. Here we have a country where parts of the society believe that the country's official flag is racist and they prefer not to display it. This has created a peculiar situation in the Swedish society where more and more Swedes are afraid to display their own flag.

Other symbols of Sweden are also under attack. Head of Cultural Affairs in the municipality of Ystad, Charlotta Blom Rudolv, sent in 2009 a letter to the Swedish Minister for Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, and demanded that the national anthem should be changed. Blom Rudolv argued that:

“Many Swedes, both old and new, can not identify with 'Du gamla, du fria'[17]. It is to old-fashioned and I interpret it as that it suggests that it was better before, when Sweden was an occupying power."[18]

Elisabeth Höglund, columnist for Sweden's largest newspaper, Aftonbladet, wrote in 2012 that the Swedish national anthem should be changed because, according to Höglund, it was "a tribute to the imperialism and brutal colonialism which the Swedish kings in the 17th and 18th century devoted themselves to in the rest of Europe and in the neighboring Nordic countries.”[19]

The the following lines in the Swedish national anthem provoked this reaction from Blom Rudolv and Höglund:

”You art enthroned upon memories of great olden days,
When honoured your name flew across the earth,
I know that you art and wilt remain what you wast,
Yes, I want to live, I want to die in the North.”

These lines are about the Swedish empire period[20] which lasted from 1611 to 1718. During this time, Sweden was a great European power and expanded its territory. Scania, Halland, Blekinge, Bohuslän, Gotland, Härjedalen and Jämtland became part of Sweden during this time, which means that this period is literally a part of Sweden's identity as a country. Moreover, one could add that all European monarchs during the Swedish empire period conducted wars to expand their territory. Sweden was not worse than other European countries during this time. Because of this reference to the Swedish empire period in the national anthem the Swedish singer Tomas Di Leva made an attempt to launch a new national anthem in 2013 and wrote an op-ed in Aftonbladet where he urged other Swedish singers to make their own bids for a new Swedish national anthem.[21]

Despite all these attacks, both the Swedish flag and the Swedish national anthem are popular among the population. What is happening is that the political and media establishments are expressing an extreme version of multiculturalism by attacking what they regard as a threat to multiculturalism, namely, a Swedish national identity that people should assimilate into.

Swedish multiculturalism differs from American multiculturalism. The United States is a melting pot where different, dynamic cultures merge into an American culture that has some basic principles. In Swedish multiculturalism one sees every culture as something static that must be respected, no matter what content the specific culture has. There are no fundamental principles in Swedish multiculturalism. Different cultures have different principles, and all these principles, which are sometimes contradictory to each other, must be respected at the same time. What then becomes the threat to Swedish multiculturalism is the Swedish national identity that claims to have the legitimate principles and norms for the country of Sweden. This leads to the Swedish nation becoming a threat to Swedish multiculturalism and all the symbols of the Swedish nation becoming "racist," according to the Swedish multiculturalism discourse.

There is no melting pot in multicultural Sweden. Instead the assumption is that there is no pot at all that we can merge into. According to Swedish multiculturalism cultures should live side by side, but separated, respected and static. Because cultures are dynamic and people make choices about who to respect and which culture to belong to, Swedish multiculturalism is based on false assumptions.

Mona Sahlin, former Vice-Prime Minister and one of the most influential Swedish politicians in modern times, said the following about Swedish identity and culture when she was minister for integration in the Swedish government in 2002:

“I think it is kind of that which makes many Swedes so envious of immigrant groups. You have a culture, an identity, a history, something that binds you. And what do we have? We have Midsummer Eve and such silly things.”[22]

In Sweden there is a contradiction between multiculturalism and the Swedish national identity, which leads to politicians who support multiculturalism usually in one or another way undermining the Swedish national identity and its symbols. It is only in this context that one can understand the madness going on in Sweden. That leading politicians and media figures are pushing for a hateful campaign against the country's official flag and anthem may seem like insanity. But when one sees the Swedish multicultural ideology and how it categorizes cultures as static and neutral phenomena that must be respected by all, then you understand that the Swedish national identity, with its legitimate and rooted principles and norms for the country, is emerging as a threat to Swedish multiculturalism. What would happen if a foreign culture had norms that violated Swedish principles and customs? Suddenly, the basic assumptions of Swedish multiculturalism would be challenged because certain things in a certain culture would be questioned. The internal instability of Swedish multiculturalism would be exposed.

The basic idea behind Swedish multiculturalism is that all cultures are equally good and equally bad. So a culture that oppresses women is as worthy as a culture where women have freedom. Everything is relative. A Swedish identity that establishes certain national principles threatens this relativism. If there are Swedish norms and principles that apply to all people in Sweden, then things are not relative anymore. If you can actually assess cultural norms, for example the Muslim culture that oppresses women and restricts freedom of expression, in relation to Swedish norms and principles, then you can make a legitimate judgment about different cultures. That is why a war is being waged against the Swedish flag and other national symbols of Sweden.

Nima Gholam Ali Pour is a Sweden Democrat politician with a Master’s Degree in International Migration and Ethnic Relations.

Notes:

[1]    http://www.kungahuset.se/monarkinhovstaterna/kungligasymboler/flaggor.4.7c4768101a4e8883780001009.html

[2]    http://www.kuriren.nu/nyheter/flaggan-portad-i-skolan-1459555.aspx

[3]    http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/article11236794.ab

[4]    The 365-movement was an anarchist militant group that was active during the election year of 2014. The organization was against parliamentary democracy and capitalism, and used violent and threatening methods in their operations. The organization had connections to the Swedish militant left.  (http://web.archive.org/web/20140807173716/http://365rorelsen.se/)

[5]    https://twitter.com/365Jokern/status/468507819017515008

[6]    https://twitter.com/365Jokern/status/474862551520391168

[7]    https://twitter.com/MamPowerM/status/475056627847290880

[8]    https://twitter.com/365Jokern/status/468509193608392704

[9]    http://samtiden.nu/3190/flagga-stolt/

[10]  http://www.expressen.se/kvallsposten/flaggor-brandes-pa-nationaldagen-i-malmo/

[11]  https://twitter.com/Foujan/status/474573082053844993

[12]  http://nyheter24.se/nyheter/inrikes/770323-twitterstorm-efter-fi-politikers-inlagg-om-att-skanda-flaggan

[13]  http://www.kollega.se/stamplad-som-rasist

[14]  http://www.bt.se/ledare/en-langtan-efter-gemenskap/

[15]  In Swedish: hets mot folkgrupp. It is a Swedish law that punishes people who ”threaten or express contempt for a population group or another such group of persons with allusion to race, color, national or ethnic origin, religious belief or sexual orientation” (Swedish criminal code chapter 16, 8§)

[16]  http://nyheteridag.se/nu-forbjuds-skolelever-att-anvanda-svenska-flaggan/

[17]  The Swedish national anthem

[18]  http://nyheter24.se/nyheter/inrikes/152435-kulturchef-kraver-ny-nationalsang

[19]  http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/kolumnister/elisabethoglund/article14924968.ab

[20]  In Swedish: Stormaktstiden

[21]  http://www.aftonbladet.se/debatt/article17716560.ab

[22]  Euroturk, mars 2002. Turkish Youth Federation in Sweden

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