During the 19th century, the population of Sweden increased dramatically due to lowered mortality, as the birthrate was the same as before. The mortality decreased thanks to 'peace, vaccine and potatoes' according to the bishop Esaias Tegn'er (Bergstrom et al. 1991). Most of all it was the poor people that increased. The group quadrupled between 1750 and 1860. The higher social groups increased only with 20% for the same period (Bergstrom et al. 1991).
In an attempt to prevent starvation and poverty, a change in the agricultural system was made in 1827. The new way of dividing land between farmers, split up the old villages and the poorest people were pushed to areas where the soil was marginal and the harvest small. In the 1870s Sweden experienced severe famine and many people sold their few assets and migrated mainly to North America.
The recovery of the population took a long time. Despite of proclaimed neutrality during WWI and WW2, the wars inhibited population growth and in the 1950's and 1960's, when on the peak of social welfare, there were not enough of workers to keep the industrial sector running. The industry tripled its production between 1950 and 1975, thanks to the rebuilding of Europe after the war (Bergstrom et al. 1991). To be able to meet the demand of the growing market, immigrants were invited to move to Sweden. People from Greece and Yugoslavia moved north and became part of the Swedish society.
The reason for migrating to Sweden has since then changed. There is no longer a long row of available jobs to chose from and the unemployment is as high as in the rest of the western world. These days, immigrants to Sweden are refugees, trying to escape from wars, political or cultural persecution and starvation.
The attitudes towards immigrants have also changed over time and even if the hostility towards immigrants have decreased in recent years, more people believe that a stricter immigration policy and legislation is necessary (Martinsson, 1996). Racist individuals and groups are more openly hostile towards people with other ethnic backgrounds and/or different looks than the traditional blond, blue-eyed Swede. This creates an image of racism being more wide spread than it is.
This essay will trace the changes in attitude towards immigration from WWI and up to today and related these changes to political events, social aspects and economical trends to see if there are any connections. It will also give a picture of the skinhead culture in an attempt to describe its role in society and in immigration hostility.
After WWI, the world looked back on the devastation and established the League of Nations in an attempt to prevent future wars. The people of Europe and the rest of the world were tired of fighting and the horrors of war, so they put their trust into the League of Nations. After some time, it became apparent that the League of Nations was not the powerful organization everyone hoped it would be (Bergstrom et al. 1991).
The effects of WWI could still be seen long after the peace treaty and the worldwide economical recession at the end of the 1920s made the depressed people feel even more despair. In Germany, Adolf Hitler seized the moment and launched his Nazi ideology. It was portrayed as the worker's last hope, the ideology that would bring the country forward and out of the economic crisis (Bergstrom et al. 1991). This was very tempting for the Swedish people as well and during the 1930's, Nazism was strong in Sweden. However, not strong enough to get a delegate in parliament in the 1936 election (Scott, 1977).
If Sweden was pro-German post-WWI, the attitude changed during WW2. Germany's occupation of both Norway and Denmark was not popular and with Russia occupying Finland, Sweden was surrounded and the outside threat created a feeling of unity among the Swedish people. It was a feeling of we-and-them.
1946 - 1970
After the war, the blame was put on the Nazis and any sympathies were hidden under the carpet, also in Sweden. The Swedish Nazi organization went underground, not emerging again until the 1980s (Lodenius, 1996).
The post-war period in Sweden is characterized by the creation of the welfare state, a social system that made Sweden a role model for the rest of the world. Neutrality during WW2 had assured that Sweden remained intact and could easily expand the industrial sector. Europe was in ruins and the demand for goods was great. As already described, the Swedish industry expanded rapidly, more rapidly than the workforce required. To cope with the demand, labour was recruited abroad. The general attitude toward the immigrants was reserved politeness and friendliness.
During this period, the world experienced milder economical recessions, first at the end of the 1950's, the second a decade later. The Swedish government managed these depressions by economical support and various measures to keep the industry going, preventing unemployment. As a result, inflation increased.
In the beginning of the 1970s, the economical growth slowed down and it worsened in connection with the depression in Europe and the USA as a result of the oil crisis. International companies turned to other markets where labour was cheaper than in Sweden. Examples of such industries are shipbuilding (Japan and South Korea built cheaper ships) and the export of iron ore (the methods of using iron ore changed from phosphorous rich iron to phosphorous poor and hence decreased the demand for Swedish iron ore).
To support the companies in economical difficulties, Sweden had to loan money. Some came from abroad but most of it within the country. The interest on these loans is the expense that grows fastest in the state budget still today. In the beginning of the 1980's the interest was three times the amount given to the defence (Bergstrom et al, 1991). The thought of this business support was to help companies to bridge the depression, but when it continued much longer than anyone had predicted, the Swedish state ended up in financial trouble and in the early 1980s, stricter policy was introduced.
Imports at this time were larger than exports and approximately 60% of the gross national product were spent on the state's expenses (Bergstrom et al, 1991). To adjust the Swedish budget, the expenses were cut, leading to unemployment and increased inflation. Social welfare was not as prominent as previously and the Swedish people were displeased with the changes.
The long time hidden Nazi sympathies surfaced and the first skinhead gangs came into being in larger Swedish cities (Lodenius, 1996). Immigrants were made scapegoats for the economic recession and hostility became more obvious in the Swedish society. The arguments against immigration were that immigrants stole jobs from Swedes and they cost society a large amount of money, which should be used to maintain social welfare.
The 1990s can be described as continues strict politic and budgeting for the Swedes. Inflation decreased, but unemployment increased to extreme high levels. When the politicians gave themselves a pay raise the dissatisfaction grew even stronger. This triggered more racism groups and several racist political parties became established.
The best known is the Sweden Democrats (Sverige Demokraterna) which with the slogan 'Family, Home and Country" (Familj, hembygd och fädernesland) got 13-14 000 votes in the 1994 election (Lodenius, 1996).
In the beginning of the decade, Germany experienced a wave of racist attacks. Refugee camp buildings were burnt down and German skinheads attacked immigrants. The violence spread to Sweden and similar incidents occurred. In smaller towns, refugee barracks were burnt down to the ground and in larger (cities people were attacked by automatic weapons or beaten up. However the actions were independent of each other and not a part of organized violence. The media focused on the increasing problem of youth violence and racism, resulting in greater division as the 'new Swedes' felt offended by the talk of we-and-them.
A tragedy was required to incorporate immigrants into 'we'. The Macedonian group in Gothenburg arranged a party in October 1998. 400 teenagers from all-different ethnic background and religions gathered to have a good time. Sometime during the night a fire started and panic developed as they tried to get out - through the only exit. Over 60 people died in the flames, many after going into the fire again to help others. In the media there was no longer talk about we-and-them, they were all referred to as Swedish teenagers.
The 1990s have become a war if compared to the 1980s. Anti-racist groups have at several times attacked buildings associated with the White Power-movement (the international term for the ideology of Aryan superiority) and have at some occasions chased the Neo-Nazis away with anti-demonstrations. One such occasion was in 1996, when 700 anti-racists chased the skinheads away from their gathering point at Uppsala train station. That event led to the secrecy surrounding the location of their gathering points that exists today. On one occasion the anti-group cancelled the Nazis' booking at a big concert in Sodertalje, where 600 participants from the whole country were expected to attend (Internet2).
National Socialistic Front did the first open anti-Semitic demonstration in Sweden since WW2, on the Crystal night 8 November 1997. It was targeting the Jew's control over the media (Bonnier is Jewish and the media king of Sweden), but the demonstration ended abruptly as 350 anti-racists chased the 80 NSF demonstrators away (Internet2).
There is also conflict between the Nazis and the state. During a concert in Brottby, the police arrested the participants for agitation against immigrants. In school, teachers and administration staff are taking action against racism and Nazism. Schools in Stockholm, Eskilstuna, Kungälv and Åtvidaberg are some examples of schools that have forbidden pupils to wear clothes with racial offensive symbols (Internet3 and Palmefors, 1998). Examples of such symbols can be seen in Appendix 1.
Besides conflicts with anti-racism groups and the government, there are deep fractures between different Nazi groups. One major group in Sweden is Nordland (Nordic Country) and according to their homepage on the internet, their aim is 'to build up an infrastructure as strong as possible to be capable to confront the disintegrating society' (Internet3). This is done through music. The first White Power-concert in Sweden was arranged in 1986 by Blood and Honor (Blod och Ära), which has now changed name to Nordland (Internet3). Combat-18 (I=A, 8=H after their place in the alphabet = Adolf Hitler) is another group, that wants to decrease the importance of music and increase the political influence, accusing Nordland to profit on the White Power movement. Nordland contradicts, accusing Combat- 1 8 to be ' not serious Nazi terrorists' (Internet2). The intrigues of the White Power-movement are confusing and I win not even attempt to describe it any further.
Although there have been increases in violence and open hostility, the future looks bright. More and more common people are becoming aware of this problem and there has been a change in attitude. More people are actively taking a stand against racism. This is illustrated by a manifestation in Linkbping in 1997. 5 000 people participated in a demonstration against racism, Neo-nazism and violence, after attacks against homosexuals and another demonstration against Nazism (Internet5).
The Swedish skinhead gangs are in close connection with the Swedish Nazi organization. When dissatisfaction increased in the 1980's, the older Nazis, often originating from WW2, established contacts with the new hostile youth groups. They supplied the gangs with money and knowledge of the Nazi ideology (Lodenius, 1996).
The groups started in the larger metropolitan areas, but have now moved to smaller towns. There are approximately 60 groups scattered all over the country (Lodenius, 1996). These groups are small in size and exhibit a strong group feeling. The group feeling is based upon hatred, and often fear, towards the unknown (other ethnic backgrounds and traditions) and a perception of their own sovereignty. Most members are male and have Finnish backgrounds, something remarkable considering their hostility towards immigrants. Skinheads with other ethnic backgrounds than Nordic (Scandinavia, Iceland and Finland) and German are according to Lodenius (1996) rare, but do exist.
Music plays an important role in the group, it is the main recruitment tool and there are two main styles; OJ-music, also known as Viking-rock, and SKA-music. OJ is a form of punk and one famous group is Ultima Thule, who actually created this kind of music by mixing folk music with traditional tunes and classic punk (Internet6). SKA is more of reggae style, but both music streams have similar lyrics; describing the white race superiority and the importance of maintaining racial purity, often disguised in Norse mythology (Lodenius, 1996). Because of its racial content, this music is not sold in average music stores. It can only be found in small stores in association with the White Power-movement, the largest producer being Nordland. It can also be bought by mail order or over the internet. It is, however, not difficult to find and music sales are White Power's main income source. Since anti-demonstrating groups started to interfere with the skinheads' activities on the street, concerts and records have become their main activities (Internet2).
According to a survey made by Nordland (so some precaution should be taken when interpreting these numbers) shows that 12.2% of Swedish teenagers have at some point the last year listened to racist music and 7.8% have read racist magazines, most commonly produced by Nordland (Internet3). Two men, with no ideological connection with the White Power-movement can be credited for some of the popularity. Anders Carlberg established a youth center in Stockholm called Fryshuset, where teenagers could hang out, including skinheads. There they had the opportunity to learn to play music and Patrik 'Nitton' Asplund learnt layout techniques for what was suppose to be an anti-racist magazine. Instead, he started the racist magazine Nordland instead. The other man, Bert Karlsson, was head of a recording company and gave a contract to Ultima Thule under the condition to only play patriotic music, a 'White Power Light'. It is appropriate to assume that people liking the censored version of Ultima Thule went further into their uncensored music (Internet2).
Skinhead groups are not a Swedish phenomenon. Groups are active in at least 33 countries and there are about 70 000 members worldwide (Internet1). The White Power-movement has an international philosophy of racial purity and the Aryan race's sovereignty. The connection with Nazism is evidence the skinheads see themselves as our time's SA men. SA (Sturmabteilung) were the half-military army the Nazis had during WW2 (Bergstrbm, 1991). Another analogy used is 'the Vikings of the new dawn', referring to the rich Scandinavian history and a time when the Nordic people conquered the world. The reason for this use of icon; is that they try to achieve legitimacy by portraying themselves as a part of an ongoing tradition; from the Vikings to today's Neo-Nazis. It represents a dream and way of seeing life as a fight between good and evil, a world where the only thing to be is a warrior (Internet7). Symbols have a crucial meaning and beside old language and historical events, Norse mythology is a main feature, however the most frequently used symbol is the odalrune (see Appendix 1).
This essay has established the connection between skinheads and Nazi organizations, but it is important to bear in mind that not all skinheads sympathize with the White Power-movement. These skinheads are called SHARP and exist also in Sweden (Lodenius, 1996).
Racism is built upon old instincts. Fear of the unknown is deep inside us all, so is group instinct and territorial thinking (Internet4). It is important for every human being to feel needed and have a sense of belonging. By belonging to a group and by being accepted in the same way, we create an identity, a part of our personality. This identity forming process happens through our whole lives, but booms in the early teens and adolescence and it is therefore not surprisingly that many skinheads are young people (Lodenius, 1996 and Internet4).
If acceptance is lacking or if the feeling of belonging is small, most people develop low self-esteem and confidence and instead of gathering strength from within, they try to gain acknowledgement from the external environment. By giving these people a sense of value, by telling them how they can make a difference, the Nazi organization becomes an important part of their lives (Internet4). Even if they do not fit into the role model created by society, they fit in somewhere. They belong and they exist. That is the reason why so many young people end up in these gangs.
Acceptance is important and as described earlier, Norse mythology is used to achieve society's consent and legitimacy by portraying their activities and philosophy as part of an ongoing Nordic tradition, started by the Vikings arid continued by the skinheads. Stories are important and groups have names from Norse mythology, for example Valkyries, who were the female death angels sent by Odin to collect dead soldiers and bring them to Valhalla (Internet7 and Cotterell, 1997). Symbols from Nazism are also used as well as historic events and persons from the Swedish history. Some symbols are so associated with Neo-nazi groups that 'common' people are afraid of using them.
This issue, whether the Swedish people should allow racists to use the Swedish heritage or if they should reclaim it, has been debated much. During the latter half of the 1990s, the Swedish people have claimed back their flag and national anthem. The attitude changed among the population after several shocking attacks against immigrants in the beginning of the decade, but the real turning point came in 1994, during soccer World Cup. Sweden won a bronze medal and the Swedish flag and anthem was reclaimed to express the joy and pride the population felt. Since then, more and more people have become more openly proud of Sweden and Swedish flags decorate most backpacks. Schools are beginning to sing the national anthem again at exams, after have being banned as it was strongly associated with racism in the beginning of the 1990s (Internet4).
Racism and Nazism are more likely to evolve and attract people when times are bad. The attitude towards immigrants were in the 1950s and 1960s polite friendliness. During this period, the Swedish economy was outstanding, but as the economy changed to the worse, the attitudes changed as well. Hostility towards immigrants is closely connected with financial difficulties, as immigrants are made scapegoats for the bad economy. Immigrants have been made scapegoats for almost anything throughout history, as they are easy targets.
The reasons why attitudes are changing in Sweden, are that the state economy is getting better, even if it is a long way to total recovery, but also that the Swedish people are getting tired of the problems that Nazi groups cause. In heart, the Swedish people are friendly people and want to help others.
However, some anti-racist groups are using the same methods, for example violence, to work against the Nazi organizations. Even if their goals are of good intent, they must be careful because by using the same illegal actions as the White Power-movement, they will be just as the groups they try to fight, with the only difference that they are on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum.
Bergström, B., Löwgren, A. and Almgren, H. 1991, Alla Tiders Historia, edn 3:8, Gleerups, Sweden.
Cotterell, A. 1997, Norse Mythology - the Myths and Legends of the Nordic Gods, Anness Publishing Ltd, London.
Lindbeck, A. 1975, Swedish Economic Policy, The Macmillan Press Ltd, Great Britain.
Lodenius, A-L. Extrem Högern (seminar performance) 1996, Flen, organizer: NBV Södermanland, Sweden.
Martinsson, A. Racism in the Swedish Society (seminar performance) 1996, Fien, organizer: NBV Sbdermanland, Sweden.
Palmefors, C. 1998, Skolan har tigit om den Nynazismen, Östgöta Correspondenten, 980306.
Scobbie, I. 1972, Nations of the Modern World: Sweden, Ernest Benn Ltd, Great Britain.
Scott, F.D. 1977, Sweden - the Nation's History. University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota.
Internet1: The Neo-Nazis, (Online, accessed 23 May, 1999), URL: http://users.powernet.co.uk/orion/neo.htm
Internet2: 1998, Den Svenska Fasciströrelsen och Motståndet mot den, (Online, accessed 23 May, 1999), URL: http://www.gro.o.se/arkiv/afa/svfascism.htm.
Internet3: 1998, Nordland, (Online, accessed 23 May, 1999), URL: http://www.nordland.net/
Internet4: 1999, Rasism, Nazism och Främlingsfientlighet, (Online, accessed 23 May, 1999), URL: http://www.torget.se/users/k/klister/
Internet5: Anrell, J. 1997, 5 000 deltog i Manifestation, (Online, accessed 23 May, 1999), URL: http://www.lysator.liu.se/~anrell/Qmagazine/artiklar/manifest.html
Internet6: Eriksson, J. Den här Sidan är som gjord för vårt Fosterland, (Online, accessed 23 May, 1999), URL: http://Bennyhills.fortunecity.com/hope/302/
Internet7: Lunde, H. Norse Mythology - Cheap Icons for Nationalism, (Online, accessed 23 May, 1999), URL: http://norway.orgio.no/culture/guide/folklore/nationalism.html
Norse runes are popular among Nazis all over Europe, however all users are not racists. The runes were originally used by the Vikings and are now used to denote the ideas of the Aryan heritage.
Aryan Nations Emblem
The Aryan Nations emblem originated in the USA, but was adopted by the Swedish Nazi terrorist group VAM (Vitt Ariskt Motstånd) which have the English abbreviation WAR (White Aryan Resistance).
VAM is a Swedish subgroup to the Storm network and have adapted this motif on its badges.
Sverige Demokraterna Badge
Sverige Demokraterna is a nationalistic political party with the slogan 'Family, Home and Country'.