Thousands rally against racism in Sweden

Huge crowds gather in Stockholm suburb, a week after similar gathering was attacked by neo-Nazis.

Last updated: 23 Dec 2013 06:00
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On December 15, a far-right group attacked anti-Nazi demonstrators in Karrtorp [EPA]

Thousands of Swedes demonstrating against racism and nazism have gathered in a Stockholm suburb, a week after a smaller rally in the same district was attacked by neo-Nazis.

Crowds marched on Sunday towards a sports field in Karrtorp, in the south of the capital, where music performances and speeches were held. Organisers of the event said 16,000 people attended the rally.

The lesson learned is that the fight for the equal value of all humans must carry on.

Erik Ullenhag, Integration Minister

About 100 uniformed police were deployed at the event, police spokesman Kjell Lindgren told reporters, and helicopters were buzzing over the area.

"I've been to many demonstrations in my life and this is one of the biggest," Jytte Guteland, a candidate to the European Parliament for the Social Democrats, told Al Jazeera.

"It shows how many we are fighting for the equal value of all humans, and that we are many in comparison to the extremists," Guteland said.

"I think many people are worried about the rise of the far-right in Europe and want to show that in Sweden, we are taking another route."

Last week, about 40 supporters of the neo-Nazi Swedish Resistance Movement, armed with glass bottles and firecrackers, set upon a few hundred peaceful protesters who chanted slogans like "No racists on our streets".

The initial demonstration in Karrtorp was triggered by swastikas and racist slogans scrawled on walls in the suburb.

Revulsion against nazism, racism

A popular campaign against racism has been gaining momentum in Sweden as polls, ahead of next year's general elections, suggest gains for the far-right Sweden Democrats party, which first entered parliament in 2010.

In a poll presented by Swedish Statistics earlier this month, 9.3 percent of respondents supported the Sweden Democrats, to be compared with the 5.7 percent the party garnered in the 2010 elections.

Police were heavily criticised after last week's incident for misjudging the threat from the far-right and being unable to prevent the attack.

Some of the demonstrators sought shelter in a local supermarket while others, alongside a handful of police officers, tried to push back the attackers.

Several people, including policemen, were injured in the clashes and 28 people were detained, according to police.

The events in Karrtorp have since dominated Swedish media, and a series of demonstrations against racism and nazism have been held in various cities.

Mina Naguib, an Egyptian blogger living in Sweden since 2011, feels that racism has become more tolerated in Sweden since rioting youth in a Stockholm suburb torched cars and pelted police with stones this spring.

"After the Husby thing happened it became totally OK to make racist comments out loud," he told Al Jazeera.

"I even got beaten up by a Nazi last May for no reason when I was walking in the street. But today really gave me hope that Stockholm might change for the better somehow, despite the worrying rise in the polls for the Sweden Democrats."

Many politicians from both the ruling centre-right coalition and the centre-left opposition attended Sunday's rally.

"I want to contribute to a broad revulsion against nazism and racism," Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag told public broadcaster SVT.

"Last week's attack was sad. The lesson learned is that the fight for the equal value of all humans must carry on, or we won't manage the fight against xenophobia."

A spokeswoman for the organising Linje 17 network, named after the metro line in the southern suburbs, said she did not exclude more manifestations but that continuous work locally is the most important method for changing attitudes.

"That can be simple things like making sure there's no Nazi propaganda, to have conversations with neighbours, friends, schools and the city district, about what racism is and how we can turn the worrying trend, especially in Europe, of increasing facism," the spokewoman, who gave her name only as Therese in fear of reprisals from far-right groups, told Al Jazeera.


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