Sweden’s Folk Musicians Against Racism join chorus against far right
Stockholm festival sees people of all ages gather to take Swedish folk music and traditional costume back from the anti-immigrant SD party
Emma Hartley in Stockholm
Sunday 9 August 2015 19.03 BST
On the cobbles in front of Hasselby castle – a peach-coloured 17th-century confection run these days as a hotel – around 70 musicians play a stately polka on fiddles, nyckelharpa, clarinet, flute and accordion. The youngest looks about five, the oldest in his 80s, and a handful wear Swedish traditional costume: the women in full skirts, aprons, lace collars and red woollen stockings, the men in waistcoats, shorts and socks with ribbons. Nearby, a Danish klezmer band on a big sound stage is lifting a crowd to its feet.
But music wasn’t the only thing on the agenda at this year’s Stockholm folk festival. The mass play-in on the cobbles was a demonstration organised by a group called Folk Musicians against Racism (FMR) and their outrage was directed squarely at the third-largest party in Sweden’s parliament, the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), who won nearly 13% of the vote in last year’s general election.
Earlier in the week, an advert on Stockholm’s metro paid for by the SD, addressing tourists in English, said: “Sorry about the mess here in Sweden. We have a serious problem with forced begging. International gangs profit from people’s desperation. Our goverment (sic) won’t do what’s needed. But we will!”
“Everyone knows this advert was directed against Romanians,” said Kim Persson, 23, of Tunnelbaneorkestern, a Stockholm band made up of three Romanians and him. “And the SD knew that people would get really angry and tear the ad down. Running the ad in English was a PR trick.
“But the best way to deal with SD is to meet them with good arguments. They have an obscene dream that 100 years ago everyone had blond hair and blue eyes and was very happy. But 100 years ago we had the Sami people, as we have now, and Sweden was really poor. Hunger drove many to emigrate to the United States.”
Sweden led Europe last year in the number of asylum applicants it accepted per capita; in absolute numbers it was second only to Germany, a country with a population eight times larger than that of Sweden. But an electoral backlash to the longstanding policy has resulted in the fracturing of its centre-left political consensus and a public self-examination that many say has barely begun.
The relative youth of many of Folk Music Against Racism’s leading activists is noticeable. Anna Gustavsson, 24, said it started because folk traditions have come in for special attention from the SD. “It began really when Jimmie Åkesson – the leader of the Sweden Democrats – wore a traditional costume when entering parliament in 2010. Many parliamentary people have worn the national costume to the opening but when he did it, it became clear that the aim was political and that the clothing was worn not only as formal wear.
“Also nationalistic papers have visited folk festivals in Sweden and sent journalists to report about the ‘true Swedishness’ of the event and written about how good and white the folk scene is.”
The problem, Persson says, “is that the Sweden Democrats are the only party talking about immigration”.
“The other parties dare not address it, so it seems to ordinary people that there is no other way of thinking about immigration except as a bad thing. When nobody else has a contribution to make, people find it easy to believe the Sweden Democrats’ version of events.”