Archive for Swedish Life

Almqvists skräckfilm berättar inte hela historien

“Det här är ingen rolig dag” – som vanligt är det svårt att hålla med Jimmie Åkesson

Som Londonbussar på bloggen just nu – inget på svenska på länge (om alls), sen kommer en massa grejer samtidigt.

Enligt Twitter har Erik Almqvist, ledande politiker i Sverige Demokraterna, avgått precis.

Stackars Erik kom inte ihåg att han var rasist tills han fick videobevis – filmad av hans kompis och partikamrat Kent Ekeroth.

Allt detta är förstås helt ointressant.

Det som är intressant just nu är kriskommunikationen från SD:s höll då de försöker övertyga nationen återigen att de inte är rasister – att Almqvist är undantag snarare än regel.

Men videon visar inte bara att Almqvist är rasist – den visar också att Christer Westling har starkt otrevliga åsikter i ämnet de som får vistas i Sverige och hur de ska behandlas.

Kent Ekeroth visar på vilket allvar rasismen inom partiet tas genom att inte göra något alls, utan istället filma hela grejen.

Men mest allvarlig är Jimmie Åkessons reaktion:

Det vi sett är uttalanden och uppträdanden som är fullständigt oacceptabla. Jag menar att det här är de ända rimliga konsekvenserna.

Det här är ingen rolig dag. Det kan vara en av de värsta dagarna både på ett politiskt och personligt plan.

Frågan är vilken dag han menar. Är det den dagen han fick reda på att Almqvist, Westling och Ekertoh hade gjort bort sig igen?

Eller menar han idag, dagen resten av Sverige fick reda på att Almqvist hade ljugit och att partitoppen är fortfarande befolkat av rasister?

Det talar att poängteras igen – rykande pistolen här hölls inte av Expressen (trots ett bra journalistiskt jobb) – den hölls av SD själva då det var Kent Ekeroth som filmade.

Ett besök till Almqvists Facebook-uppdatering om ämnet är skrattretande – det “förvånar” honom att han inte kommer ihåg vad han sa.

Och så är det ju, inte minst eftersom han hade en videoinspelning för att hjälpa honom minnas.

Kommentarerna är särskilt roliga – om du har en halvtimme lägg gärna den på att få dig ett inblick i hur snedvriden den sverigedemokratiska världen är genom att läsa dem.

Hur fel det än är, är man rasist så får man stå för det.

Gång på gång på gång har det visats att folk inom SD har starkt rasistiska åsikter, vilket verkar vara helt okej i partiet – bara man inte luftar dem offentiligt.

Men att medvetet ljuga och säga att man inte är det – som Almqvust har gjort – är att vilseleda det svenska folket.

Eller i alla fall den delen som fortfarande tror att SD inte är ett politiskt parti med rasism och främlingsfientlighet som grundpelare.

So Anders Behring Breivik is sane, according to Norwegian psychologists. Now we – and he – will get what we wanted.

A trial to determine his guilt for the bomb blast at government buildings and the massacre at Utoya.

Whatever happens there, Breivik will surely – hopefully – grow old under lock and key, either in a mental institution or in prison.

In allowing him to do so, rather than exact the kind of revenge that society sometimes feels entitled to, he will prove invaluable.

His would be no good to us at the end of a rope.

Instead, Breivik’s trial will drag his warped ideology out into the light and show it up for what it is.

The result will be that many of those who propagate the same hateful nonsense – the likes of the BNP and the Sweden Democrats – will be shown up for what they are.

Of all modern mass murderers, Breivik is perhaps the one we can learn most from.

Once the judgement falls and he is condemned to incarceration for a considerable period of time, we can go back to studying what made him carry out these appalling attacks. He has already told us much, and there is a lot more to learn.

He detailed his plans meticulously. His logic, his politics and his methods were recorded in minute detail.

In doing so, not only will they be used as evidence to stop him from ever committing such deeds again, they will hopefully ensure that we see the warning signs the next time someone starts down his path.

He will no doubt try – as he has already promised – to use his trial to ignite hatred and mistrust against muslims and foreigners. There is little evidence that he will succeed; in the months since his attacks, few voices have been raised in support.

Instead, the opposite has happened. Scandinavian parties of the far right are so scared of being identified with him that they have seemingly abandoned their arguments against multiculturalism, for the time being at least. They do not mention him by name, but nor do they mention radical Islam or muslims.

Breivik’s bomb and bullets have closed off that particular populist avenue to them, and it is now only in the darkest corners of internet message boards that they dare discuss it.

But were Norway’s laws otherwise, Breivik might have been condemned to die for his actions, and given the far right a richly-undeserved martyr to their cause.

The show trial of Saddam Hussein and his subsequent grisly execution might have been improved upon in Breivik’s case, but the end result would have been the same- the permanent removal of the one person who holds the answers to the questions civilised society now asks itself.

Instead, it looks like he will, in his arrogance, explain his reasoning entirely. It will make for hard listening for the families of the dead, and for the Norwegian people, but ultimately it will be a lesson for all of us about what happens when hate is allowed to go unchallenged and unchecked.

 

Those in glass houses…

An all-too-familiar scene.

About a year or more ago, one of my best friends and I had a falling-out on Facebook.

Tired of the constant negative publicity Ireland was getting in Swedish media, I used the “Ireland is open for business” line to update my status.

The genie was out of the bottle.

The torrent of abuse I got was unmerciful, and for the most part understandably so. In addressing one audience, I had innocently offended another.

I had poked the hornet’s nest, and all the bitterness and anger at the destruction of Ireland’s economy was spread over my Facebook wall as I was publicly tarred and feathered.

Eventually an uneasy truce was reached, and as time went on I hope those in Ireland realised I was just as angry as them.

So despite the obvious advantages of living here, I’m very careful not to paint a picture of some Scandinavian utopia. Bad things happen here too.

Take the mail I got last night- it was one of the nicest, bravest, strongest things I’ve received in a while.

Someone wrote to me to thank me for not forgetting the case of Kate Fitzgerald. You could say the person had a vested interest, as they were in a similar position.

When the writer’s illness – brought on from what I understand by bullying in the workplace -became known, sensitivity and help were promised.

None was forthcoming.

Our correspondent with depression was made redundant.

Nor was this some two-bit PR firm that specialises in in smiling through the stench of hypocrisy.

The company this person worked for was one of the most respected in Scandinavia.

Having tweeted about the mail last night, I was shocked at the amount of other people that got in touch to say that they had been treated in a similar fashion.

I was even more shocked at how close some of them came to ending their own lives as a result of what happened at work.

Depression does not discriminate, but employers do.

But like depression, their discrimination seems to know no boundaries.

It happens in Ireland.

It happens in Scandinavia.

It happens everywhere.

And like depression, things can often appear to be OK on the surface, but all the while there is something malignant gnawing away beneath.

A decade or more ago, alcoholism in the workplace was treated in the same way. Ignored for the most part, and then shunned.

Nowadays, alcoholism meets with a lot more understanding – not because employers have changed their opinion of it, but because they have been shamed into treating it differently.

It still causes them problems. It still costs them money.

But they have been shamed into treating it as an illness.

So let me be very clear.

I know the name of this company.

I know the nature of the allegations against them.

I will be following their actions very carefully.

Very carefully indeed.

 

If you are feeling depressed, don’t suffer in silence- go visit your doctor and get professional medical help. If you feel your depression has been used against you by your employer, contact your union representative. 

Covering a cover-up in the digital age

Kate Fitzgerald

Today marks a watershed for Irish media, but it’s not all positive – if Irish online journalism is truly to survive and thrive it will need to make sure that it adheres to the highest standards.

The watershed comes because of what is becoming another high-profile suicide – that of PR professional Kate Fitzgerald.

Kate suffered from depression and eventually took her own life, but not before making some serious allegations about the reaction of her employers to her illness in an anonymous piece written for the Irish Times and published in September.

Here’s where it gets sinister.

Kate worked for the Communications Clinic, a company owned by Terry Prone, her husband and son, and the article Kate wrote has been subsequently significantly altered by the Irish Times.

Terry Prone, you will remember, is Ireland’s first lady of spin and waffle. Her latest glorious achievement in the field of media training was the infliction of Gay Mitchell on the electorate as a boorish presidential no-hoper.

On Monday, Broadsheet.ie – sometimes funny, often irreverent – published a selection of links in an article about Kate.

By Monday afternoon, they noticed that the original Times article had been “butchered” (in the words of the late Kate’s mother Sally).

For whatever reason, three key paragraphs pertaining to her employers were removed from Kate’s original. You can read their account of what happened next here.

Now you may believe as I do that there is a sinister reason for that, that Ireland’s queen of spin and/or her cohorts may have decided that such a story about their heartlessness and incompetence in dealing with a sufferer of depression would be damaging to their brand- possibly even more so than Gay Mitchell’s inept candidacy was.

You may also believe that there is an entirely innocent explanation for why these three paragraphs have been removed by the Irish Times, and that the earth is flat and that gullible is not in the dictionary. It’s entirely up to yourself.

What will now follow is a test of Irish media mettle and practice.

Populated by hundreds of media types, the Irish twittersphere is alive with this story. From mainstream media, there is a deafening silence.

It should come as news to no-one that there are plenty of cosy cartels in the Irish media game (I recall one recent case whereby a Sunday paper gave over much space to a mea culpa by a radio personality that even Pravda would have balked at it, so soft was the interview and such was the easy ride given).

Nor should it be a surprise that there are those whose first call when they see their name in print or online is to their solicitor rather than the editor.

One particular sporting administrator manages to suppress almost any debate about his position or actions using this method – this I know because he has threatened a site I wrote for with legal action for simply criticising him.

But this case ensures that such – often public – figures will finally be held up to the light, at least in the digital sphere, and let us see for ourselves if they have a case to answer.

But we would do well to remember that the same journalistic rules apply online in the digital sphere as anywhere else.

The great Reuters correspondent Stephen Brown once told me that journalism is a trade, and that there are no short cuts- at its best, there is endless reading and fact-checking and corroboration needed before committing a single word to print.

Everything – especially for the world’s oldest news agency – has to be impeccable and above reproach.

So if those writing in the digital sphere are found to not have acted correctly, it will do real and lasting damage to what essentially are the green shoots of an independent Irish free press that is appearing online.

In short, the Irish online media have a massive responsibility to get it right.

What is for certain is that it is a good thing that this story is out there – it proves that the system is finally starting to work.

Am I worried about legal action? In a word, no. Put simply, I enjoy the same level of journalistic protection here in Sweden as Wikileaks and have no intention of putting myself in a similar position to Mr Assange when it comes to the ladies.

I am happy to publish the original Broadsheet.ie story, and to offer a right of reply to the Communications Clinic should they so wish. Anyone who has information relelvant to the development of the story can send it to me in confidence at philip[at]eblana.se where it will be verified before being published.

Note: In a break with tradition, this piece will not appear on journalist.ie in order to protect them from the possibility of legal action. Anyone wishing to pursue legal action based on any detail of this article is welcome to do so here in Sweden where it is published.

We need to talk about Arthur

Ready for proper drink-driving legislation?

I usually try to be as balanced as possible, but for once I’m going to stick my neck out and say something controversial.

Ireland’s new drink-driving legislation is one of the most dangerous laws ever to be passed, as it cements the fact that drinking and driving is OK.

Implicit in it is that we have a right to drink and drive, and that the effects of alcohol change depending on your experience and even your job.

Which is nonsense.

Now Minister Leo Varadkar won’t agree – no doubt convinced that he and his department have shown the wisdom of Solomon, he has denied that it’s combination of limits, fines and penalties is a soft touch.

You’ll hear a lot about how it “brings Ireland into line with the rest of Europe”, which is worth a closer look.

Let’s compare the Irish legislation to Sweden.

The Swedish level for a breath test – across the board – is 20mg of alcohol. In Ireland, that level only applies to professional, novice and learner drivers.

I cannot find any reasoning for that, most likely because there is none that stands up to scrutiny.

If you’re found with less than 50mg  in Ireland, you walk away scot free.

In Sweden, you literally walk away, as you lose your driving licence for around ten months and you get hit with a hefty fine.

Between 80mg and 100mg and it starts to sting in Ireland – a €400 fine and a six-month ban.

In Sweden, that will get you at least a month in prison, as well as an even bigger fine.

The idea that drink affects learners and professionals differently is both stupid and discriminatory.

What is the logic behind allowing someone have a limit of 49mg today, only to reduce that to 19mg tomorrow if they get a job as a bus driver? The differentiation is an attempt to be seen to be taking the matter seriously, whilst ignoring the science..

Then there is the idea that a person unable to produce a driving licence should see them treated as a “specified deriver” – the same as a learner or professional driver.

This beggars belief. Not only can they not prove that they are competent to drive, they try to do somehting they are not qualified to do whilst drunk.

There is no compulsion for Irish drivers to seek treatment for alcohol problems either.

In Sweden, drivers are in no doubt – being over the limit at all means you lose your licence and get fined.

Believe me, it makes a difference.

You can argue all you like about personal freedom, the death of the pub trade, the poor farmers stuck on their farms with only a visit to the pub for company and the rest, but there is only one scientifically safe blood-alcohol level when driving, and that is zero.

This legislation is another attempt to appease the Irish people and tell them otherwise.

Varadkar (who admittedly didn’t design the legislation) would be better to bite the bullet and do it properly- his government will undoubtedly be shafted for turning into Fianna Fáil and following their austerity program, so he has nothing to lose.

Why not introduce proper legislation and put the drink-driving myths to bed for good?

A minute’s silence not enough for some

Norwegian emergency services interrupt their work to honour the dead, 1200, July 25 2011.

At 1200 today Scandinavia stood still.

A minute’s silence was observed, to honour those that fell in Oslo and Utoeya, victims of the bombs and bullets of Anders Behring Breivik.

But some have been silent an awful lot longer than that.

While Siv Jensen, leader of Fremsrkittspartiet (the Progress Party, Norway’s right-wing anti-immigration party) was quick to distance herself and her party from their former party colleague’s actions, others barely put their head above the parapet.

Take Jimmie Åkesson for instance.

One might expect the leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats – the Swedish answer to Fremskrittspartiet – to try to distance himself and his party from Breivik’s actions.

Their reaction so far has been one press release, one tweet to publicise said press release, and after that – nothing.

Total silence.

Nowhere on the party’s website does Jimmie or the party encourage the membership or supporters to take part in the minute’s silence.

Indeed, the only mention of the tragedy on the Twitter feeds I’ve seen is in reaction to those who try to shine a light on them.

Uniformly, their response is to accuse those who disagree with them of being “tasteless” – a very interesting choice of words from the people who made this election ad for TV (article continues below):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkRRdth8AHc]

One would think that, as leader of a far-right party that undeniably shares many of Breivik’s views, Åkesson might take the opportunity to express his condolences and try to put some daylight between his party and the hateful, illogical philosophy of Islamophobia that drove the gunman to such deeds.

Instead, nothing.

The vacuum of Åkesson’s silence allows plenty of room for speculation as to why he and his party have chosen to remain silent.

The reason is not hard to work out – Breivik’s actions have presumably not affected him or the party’s policies in the slightest.

His far-right convictions and his Islamophobia – the irrational fear of Muslims – remain untouched by what has happened in Norway.

If the reactions of some of his supporters to a blog post on the Moderate party website are anything to go by, this is in fact a validation of what they believe. Muslims are, as always, to blame.

It’s not so long ago that Åkesson was writing in Aftonbladet about how Islam was the greatest threat to Swedish and European civilisation.

He trotted out the same tired lies about how Sweden was the rape capital of the world, and that Muslims were over-represented in crime statistics.

That the Swedish police make or keep no record of a criminal’s religion or ethnicity was ignored. He was making it up.

His words about “Sweden’s multicultural elite” are echoed in the madman’s manifesto, released by Breivik moments before he changed Norway forever.

Those frightened by Åkesson’s words ran to the ballot box and put an X beside his name.

The rest of us opened our windows and looked outside; not seeing hordes of Mohammedan rapists pillaging their way through our communities, we voted for someone else.

If Jimmie and the rest are serious about being democrats, they and anyone who has or would consider voting for them have a responsiblity to take an honest look back over their public pronouncements and their policies.

The time has come for everyone in politics to abandon the extremist rhetoric, to stop the hunt for the paper tigers and instead focus on what brings us together, rather than what sets us apart.

For just as Anders Behring Breivik is not representative of Norway, of her people, of Christianity or of conservative politics, nor can it be said that any one individual is representative of Islam, or any other religion, or anything else for that matter.

But as their elected leader, Jimmie does represent the Sweden Democrats, and at the moment his silence his saying more than he thinks.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”- Edmund Burke. 

It’s too late to stop now

So this is what being 40 feels like.

I hit the big milestone yesterday and had a fantastic day, with lots of lovely messages of congratulations from family and friends all over the world.

I know for many, including a lot of my best friends who will also break that particular barrier this year, it’s a time of crisis, and I thought I’d be the same.

But the last year-and-a-half of being self-employed has put paid to a lot of that – if you spend all your time doing what you want to do, what is there to be scared of in the future?

And besides, for our generation the world is a much more forgiving place than it was when our parents reached this age.

We have access to a lifetime of education and information over the internet.

The possibilities open to us in terms of retraining and new learning are almost endless, bound only by the amount of time and money we can devote to them.

Information is widely available for free, and academic qualifications (not, I would stress, the kind you buy for a hundred dollars from Roadkill University, Alabama) are more accessible.

People are no longer trapped in job roles they took on when they left school or college, and a varied CV is now seen as something of a bonus rather than a sign of instability.

But most of all, what we have is an ability to use our resources more effectively, and the most important one of these is the one that worries us most as we age – time.

Technology allows us to do things faster and better and more reliably than ever before. If we are truly sensible about its use we can automate much of the boring stuff like paying bills and instead use that time constructively.

But what I’m most grateful for is the seemingly infinite number of second chances that this life is prepared to offer us. I spent the first 38-odd years of my life convinced of what it was I wanted to be when I grew up, then steadfastly avoided becoming it.

But the sands of time wore away at my resistance and I succumbed, and I’m now the writer/journalist/chancer I always wanted to be, but was afraid I would never become.

What scared me most was the possibility that I wouldn’t be any good at it, and that’s why I didn’t try it sooner (indeed, there are some who would claim that I’m still not any use, but they’re not the ones paying my invoices…).

I’ve always been suspicious of people who say they have no regrets, and there are plenty of things I wish I’d done differently- for starters, I might have gotten to where I am now a damn sight quicker.

But no matter. The most important thing is for us to remember that we are never too old to change or to try new things, and that time spent learning from our mistakes is time well spent.

And what difference does it make if it takes you until your 40th birthday to get to where you want to be in life?

With any luck, you’ll have another 40 years to enjoy being there.

Skål.