Democracy the EU way - brutal police repression of an anti-EU meeting in Sweden

The ECOFIN - all the Finance Ministers of the EU member states - held a meeting in Sweden's third largest city, Malmo, in the early part of May, which was met with a countre-demonstration, similar to the many demonstrations around the world againts the IMF, the WTO, World Bank, etc. The police used brutal methods to break up the demonstration.

The ECOFIN - all the Finance Ministers of the EU member states - held a meeting in Sweden's third largest city, Malmo, in the early part of May, which was met with a countre-demonstration, similar to the many demonstrations around the world againts the IMF, the WTO, World Bank, etc.

The Anti-EU movement in Sweden has long been involved in a struggle against cuts in government spending, degeneration of the welfare state and so on. Many counter-reforms over the last ten years have been motivated as necessary to accommodate some unspecified need or demand of the EU or to be in compliance with the Maastricht treaty or something like that.

Before the referendum the 'No' to the EU campaign had a full majority and only through heavy Socialdemocratic propaganda of the type "Trust me, I know", did they manage to scrape up a small majority in favour of membership of the Union.

Immediately after the referendum discontent soared again. The "Yes to the EU" actually only had a majority for a few days before the referendum. So when the government says that there will be no protests, demonstration or riots during its Chairmanship it was a seen as utopian since many people blame the hardship of the 90s on our membership of the EU. Also the Social democracy is basing their minority government on two other parties, the Left Party and the Environmentalist Party, who are both outspoken and strongly against the EU and the EMU. But now we have seen how they intend to keep that promise.

The Demonstration

Since the Socialdemocratic leaders are in strong favour of the EU, the labour movement was represented mainly by the Left Party, some Trade Unions and the local Socialdemocratic Youth. Together with the Environmentalist Party, who have been leading in the Anti-EU movement, they organised a demonstration of protest against the right-wing economic policies inherent in the EU and the EMU, the racism implied in the Schengen agreement and the preparation for imperialist intervention by the creation of the new Eurocorps.

From the beginning there was a strange sensation in the air. Police vans and riot police littered the streets as we approached the starting point of the demonstration and as we started to gather the police closed in surrounding the demonstration with riot police, dogs and mounted police. The demonstration gathered in the square - the smallest in Malmo. Soon the Square was full of people, about 1500 mainly unorganised youth but also older people.

Democracy the EU way

As the demonstration started to move off the police closed in riding on horses close to the demonstrators and imposing their presence in every way they could imagine.

The route was through the small streets of Malmo and all of a sudden a troop of about 60 riot police stormed out of a side street and very effectively cut the demonstration in half, blocking the way forward for half the demonstration. After them came dogs and mounted police. The front part of the demonstration came to a halt a block away and those of us further back who stood staring in shock at the back of a wall of police were herded away by the mounted police. Trapped on the opposite side was a small group of masked people and the second half of the demonstration, including a brass band and the entire Green Party delegation.

Apparently a group of 30 masked Anarchists had appeared at the start of the march and positioned themselves in the middle of the demonstration and someone had thrown something at a police horse. In reality, this was a long planned and thoroughly rehearsed aggression on the part of the police - a trap ready to spring at the slightest provocation.

Mahler of the Malmo Police has confirmed that they had "planned and studied several scenarios" and when they decided that "Spangatan was the tactically correct place to act" they "effectively broke the demonstration into three parts", i.e. the front of the demonstration, the back and 300 trapped between police lines. The demonstration had had no chance to contain the anarchists before the police went in and broke up the protest.

In the ensuing violence 266 people were apprehended and beaten, among them a well known MEP for the Greens, Per Gharton. The part of the demonstration that was caught behind the police lines and the anarchists, was led along some side streets and allowed to continued towards its goal, a field near the ECOFIN meeting, but its spirit was all but broken.

The aftermath

Even before the remnants of the demonstration had reached its goal, the news was full of pictures of the police beating youngsters, dragging them by the hair, shoving them up against walls and into busses. A shocked girl described what had happened while she was sitting in a police van: "I asked for some paper to wipe my face, but the policewoman took some, wiped her boots and then threw the crumpled ball in my lap". The girl is 17 years old, against the EU, but not a member of any party, and she was never told why she was held. (source: DN 010423).

Another boy was shown on TV with a rag around his bleeding forehead, half his face covered in blood. One photo shows one boy on the ground with a police boot on his head.

A friend of mine commented "I was in Prague. It was the same gear, the same tactics, the same police, only in Swedish uniforms." Per Gharton, on the other hand, claims that the comparison between the two would be in favour of the Prague police "In Prague they guarded the sensitive buildings, in Malmo they surrounded the demonstrators"

This blatant display of violence by the Swedish police force will have a legal aftermath. Most likely they will receive a slap on the wrist for the use of excessive force in manhandling minors and another one for apprehending a MEP with parliamentary immunity, but the brutality of the police is only to be expected when they receive a "carte-blanche" by the government.

What happened could stand as a precedent for new attacks on peaceful demonstrations in the future. Unless the debate now taking place forces through new guidelines, the police will feel that they have a right to not only reroute and redirect, but also trap, break apart and attack at will, all legal protests regardless of who is to blame for any random violence that would be the result of this form of unwarranted police brutality.

The violent protesters

The small group of violent protesters that tried to provoke a riot tried to hide behind the safety of a peaceful demonstration. The violence this let loose on the part the police will only harden their resolve that their methods are the right ones. By landing a hard and preventative blow the police force has shown the young anarchists of Sweden that since the police will beat them anyway they must prepare better next time. The police have only confirmed their view of the world. The other people, mainly the youth who are genuinely interested in political issues will most likely be scared of even the legal protests out of fear of police repression.

What can be done?

The workers' movement must retake the initiative from the police. This small group of violent protesters were not invited, they did not take part in the preparation of the demonstration, nor were they wanted in the demonstration. They just showed up, armed and masked, ready to pick a fight.

A serious leadership could have placed a group of stewards around them. But the labour leadership have deserted us. Only they can muster enough active members to handle unwanted guests.

A serious leadership should have prepared for a situation like this and made sure they had stewards in sufficient numbers to simply overwhelm the anarchists. But as long as the reformist leaders have abdicated from their responsibility we will face these problems again.