It is always difficult (to me, at least) to assess a piece of journalism when I know that there is research and other forms of coverage out there which I haven’t read. Still, prompted by Twitter contacts, here is the votes of the Danish jury on Lena Sundström’s documentary “Dom kallas rasister” – a title playing on “Dom kallar oss mods” one of the most famous documentary films in Swedish which followed a group of young men in Stockholm living on the edge of society – which was shown on Swedish TV4 earlier tonight.1
Lena Sundström is marginally known in Denmark for her book “Världens lyckligsta folk” which describes her journey in search of, if not the soul of Denmark, then the mechanisms which have led to the establishment and growth of the Danish People’s Party. Generally, Swedes are not particularly interested in Denmark which these days mostly serves as an image of what could go wrong in Sweden if…
Well, if the Sweden Democrats managed to establish themselves as a parliamentary party with some power. And “Världens lyckligasta folk” which is written in a sort of watered-down version of Gonzo journalism (no drugs here, though) belonged to that tendency even if Sundström emerged as more puzzled than disgusted by the Danes in general and the DF in particular.
“Dom kallas rasister” had much of the same – a whirlwind tour of (mostly Southern) Sweden with a number of very short portraits of SD activists and sympathisers. This was the main weakness of the documentary in my eyes – we met many people very briefly and my feeling was that we never really got to the point where we learnt what exactly made them tick. Sure, there was detachment from the “political elite”, anxiety about the state of the Swedish society and xenophobia – but what exactly was (and is) going on in this section of the Swedish electorate? Is there a racist subculture among Swedish voters?2 Were we dealing with people who wrote letters to the editor, making calls to local radio stations and not much more, or people who were on the verge of being mobilised politically? Why are the Sweden Democrats acceptable to a wider part of the electorate (wider as in 4-5% versus 1-2%) in 2010 compared with 2006 and 2002?
Sundström put in a segment where she proved that a number of the claims made by SD and the people which appeared in the programme had no basis in facts. The conclusion we are led to is that it is a feeling or a sense, rather than – well, what exactly? experience? observations? – which drives this mobilisation. The only sure fact is that the number of people in Sweden with an immigrant background has increased and that there is segregation in the larger towns and cities.
After watching the documentary, I’m not really sure that I have learnt anything (anything new, at least) about this segment of the electorate or why SD may be on the verge of entering parliament in September. That there is a dark (or brown) undercurrent in the Swedish opinion, just as there is in the Danish, is hardly news to me (I mean – just check the forums on flashback.info if you dare). That immigration can be made an issue in local and national elections in Sweden is equally well-known – see 1991 and 2002 as cases in point.
It is difficult to make portraits of people who have a porcupine relationship to the “elite” (which they no doubt think that Lena Sundström is a part of) but I suspect that concentrating on a smaller number of portraits and letting people talk to figure out exactly why immigration has been the catalyst for mobilisation and why we are seeing a potential breakthrough for SD now.
Update: Andreas Johansson Heinö has a blog post on the programme (in Swedish)
- Note the change in title – it is not “They call us racists”, but “They Are Called Racists”. The active voice is replaced by an anonymous passive voice. [↩]
- Here we should remember that SD has its roots in the ultra-nationalist fringe of the 1980s. Historically, the party is much closer related to NPD than DF. [↩]