Surge in neo-nazi activity harms space for civil society

Peaceful Assembly and Association

The increasingly visible presence of a Swedish neo-Nazi group is creating difficult conditions for civil society to operate freely and openly, especially LGBTI groups and those supporting refugee centres. On 1st May 2017, approximately 500 members of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) marched in the central Swedish town of Falun. The NRM's website describes it as a "National Socialist organisation" which is active in Sweden and Finland and which calls for the "repatriation of the majority of all who are not northern European or of closely related descent". Ahead of the NRM March in Falun, the local municipality took the precaution of temporarily moving 50 residents and staff from a shelter for lone refugee children in the town. Although there was no direct threat made to refugees in the town, the authorities said they had taken the precaution because of similar attacks in the recent past. There has been a surge in racist and xenophobic activity, with the anti-racism group Expo documenting over 3,000 instances of neo-Nazi groups activity in Sweden in 2016 alone.

The NRM also created controversy later in May, when when local authorities on the island of Gotland granted the far-right movement space at the annual Almedalen week, a well-established annual political meeting during which people debate important social issues. Civil society organisations, including Civil Rights Defenders, appealed against the authorities' decision, on the grounds that the NRM espouses anti-democratic values and that its public gathering was likely to lead to violence and disruption. This and other opposition to the NRM was unheeded, and the movement was granted a presence at the gathering. On 8th July, pro-diversity protesters took to the streets of Visby, where the Amledalen week was taking place, to demonstrate their opposition to the NRM's presence. NRM members shouted anti-LGBTI and anti-migrant slogans in response. Tensions remained high throughout the week, with NRM activists dismantling a Holocaust memorial art installation, and others disrupting a Green Party press conference.

In a separate development in April 2017, the BBC reported that threats from a neo-Nazi group Nordfront (another name for NRM) forced the closure of a Jewish community association in the northern Swedish city of Umea. The association's building had been targeted with graffiti showing swastikas and potentially threatening messages such as "we know where you live". As a result, people were afraid to come to the community centre, fearing for their safety and that of their children.