How Did Sweden Become A Hotbed Of Anti-Women Hatred?

Known for its gender equality, Sweden has begun to turn ugly. Some point to a "Breivik effect" spreading through Scandinavia since the 2011 massacre in Norway by a right-wing extremist.

Lund, Sweden
Lund, Sweden
Olivier Truc

STOCKHOLM – The latest trend emerging in Sweden is not high-tech or discount furniture. It's open insults and violent attacks aimed at women. How did this country – a champion of gender equality – become the object of such public hate?

The most recent spate of anti-woman backlash came to light on Dec. 20 2012, with the publication in Aftonbladet, of a piece written by the tabloid’s cultural editor, Asa Linderborg. She wrote that after a series of investigative reports into far-right websites in Sweden, she started receiving so many hateful messages and threats that the police had to place her under protection.

Many of the insults and threats had violent sexual connotations, something men are never subject to. Though neither new nor confined to Sweden, Asa Linderborg was nonetheless surprised by the general tone of the messages she received, which were more violent than they had ever been before.

“Since Breivik, actually,” she says.

The mass shooting perpetrated by Anders Breivik in 2011 against the Norwegian Labor Party’s Youth league, which he called “traitors” and “culture Marxists,” deeply affected the region. The same tone and choice of words used by Breivik are frequently found in the messages and insults targeting women, especially against the feminists who “castrated” Sweden, one of Breivik’s obsessions.

The debate exploded when public broadcaster SVT1 showed a one-hour program on Sweden’s hatred of women. On camera, a number of women came to read the threats that they have received verbatim, many of which talked about sexual torture. The women who bore witness were female public figures – journalists, bloggers and actresses – who say that when sexism and racism is discussed, the reactions are often brutal.

Hashtags of hate

Then, there was the case of Julia, 17. The Swedish teenager had complained on the Facebook page of fashion retailer H&M about a T-shirt they were selling, with an image of Tupac Shakur – the dead American rapper who was convicted for sexual abuse.

Her complaint attracted more than 3,000 comments, a tsunami of hate. How could an anonymous teenager warrant such a reaction? She has received just as many messages of support.

On Twitter, #kvinnohat (hatred of women) has now become a popular hashtag in Sweden.

According to Linderborg, the phenomenon took such proportions because it “deeply hurts the image we have of ourselves as a people. Our pride was hurt, because we are the world’s most equalitarian country and Swedes are usually friendly and tolerant people.”

The previous wave of anti-feminist backlash started in May 2005, after the broadcast of a documentary showing the chairman of the national women’s refuge organization (ROKS) describing men as “animals.” The same year Gudrun Schyman, the charismatic former leader of the Swedish Left Party, co-founded the Feminist Initiative, a pressure group that later became a feminist political party.

At the time, Sweden’s left – the unions, the Left Party, feminism and alternative movements – was starting to lose ground. “It was all linked,” says Linderborg. “All of a sudden, Sweden became a far right country. The right has been in power since 2006, but before that, the social democrats were also following right wing policies. No other country privatized their state-owned enterprises as fast as we did.”

Did this political shift to the right somewhat pave the way for extreme right wing speech? Not according to the right wing journalists who say they too get a lot of hateful messages. “In certain left wing environments, you will find there is a high tolerance for hate speech targeted at the right wing,” says Paulina Neuding, the editor-in-chief of Neo, a neo-con magazine. “As if directing hate at the left was worse,” she adds.

This hate of women sometimes hides a deeper phenomenon – it illustrates the extremes that part of the population will go to. “We live in a brutal period,” says Linderborg. “People are unemployed, social security does not work anymore, they believe they are not being represented, they feel powerless, frustrated. We need to understand that too. We need to take these desperate and frustrated people seriously.”

This wave of hatred might be the first real sign that cracks are starting to appear in the social cohesion lauded by the Swedish government during the past 20 years.

Neuding says the success of the extreme right wing, which is at its highest level historically – 10% – is being underestimated. “This party is considered as illegitimate by the whole of Sweden’s politicians. When you look at the Avixplat website, the informal mouthpiece of the extreme right, you are shocked by the amount of rage and aggressiveness, and this feeling that people have of being abandoned by the establishment,” says Neuding. “There is a huge risk that we will lose all these people.”

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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