While Jews worldwide will be praying and fasting this Yom Kippur, members of Gothenburg’s Jewish community will have to face a grim political reality when a neo-Nazi movement marches through the city on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
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That is horrible in itself, but it could have been even worse after the local police originally rerouted the march past the city’s synagogue. It was only after the local Jewish community appealed the decision that a Swedish court nixed the police plan on Monday.
Saturday’s demonstration is organized by the Nordic Resistance Movement, a national socialist movement with branches in Sweden, Norway and Finland. Although the movement itself is legal and the Swedish branch even has a political wing, many of its members, including its leaders, have been indicted and arrested for various violent crimes in the past. The movement promotes a white supremacist, anti-Semitic ideology and openly praises Hitler.
The Swedish branch has become stronger in recent months, organizing demonstrations attended by hundreds – including an unannounced demonstration in Gothenburg last week. The movement refers to Saturday’s demonstration as its most important yet and expects over 1,000 participants to attend.
Up until Monday, the NRM demonstration was going to pass near Gothenburg Synagogue. The movement had initially planned to march down Gothenburg’s main avenue, but the police, concerned by violent clashes with counterprotesters, made the NRM change the route, which would have brought it closer to the synagogue.
But as a result of appeals by Sweden’s Jewish communities organization and Gothenburg’s Book Fair (which also takes place this weekend), Gothenburg Administrative Court decided to shorten the demonstration route, citing risks to public order and security.
According to the court decision, demonstrators will not be allowed to gather outside the book fair’s location or be allowed to pass near the synagogue.
According to the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, Aron Verständig, chairman of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, said he was pleased with the decision. An NRM spokesperson, however, was quoted in TT news agency as saying, “We do not accept the decision and we may defy it.”
When the march was initially rerouted near the synagogue, Greater Gothenburg police chief Erik Nord told Swedish public service television that when the authorities “sat in the room together, I don’t think any of us were aware it was a Jewish holy day. It’s not nice that Jews who went through the Holocaust will meet Nazi demonstrators in the streets during their holy day – I fully understand that – but we can’t take that into consideration. We examined this from the perspective of order and security,” he added, prior to the court ruling.
Nord said the NRM is indeed a national socialist movement that promotes race ideology and may commit hate crimes during its demonstrations, but that Swedish law permits demonstrations even if they’re organized by Nazis.
Leaders of Sweden’s Jewish community had protested the police decision in the local press. “It’s about what kind of society we want to have,” wrote Verständig and Allan Stutzinky, chairman of the Jewish Community in Gothenburg, in an op-ed in Svenska Dagbladet. “Do we want a society that does its best to meet the Nazis’ needs or a society that cares about protecting minorities?”
Verständig and Stutzinky had also cited a smaller Swedish-Jewish community in the northern town of Umeå, which earlier this year had to shut down its activities because of threats made by neo-Nazis.
“Aside from fear for our own security, the demonstration evokes uncomfortable associations for us Jews,” they added. “During the Holocaust, it wasn’t unusual for the German Nazis to choose the most important days of the Jewish calendar to conduct their horrendous atrocities.”
In Sweden, freedom of speech is vigorously protected and the Jewish community leaders are not claiming that neo-Nazis don’t have the right to express their opinions.
Although the Gothenburg police said they must allow demonstrators to protest in a safe and orderly manner, even if they are Nazis, Swedish law does not allow hate crimes. Consequently, the police published a leaflet of “dos and don’ts” aimed at Saturday’s demonstrators.
According to the flyer, individuals can be arrested if they march in a military manner, wear uniforms and wave flags with symbols that resemble National Socialist Party demonstrations from the 1930s and ’40s. These guidelines are subject to interpretation, though, and have been widely debated in the Swedish press and on social media in recent days.
The police said the leaflets were an attempt to clarify the rules before the actual demonstration and “reduce crime before it’s committed.” However, according to local press reports, a lot of work has been done on the basement of Gothenburg’s main police station in recent days, in order for it to be able to hold hundreds of detainees. Just in case.