TO BE OR NOT TO BE: Why I am not voting for the Swedish Democrats
After being an au pair in Paris, my younger sister brought back a certain admiration for French troubadours. Since she is four years older than me, I often took after her and tried to adapt to her taste, something that made me listen primarily to Georges Moustaki, but also to other masters like Jacques Brel, Serge Reggiani and Georges Brassens. Despite my inadequate French I came to appreciate their intensity, how their way of singing strengthened their poetic texts. Even though I did not fully understand them, I sometimes hummed their songs to myself. For example, Serge Reggiani´s Madame Nostalgie:
Depuis le temps que tu radotes
Et que tu vas de porte en porte
Répandre ta mélancolie.
since you began to roam about
you are now going from door to door,
spreading your melancholy.
It may have to do with my advancing age, but more and more I surprise myself with digging up bright memories, while others have disappeared in the mists of forgetfulness. Maybe it was in the summer of 1974. I do not remember and have to ask Stefan, the memory master among my comrades. Anyway, I, Stefan, Jan and Dan travelled with Interrail back and forth across Europe. A wonderful time, filled with absurd adventures.
We split off in the Southern French town of Sète. My funds were running our. It was before the arrival of credit cards and we used American Express Travel Checks. I do not remember why we had ended up in Sète. Well, I called my father and asked him to transfer some money from my Swedish account. I was far from being wealthy, but had some savings after for a couple of years been working with Stefan and Didrik as an extra postman. Father promised to transfer a few thousand Swedish crowns to a bank in Sète. But, time went by.
Although Sète was a charming town, with canals lined with picturesque fishing boats and restaurants where the food and wine were excellent, I did not want my friends to waste the rest of their holiday by waiting for a bank transfer that did not turn up in time. My comrades continued towards Paris. I had declined their offer of an advance. Just like me they were short of money and in any event enough money would soon come down to me.
One day went by, followed by another one ̶ no money appeared. On the third day I used my last coinage to pay the cheap hotel, hoping that the money transfer would appear soon. That night I slept in a park. I had a sleeping bag and it was not particularly inconvenient. The next day I was quite hungry, but during my second day as a pauper the worst hunger had settled. I drank a lot of water and found it eased the hunger.
For two days I drifted around in Sète. The afternoons I spent on the nearby beaches where I ended up by freeriding on buses. Unlike the beaches further east they had nice and soft sand. I was not particularily worried since I had a train ticket and if the money did not show up I could travel north. I knew where my friends were staying ̶ in a hostel in Choisy-le-Roi, a Parisian suburb. During my last night in Sète I slept in a park close to the station. The train to Paris departed early in the morning and I did not want to miss it. I still remember the repetitive calls: Ici Sète! Ici Sète!
True to my habits I read a lot during my stay in Sète. It was Robert Musil´s The Confusions of Young Törless and a rather strange Swedish psychological thriller from the early 1960s, Bosse Gustafsson´s The King´s Mountain Path. I also made an effort to understand the poems in a book by Paul Valéry, considered to be Sète´s most prominent son. The name of this to me previously unknown poet appeared everywhere in Sète and I had bought the book when I stilI had some money left. On the advice of several locals I walked up to the famous cemetery with its extensive sea view, where Valéry had contemplated the Mediterranean, while he simultaneously entered his inner life.
Unremittingly I struggled with Valèry´s Le cimetière marin, The Graveyard by the Sea, which has been acclaimed as one of the absolute highlights of French literature. I did not understand much of it, but caught some impressions; white sails of boats passing across the Mediterranean blue expanse, spreading out behind the cemetery's poplars and cypresses. The paralyzing tranquillity of the midday heat, burning the cracked earth between white grave chapels, on which roofs pigeons cooed while insects kept swirling between them.
Like the sailboats on the ocean, the sarcophagi and chapels of the graveyard seemed to be on a journey beyond time and space, with their cargo of dead whose character and urges had disappeared for ever. In this magic reality Valéry found himself with a notebook resting on his knees. By turns he felt himself to be part of an immense universe, or as a human wreck soon to join the rotting corpses under their whitewashed cenotaphs That's how I perceived the poem, seen through a veil of all that had been lost in translation and my own wild imagination. Nevertheless, I perceived the rhythm, some of the impressive imagery and the smooth rhyming.
After walking up to the cemetery in the stifling heat I became quite disappointed. Assuredly, I could look out over the ocean, but between the tall cemetery walls and the rocks by the sea were paved roads and an outdoor theatre, which had not been present in Valéry´s time. The place did not breath the rural peace I had expected, there were hardly any trees and the dense and empty rows of tomb chapels gave the impression that the graveyard was more of a miniature town than a burial ground. Miserable and deserted in the stifling heat, depraved of a refreshing sea breeze.
After sneaking on a bus, which drove down to one of the beaches, I took a dip in the cool sea water and a shower on the beach, I found shadow under an abandoned umbrella and while alternatively looking in my book and out across the Mediterranean, I was taken by the freshness of the poem's final lines:
Le vent se lève!... il faut tenter de vivre!
L'air immense ouvre et referme mon livre,
la vague en poudre ose jaillir des rocs!
Envolez-vous, pages tout éblouies!
Rompez, vagues! Rompez d'eaux réjouies
le toit tranquille où picoraient des focs!
The wind is rising! ... We must try to live!
The strong breeze opens and shuts my notepad,
foaming waves bravely explodes among the rocks!
Then, fly away my sun bedazzled pages!
Break waves! Shatter with rejoicing surges
the tranquil sea surface where doves´ sails peck in flocks.
I have now learned that the troubadour Georges Brassens like Paul Valèry was born in Sète. Like him he also had an Italian mother and wanted to be buried in his birthplace, but not in the depressing and overcrowded cemetery, but down by the sea. In his song Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète Brassens sings how he in school was fed with admiration for the conservative, but irreproachable, Paul Valéry, as well as certain qualms about his work. Nevertheless, Brassens admired Valéry's independence and craftsmanship. More through speech than song, Brassens asks to be buried as close to the sea as possible:
Juste au bord de la mer à deux pas des flots bleus
Creusez si c'est possible un petit trou moelleux
Une bonne petite niche
Auprès de mes amis d'enfance, les dauphins
Le long de cette grève où le sable est si fin
Sur la plage de la corniche
C'est une plage où même à ses moments furieux
Neptune ne se prend jamais trop au sérieux.
Close to the sea, two steps from the blue waves,
if possible, dig a comfortable hole,
a small niche
close to my childhood friends, the dolphins.
By the beach where the sand is smooth,
on Plage de la Corniche.
A beach where Neptune himself, even at his most furious,
never takes himself too seriously.
Brassens compares himself with Paul Valéry and indicates the limitless admiration the citizens of Sète has for their famous poet:
J'ai reçu de l'amour la première leçon
Avalait la première arête
Déférence gardée envers Paul Valéry
Moi l'humble troubadour sur lui je renchéris
Le bon maître me le pardonne
Et qu'au moins si ses vers valent mieux que les miens
Mon cimetière soit plus marin que le sien
N'en déplaise aux autochtones
Cette tombe en sandwich entre le ciel et l'eau.
That love was offered me during my first lesson
and I drank it to the last drop,
my sceptical reverence to Paul Valéry.
Though I, the humble troubadour, outbids him.
The noble master may forgive me,
after all, his verses are better than mine,
and with an apology to the locals,
I claim that my graveyard is more marine than his,
this tomb between sky and water.
Valéry, received a magnificent state funeral, was France's representative for cultural issues by the League of Nations and was twelve times nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in 1945, the same year as the Academy intended to reward him, Gabriela Mistral received the prize instead.
Georges Brassens was a convinced individualist and anarchist, who used to declare: "I can live without laws, but assume that for several others it would be impossible." During Nazism, Brassens had been forced to compulsory labour in Germany. He succeeded to escape and remained hidden in Paris for several years He lived under austere conditions, something he continued to do even after the war. In several songs, Brassens expressed doubts about the truism that the majority always is right. In his Mourir pour des ideés, he sings with irony and his characteristic rolling r´s coming from down deep by the root of his tongue:
Mourir pour des idées
L'idée est excellente
Moi j'ai failli mourir de ne l'avoir pas eue
Car tous ceux qui l'avaient
En hurlant à la mort me sont tombés dessus
Ils ont su me convaincre.
To die for ideas.
An excellent idea.
I almost died from not having one,
since those who had one
the overwhelming majority,
fell on top of me.
That´s how they convinced me.
Could a man like Brasens have something in common with Paul Valéry? If ignoring their social stature it appears as they shared quite a few convictions. What these two men from Sète had in common was that no one could accuse them of being conformists. They valued their ability to think independently. In soul and heart they were also anarchists, each in his own way.
In his youth Valéry made a conscious effort to distance himself and his oeuvre from the demands and expectations of others. Like his friend and mentor, Stéphane Mallarmé, Valéry initially tried to ignore general appreciation. According to him, we all strive to impress one another, an effort forcing us to adjust and simplify our thinking. All literature contains a certain degree of deceit.
Valéry assumed that thoughts were a refraction between mind and expression, a divergence caused by the transition from one unit to another. However, it is an illusion that gives tangible results. Poetry is such an illusion. It is no truth in itself, merely a reflection of human thinking, an instrument for seeking truth.
Although Valéry in his poems tried to obtain both perfection and balance, like a mathematician being aware that an erroneous detail may compromise a calculation. However, art is not science. Despite his discipline and doubts about the value of art, Valéry appreciated bizarre stories filled with beauty and nonsense. He considered that, like artists, scientists have to be creative. Science requires a certain degree of exclusion/distance, an element of madness that make us appreciate the unexpected. What drives humanity forward to new insights and discoveries often originates from unconventional insights that force us to perceive our world from different perspectives.
Like several of his contemporaries, among them writers defined as flaneurs ̶ distanced observers who enjoyed studying others ̶ Valéry underwent a crisis when he realized that poetry and literature could not provide any solutions to social problems, even less so to suffering caused by unrequited love. Valery's crisis broke out at full force during a visit to Genoa in October 1892. The woman whose love he desired had spurned him and during a stormy, sleepless night, he realized that, unlike what he previously had believed, poetry was not a pure expression of his quest for solutions and harmony. Since then, Valéry did at just a few occasions write any poetry, instead he gave an outlet for his creative energy by privately jotting down a great number of meditations, thoughts, speculations and aphorisms. Every morning he rose at five o'clock to fill what eventually became 250 notebooks with thoughts intended not for other eyes than his own, in spite of this they have now become his most popular legacy.
When Edouard Lebey, head of the world's oldest press agency, which later became AFP, died in 1920, Valéry became unemployed. For more than twenty years, he had worked as Lebey's private secretary. Despite his reluctance to come forth as a writer, Valéry decided to live by his writing. His extensive inventory of notes about art, history, music and current events proved to be quite helpful.
Already in 1925 Valéry had been admitted to the French Academy. He was closely acquainted with influential cultural figures and politicians, as well as he maintained an extensive correspondence with several famous personalities. Valéry continued to adhere to his independent thinking and behaviour, demonstrating an open disdain towards the Vichy regime and the Nazi invaders, even if he strangely enough was on friendly terms with Marshall Pétain. He was seldom openly attacked for his critical declarations, well aware of his international celebrity his enemies isolated him instead.
That I today came to think of Valéry was that I read some of his aphorisms from Tel Quel, As it is, which was published in 1943:
Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.
That which has always been accepted by everyone, everywhere, is almost certain to be false.
The purpose of psychology is to give us a completely different idea of the things we know best.
Politeness is organized indifference.
Sometimes I think, sometimes I am.
However, what attracted my attention to Paul Valéry was the despair and anger he expressed over the barbarism that had broken apart and destroyed Europe during his lifetime. In the 1940s he planned to write a book he wanted to publish under the title Principles of Planned Anarchy, defining anarchy as "an individual's effort to refuse obedience to any injunction the basis of which cannot be verified.”
What Valéry regretted most of all was our inability to expose baseless myths that we allow to control our lives. For example, our confidence in politics. Whether we are part of the establishment or want to overthrow it. we consent to be manipulated by unscrupulous individuals who use politics as “the art of making people pay for, fight and torture one another for something they neither know or care about.” Populism was, according to Valéry a disgraceful fabrication without any foundation in reality:
The only meaning I can see in the word “people” is “mixture”; if you substitute for the word ”people” the words “number” and “mixture” you will get some very odd terms … “the sovereign mixture,” “the will of the mixture,” etc.
We are suffering from an absurd conception that economy can solve all problems, though Valéry states: "Economy is not a society." Equally misguided is our confidence in charismatic leaders: "No statesman ever measures up to his task, since the task is greater than any man´s mind.” However, the greatest nemesis of Europe has been nationalism, the distorted ideology behind the brutal killing and oppression that were rampant during Valéry´s last decennium in life: "We must have done with the fatal dogma of national sovereignty."
Valéry assumed that he had an obligation to use his writing to promote critical thinking, to encourage a sound scepticism towards generally accepted opinions. Thus he reminds me of the demands I was confronted with during my teacher education in the late 1970s, when the National Agency for Education declared that the purpose of Swedish education was not only to provide students with knowledge and means to acquire it. Teachers should furthermore assist their students in the creation of a "positive identity" that would support them as protagonists in a democratic society, acting as “critically thinking individuals”. I liked the last phrase, interpreting it as an appeal to avoid unconditional surrender to the simple truths and solutions which we constantly are exposed to.
Valéry is difficult to define; an aesthete and artist who questioned the value of art, while being a master in his field. He demanded a lot of himself, convinced that he had the knowledge and a message to share with others. A dreamer and a well-informed, practical person, admired by his contemporaries. It is not surprising to find that Valéry was fascinated by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; a universal genius, official and romantic.
Since 1774 Goethe had been in the service of Duke Karl August of Saxony-Weimar and acted as Minister of Finance, responsible for mine and road maintenance, agriculture, art and science, as well as having the ultimate responsibility for the armed forces. Overworked he left his office in 1786 and spent a couple of years in Italy, before returning to his duties. After his return Goethe wrote a verse drama,Torquato Tasso, in which he made use of his experiences as a bureaucrat in ducal service and from his Italian visit. Apparently, Goethe was able to express some of the anxiety he had experienced in his dual function as a governmental administrator and poet, the difficulties a creative and ingenious individual was confronted with while being circumscribed by a hierarchical, restraining system. Tasso became insane.
After giving up on his law studies, Torquato Tasso had in 1565 become court poet and historian at the House of Este in Ferrara. Ten years later, he had completed his masterpiece Gerusalemme liberata, The Liberation of Jerusalem, a drama in verse. Written in the style of the time it depicted battles, religious ceremonies, councils and wars. The book became an immediate success, a magnificent depiction of a crusade imbued with a strong sense of piety and faith in the earthly strength and power of the Papacy. The work appeared at the right time, in a Europe threatened by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire and Islam, the tremor of the power game between Protestant princes, the German-Roman Empire and the Catholic Church. It was out of that bedlam the lethal nationalism that still plagues us was born.
However, it was neither the descriptions of warfare, nor the ideology behind Tasso's drama that grabbed the attention of his contemporaries, but something new and revolutionary, namely sensual emotion. Not sentimentality, but realistically described emotions expressed through Tasso's lyrical craftsmanship. In addition, Tasso gave women ̶ Armida, Clorinda and Erminia ̶ more prominent roles and mental depths than was common in contemporary literature. In particular, Gerusalemme liberata was instilled with musicality and noble feelings, but also melancholy and tragedy were brought forth with linguistic skill and natural elegance.
Obviously, the mighty work reflected an elegant and well-behaved young man's experience at one of Europe's most cultivated courts. Tasso was favoured by the refined Alfonso II Este and despite his low birth he was appreciated by the ladies of the court. It was even rumoured that he had a love relationship with the duke's sister; for sure the sensual poet had intimate relationships with both men and women.
However, Tasso's delicate mind could not cope with the toil his oeuvre required and the feeling of exclusion he suffered by the hierarchical and rigid court. Torquato Tasso was after all not an equal to his aristocratic patrons. In fact he was regarded as a glorified servant. The duke had made it clear to him that he considered Gerusalemme liberata to be his personal property and that Tasso's courteous relationships with blue-blooded ladies could never be crowned by marriage. Tasso began to suffer from a persecution mania which subsequently developed into hysteria and an uncontrollable rage. Alfonso II Este eventually had Tasso confined to the Madhouse of St. Anna, where he was locked up for seven years.
After his release, Tasso had an ambulatory existence, going from court to court where he generally was welcomed as an honoured guest, though his creative power was broken. The powerful Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini did in 1595 invite the esteemed poet to Rome, where he, as the Papacy´s most prominent literary supporter would by Aldobrandini's uncle Clemens VIII be crowned with a golden laurel during a sumptuous ceremony. However, Tasso was sick and broken. He was cared for in the monastery of San Onofrio to recover in time for the great propaganda spectacle, though he died after three months.
It is no wonder that Tasso's tragic destiny fascinated the poet and bureaucrat Goethe. His drama depicts how Tasso at Ferrara's court feels as he has been locked up in a golden cage. The duke and his courtiers admire Tasso's poetry and enjoy his readings from Gerusalemme liberata. The not yet thirty-years-old Tasso feels like an equal to the aristocrats, but in fact, they cannot fathom the ferocious effort Tasso had put into the creation of his masterpiece.
The duke behaves like a patriarchal and indulgent employer towards the great poet. When another aristocrat, Antonio, who Tasso assumes to be his friend and confidant, after a mission to Naples turns up at a playful court intermezzo he teasingly insults Tasso, who becomes infuriated and draws his sword. At an Italian court such a behaviour was considered as an unforgivable offence. If a commoner bared his sword in the presence of a prince he could be punished with death. However, the magnanimous Alfonso II is content with severely rebuking “his” choleric poet. Speaking to him as if speaking to a vainglorious child, he orders his court poet: "Tasso, go to your room!"
Torquato respects the duke and never utters a bad word to, or about, him. Yet he becomes deeply upset. He had earlier asked his lord and master to be given the manuscript of his Gerusalemme liberata to have it printed in his name in Rome, but the duke turns down hi request. As Tasso´s generous patron Alfonso II Este considers the manuscript to be his private property and he is also concerned about losing Tasso to another ducal house.
Tasso realizes that the only possibility open to him if he was to be treated with due respect would be if he was appointed as a civil servant. Such a position would mean that Tasso could be knighted. However, the duke regards his poet as a mere entertainer, albeit a very skilled one, though definitely not worthy to become a trustworthy confidant.
The latest humiliation suffered by Tasso makes him feel increasingly isolated. It hardly helps that the Countess of Scandiano, engaged to Antonio the aristocrat who had insulted Tasso, attempts to mediate. The Countess is in love with Torquato, but their social stature forbids them to marry. In addition, Torquato Tasso is in love with the Duke´s sister, who also tries to calm the poet and suppress his anger, but her efforts only make things worse since Tasso is well aware of the fact that his love for a Duke´s sister can never be entirely rewarded. She asks the poet to entrust her brother the Duke with his concerns, but Tasso refuses ̶ he cannot burden the patience of someone who is so high above him in rank and on whose favours he is completely dependent.
Tasso is a genius, an idealist. He assumes he knows how to rule a dukedom, but deep within himself, he is also aware of the fact that he is not tough and unscrupulous enough to behave like an efficient politician:
A confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.
When the duchess adds that Countess von Scandiano could be the one who could listen to Tasso´s qualms and that she would be able to calm his anxiety, Tasso becomes even more desperate. Sure, the Countess is always ready to help, He knows that she appreciates him. Tasso has often confided in her, but everything is just a scam, distorted as it is by social barriers. He tells the Duchess:
I've done as you have ordered me to do, otherwise I would have kept myself away from her, but instead I have approached her. Even if she appears to be nice to me, I do not really know why ... I cannot be honest in her presence. Even if she wants the best for her friends, you notice the intention and become depressed.
Man merkt die Absicht und wird verstimmt! A feeling that takes hold of me when I read the Swedish Democrats´ party program, or is forced to listen to their fake siren songs. Swedish general elections are upcoming in September and these populists may pass by Social Democrats and Conservatives and become Sweden´s biggest political party. Sweden is in danger of joining ranks with Poland, Hungary, Italy, Britain, Russia and several other European nations where populists increasingly are stifling sense and composure with a barrage of stale nationalism.
Whatever you may think of Jacques Derrida's concept of deconstruction, I assume that while listening to any kind of political statement it is worthwhile to look for cracks, contradictions and misappropriations of words and ideas. Let me thus scrutinize how Swedish Democrats present themselves on their network sites, for example:
We are the Sweden-friendly option. We protect the efforts of previous generations and care for what will soon be handed over to the next. We are the party of the entire nation and we believe in change forward (https://sd.se/vartpartiet).
I cannot help wondering what this is all about. Sweden-friendly? What parts of the “efforts of previous generations" are protected? The party of the entire nation? Am I not part of that nation? If so, the statement is a lie, since the Sweden Democrats is definitely not my party. What in the world is "change forward"? The only thing that is indisputable is that the statement promotes nationalism. On another site, the proclamations are slightly varied
We think that society feel the best we move forward together (https://sd.se).
This also makes me wonder. Apart from words like "we" (who are we?) and "move forward together" (where else could we move? Move backwards together?) I am bewildered by the apparent fact that this party of the entire nation lacks proof readers. How could otherwise an “if” be missing between “best” and “we”?
"We" is the keyword. Here we find the source to faith and convictions. Humans´ search for security, a foreseeable future, order ̶ Cosmos. Against “us” are "they" ̶ the unknown, the strangers, the unpredictable, disorder - Chaos.
We humans are looking for affiliations, something to relate to. But also a position against what we are excluded from - power, influence, celebrity, wealth. But, the world is neither black nor white. Faith in the achievement of a state of Cosmos is just a Myth to Live By, an illusion that helps us to endure life. Reality is einfach kompliziert, simply complicated.
I assume that "we" according to the Swedish Democrats equals the Swedish "people" in the original sense of the Swedish word folk, originating from the Proto-Germanic fulka, “band of warriors”, or “unknown number”. We do not know how many the people are, but they are prepared to fight for their convictions. People does not include everyone, the notion is not inclusive. People is exclusive ̶ they have their views in common, their background is the same and they fight together against a common enemy, who wants to weaken the people, split it up and make its members doubt their solidarity, their cohesion. An individual associated with a people must think and feel like the other members of this people ̶ pars pro toto, “a part (taken) for the whole”. If anyone exposes opinions that are not shared by the people, unity and consistency are threatened and s/he is excluded from the community. "All or nothing", "either - or", rarely "both - and".
For a while, I worked for a public relations office within a UN organization, which planned to launch a campaign under the motto Development for and by Real People. I do not remember if the campaign came off, hope not. Because a question naturally arises: "Who is not real?"
Adherents to both the right and left of the spectrum of politics claim that they are the people, while attacking oligarchs, aristocrats, plutocrats, bureaucrats, capitalists, elites, fake media, etc., etc. Do not all these opponents constitute a part of the people? A political strategy is to claim that they do not belong to the people ̶ they are quitters, schemers, elitists, aristocrats, academics, rulers, etc. Are they not actually identifying themselves as distinct from commoners, i.e. the people? Generally these loners and dissidents claim that they are even better than common folk. Accordingly can such individuals and fringe groups claim that they are an integrated part of a people? Furthermore, they may be wolves in sheep's clothing, serving foreign interests, belong to NGOs supported and funded by fuzzy stakeholders, fanatics ruled by religious and/or political convictions eager to control "the will of the people", merely pretending to be tolerant, law-abiding citizens.
The Swedish Democratic propaganda defines the people as Swedes. It appears as if it is the party elite which decides who is worthy to be belong to the privileged group of the people. This is typical of populist parties where opponents tend to be defined as "different". For example, people of other ethnicity than the leader and his/her companions may be dismissed as being non-genuine "Swedes", strangers in the land who support "Swedish values". If the opponents are Muslims, the people's representatives are "Christians". Are the antagonists "experts", "privileged", part of the "establishment", "elite" or "capital", then the party leader is depicted as a "regular" fellow, although s/he might be a privileged full-time politician, an academic or even a far from ordinary billionaire.
Since the people chooses its enemies, or those who are not deemed worthy of being part of their group, this means that the people do not have to be in majority within a nation. If a political party claiming to represent the people loses a general election it generally claims that this was due to the fact that the people was fooled and deceived by corrupt politicians, fakes news and/or submitted to violence. If a populist party wins, its former opponents continue to be depicted as enemies of the people, trying to stall or sabotage its policies. A populist party is in a dire and constant need of enemies.
Populists are no democrats, they are not inclusive. They do not believe in tolerance and seldom accept opposing views. If jurisdiction challenges them, they tend to claim that the administration of justice is corrupt and/or biased ̶ some glaring examples of this are Berlusconi's, Orbán's and Kaczynski's struggle against their own nations´ legal system. As representatives of the "people" populists stand above the law, this since they declare themselves to be nothing less than "the people." As the Peruvian dictator Óscar Raymundo Benavides (1876-1945) once stated: "Everything for my friends, for my enemies ̶ the law." The leader of a party representing the "people" does not need to listen to those who are not an integrated part of the "people", his/her desires represent "the will of the people". Why should the “people's” representatives listen to those who do not want to be part of the "people"? Such individualists and groups are nothing less than parasites, egomaniacs, outsiders, strangers.
Populists are often suspicious of parliamentary processes and negotiations. Instead, they celebrate referendums and "direct consultation" with the “people”. But are referendums similar to democracy? In general, the "people" are allowed to vote on issues pre-prepared and corrupted by those who propose them. At the same time as voters are exposed to a flood of propaganda. Remember Brexit. Similarly, "consultations" with the "people" are generally based on questionnaires fabricated by spokesmen or special interest groups, for example Viktor Orbán's "consultations" with the Hungarian "people".
Italy's Beppe Grillo claims that his Five-Star Movement (populist movements generally avoid calling themselves "parties", since they claim they are not part of anything, they include all and everything) represent "direct representation" because his companions have access to the movement's network site where they can vote and publish their demands and opinions. "Let me know and I will be your loudspeaker," declares Grillo, who has claimed that his movement deserves to occupy all seats in the Italian Parliament since politicians outside his Five Star Movement are all corrupt and amoral. Likewise, Donald Trump claims that through his twitter account he has a direct contact with “real” Americans and that he through his understanding of the "people" constitutes their real mouthpiece. A common claim by populists is that they “say what people really thinks and believes” and strangely enough it is common that they obtained this knowledge not by reading or listening to others than those they already agree with, but through studies and insights of their own, often spiced by the fact they act guided by their instincts, superior intelligence, “gut feelings”, or even a heavenly mandate.
So, what is the myth the Swedish Democrats live by? While I was working at UNESCO, I realized that it was one of the most weakened organizations within the UN system, sterilized by its own member countries. I learned that intolerance, discrimination and oppression can be justified by reference to religion, tradition and culture. How difficult it is to criticize power drunk rulers who hide themselves behind such a discourse.
I once had to listen to two mullahs who explained that "feminism" is incompatible with Islam, since it is a religion that proclaims that all humans are equal under God. To argue that a group has specific rights would be to question God's righteousness. I asked if Allah really dictates that men and women have the same rights. The mullahs told me that this is stated in the Qur'an. Unfortunately, I could not help pointing out that the Qur´an actually states that “men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means (An-Nisa, verse 34)." I knew the verse by heart, since it was not the first time I had discussed women´s right within UNESCO, it was actually one of my tasks. The mullahs became quite upset and said they would not debate their faith with a kafir, non-believer. Shortly afterwards, I was summoned to my boss who told me she had received complaints about my behaviour and forbade me to debate religion with religious representatives.
I then understood how effectively religion could be used to silence criticism and establish barriers between "we and them”. A powerful nation like the United States, which often seems to have adapted a foreign policy based either on world dominance, or isolation. Actually two sides of the same coin ̶ “since we are the greatest nation in the world, why do we then have listen to others?” Something that has resulted in this powerful nation leaving UNESCO. Play out the tradition/religion/culture card in connection with the "will of the people" and you can effectively silence all criticism and declare Gott mit uns, God is on our side, “we are invincible, while you are a simple pagans without a heavenly mandate. In God we trust.”
Culture, science and knowledge are all connected with power. If you want to differentiate people, you talk about "culture". If you want to feel superior to others, you define yourself as "cultivated". When the Swedish Democrats describe their policy it appears as a smorgasbord, a feast on cakes, with all the goodies we might like and which any other political party might offer to attract voters. It is only when the Swedish Democrats' network sites write about "culture" that the party's (excuse me ̶ movement) specific character comes to the forefront. The Swedish Democrats represent "the people" and "the people" is "Swedish". We are unique, not like "everyone else":
Culture could be defined as a way of life that unites a society, or a group of people. [...] The unique nature of Swedish culture finds its roots in our history and in the nature and the climate in which it has developed. Against this background, it is not surprising that our culture has great similarities with the one of our Nordic neighbours. [...] Cultural impulses that, without being adapted to Swedish conditions, are being inoculated to the Swedish society by potentates, or other groups who do not consider themselves as Swedish, are by us not considered as a part of Swedish culture, but rather as a form of cultural imperialism. [...] The Swedish Democrats are opponents to both cultural imperialism and cultural relativism. It is obvious that some cultures are better than others when it comes to safeguarding fundamental human rights.
For a Swede, everything "Swedish" is supposed to be well-known and safe, something the Swedish Democrats demonstrate through picturesque summer photos. For example, one site's image of a little girl and boy walking hand in hand on a dirt road between a rose bush and a red-painted barn, which can be found at the same page as an image depicting "Immigration", represented by a blurred photo with indefinable figures.
Diversity, multicultural societies, culture exchange, all this is dangerous. It's complicated, chaotic and insecure. A threat to the monolithic, the good, the simple, the Swedish ̶ Cosmos. "Our" culture is great, it belongs to us, it is safe. Let's protect it against the unknown. Circle the wagons, build walls!
I hope that all Swedish citizens who are able vote in September will do it and while doing so I wish we all ask ourselves who we really are. “Am I an individual, a person ̶ or am I a symbol, a being defined by others? A Swede? Or am I an individual in my own right?” If you consider yourself to be a unique creature, and you are, then I would recommend you to vote for a political party that assumes we are all unique persons and declares itself willing to protect that conviction. I hope we all are able to make our own decisions based of who we believe we are, and not because of what others say we are.
We may contemplate a few lines by the great poet Gunnar Ekelöf. I assume people like Valéry, Brassens and Goethe could understand and identify with thoughts like these:
I believe in individual man himself,
in him who walks by himself,
not doglike following his scent,
not wolflike fleeing before man’s scent:
at once man and anti-man.
Come to our own communion?
Flee the over and the outer way:
Whatever is cattle in others is cattle also in you.
Walk the wide and inner way:
What is bottom in you is bottom also in them.
Hard to get used to oneself.
Hard to break oneself of oneself.
The one who does that shall never be cast out.
The one who does that shall forever be built in.
The impractical is the only practical
in the long run.
Ekelöf, Gunnar (1967) Selected Poems.Translated by Muriel Rukeyser and Leif Sjöberg. New York: Twaine Publishers. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von (2018) Goethes Sämtliche Werke, Vol. 12: Iphigenie auf Tauris, Torquato Tasso und die Natürlich Tochter. London: Forgotten Books. Müller, Jan-Werner (2017) What is Populism? London: Penguin Books. Reiss, Hans (1992) “Goethe´s Torquato Tasso: Poetry and Political Power,” The Modern Language Review, Vol. 87, No. 1. Tasso, Torquato (2009) The Liberation of Jerusalem: A new translation by Max Wickert. Oxford: Oxford University Valéry, Paul (1968). Poesie. Paris: Gallimard. Valéry, Paul (1989) The Outlook for Intelligence. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.