Many European countries are electing right-leaning governments, sometimes far right. In the latest Swedish elections we have a block of three traditionally 'right' parties, including the Liberals -  supported by the far-right Swedish Democrats.

The context for this shift is described in a text by Jasenko Selimovic, born in Sarajevo in 1968. Film director, writer,  politician for the Liberal Party and member of the European Parliament. This text was published 1984 in the opinion section of the main Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter  DN Debate 2/9/14.

Jasenko Selimovic

Note: This is a machine translation by DeepL and I'm working on editing so a reader outside Scandinavia can understand in context.


An open discussion

Why can't we have an open discussion about how anti-racism can be pursued? asks Judith Kiros (DN 28/8/14). In the article, she repeats the accusation of radical left-wing writers that the right or liberals do not contribute to the anti-racist struggle. It is ironic that the very people who are quickest to shout "racist" at anyone who does not share their ideas wonder why the rest of us do not want to join them.

Yet. The accusation has been made by many radical left-wing debaters, from Judith Kiros to Åsa Linderborg, and should be answered. I don't want to join you in your struggle, because the country you want to build is not the country I want to live in.

The separation of different groups

You have identified the right problems: racism and the oppression of women. But your solutions are problematic. The best way to explain so that you can hear is to point out the similarity with the ideas of early nationalists like Fichte and Herder. They, too, advocated the separation of different groups, because they believed that groups are inherently different from each other and cannot understand each other.

Of course, they were not talking about "racialised" people but about nations, peoples, which they wanted to separate, to keep apart in their separate "rooms" and thus make liberation possible. Today's nationalists follow these lines of thought. They see immigrants as determined by their culture, with different habits, emotions and logic that only those who share the same culture can understand.

In your world, "culture" has been replaced by skin pigment, yet you want to free yourselves from oppression by creating separation, a separatist space of your own, where you can express feelings and thoughts that are impossible to understand for those who have not experienced the same thing. The difference between your thinking and that of nationalists is only that nationalists want each group to keep to its territory, its national state.

A frightening thought

To me, Judith Kiros, that is a frightening thought. I want to live in a mixed country. I love my Swedish wife, my mixed children, my American, German, Kurdish, Swedish relatives, friends, acquaintances. I want to reflect in them, learn from them. I want to expose my thoughts and habits to what others think and feel. I think that's how we evolve.

I am proud to be an ethnic bastard. To paraphrase the Croatian-Dutch writer Ugresic: I am a Bosnian in Sweden, a Swede in Bosnia, a Muslim in Serbia, a Serb in Croatia, a Bulgarian in Macedonia, a European in America. I am aware that you despise my whiteness, and that the Sweden Democrats despise my immigration.

But the mix that must be reduced as a consequence of your policies is precisely what I live for.

I don't want to be with you because you don't realise that your struggle, your ideas, are also dangerous for democracy, like those of the far right. You do not understand this because you have selective hearing. You hear the SVP's "arm yourselves" and you describe it - rightly, as "a danger to democracy". But when you yourself sing 'arm yourselves', it is just 'an old punk song'. How can one arming be so dangerous and the other so musical?

You rightly decry articles claiming that certain immigrant groups are less intelligent, but you yourself self-righteously share articles claiming that those who vote for xenophobes have lower IQs. You manage to see the link between Avpixlat's texts and far-right violence, but you see no link between texts about "the bourgeois who can take a bit of lead in the neck" and far-left violence. Your sensibilities register with seismographic precision when racists despise "immigrant looks" but you yourself have no problem despising "newly hatched" Swedish bodies.

Every battle must have a logic

I don't want to fight your battle because every battle must have a logic. Your arguments lack it. For you all cultures have the same value, but the western one in particular is a bit worse, more oppressive than others. Capitalism creates poverty, but you have a hard time explaining how it is that poor people in capitalism are so much better off than in the non-capitalist world. Sweden is the height of racism, but you have difficulty explaining how it is that Sweden receives so many more refugees than other EU countries.

I don't want to be with you because I'm not convinced the world is simple. To you everything seems clear, you have your heart in the right place and therefore instinctively know what is right and wrong, can put your energy into teaching us about our "anti-racist evolution".

The rest of us are more uncertain. We want to protest racism but not carry knives. We want to fight racism but we doubt that every police officer who stops an immigrant is a racist. We want to fight oppression of women, but we are not sure that Swedish men are Taliban. For us, it is a delicate balance. That is why we need facts, reflection, a policy that is not revolutionary but takes account of nuances and caution. Everything you despise.

I don't want to fight racism your way because the whole theoretical structure on which your struggle is based, and which you hide behind, is fundamentally ignorant. For you, knowledge is merely the exercise of power. That is why you resist by building parallel worlds, including scientific ones.

Science exists in a social context

You are right that science exists in a social context and is the result of a power conflict between different discourses and values. But if we shy away from this conflict, we create an empty world, a static and relativistic world without meaning. For society to evolve, we need a debate in which we can confront our perceptions and choose the better idea. That is, not because it is mine, yours, white, female or Swedish, but because it is better. To renounce it is to renounce the opportunity to improve the world.

In your theories, whites can't understand the vulnerability of black Swedish immigrants. What you are implicitly claiming is that no amount of study, art, literature, research can make me understand your situation. But if I can't understand you, then you can't understand me either. If only the victim of racism can understand, then we can stop university courses and artistic attempts to understand, to describe racism. Because then it won't help.

Your theories challenge something fundamental and existential: they spread contempt for knowledge. Karl Popper wrote about it in his "The Open Society" 70 years ago. He wrote what a danger to democracy, to open society, to the free exchange of ideas, to development, your ideas pose. But he was probably too much of a white middle-aged man for you to read him.

Different views on humanity.

Finally, I do not want to be with you because we have different views on humanity. You on the left have always seen people as weak, oppressed, trapped in overpowering structures, unable to oppose the power of the media and elites.

If you have such a view of humanity and at the same time think the situation is serious, you are tempted to control the public space, ban Swedish Democratic party posters, refuse debates, close workplaces to unwanted visits by politicians, use all means, including knives, to face the danger. Because that is how you defend people, society, which cannot protect itself.

Those who do not want to join are either racists or unaware.

Immigrants who do not agree with your idea of racist Sweden must therefore be made aware, sometimes even rudely, by calling them Uncle Tom. But it's not offensive - you just want to educate them, for their own good.

What is best for the unaware

The problem is that you are not the first to do this. European history is full of people who have known what is best for the unaware people. They were made conscious, shown their "real and true" selves, forced into freedom. Rousseau, the Jacobins, Saint-Just, Robespierre, Hegel, Marx, Sorel, Stalin, Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Mao, all of them have only wanted to liberate man, to make him see the world with new eyes, to reject the false consciousness. This idea has been the basis of all the dictatorships that have existed on this continent.

The Communists in my former country defended us in the same way, banning views they thought we could not handle. The left I'm talking about does it softer, but slides on the same slippery slope. But before you start banning things, answer the question: Where do you draw the line on what should be banned? Åsa Linderborg wanted you to "look at sentences and phrases in books by Karl Ove Knausgård, for example". And that DN should not publish my article "Jonas, my friend". Is that where you draw the line? Or at all those you have accused of fattening racism: Johan Lundberg, Per Gudmundson, Göran Hägglund, Tobias Billström, Anna Dahlberg, Sakine Madon, Bengt Ohlsson, Axess in its entirety, the entire DN: s editorial page, Paulina Neuding, Johan Hakelius, Expressens editorial page, SvD:s editorial page, Sydsvenskans editorial page, Erik Helmerson, Fredrik Reinfeldt, Anders Borg, Jan Björklund, Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals, the bourgeoisie, the right...

Trust in the individual

You don't understand that democracy requires trust in the individual. Trust that citizens will make wise choices, even after they have been presented with different, sometimes unpleasant opinions. For it is precisely the freedom to choose, the freedom to think for ourselves, that gives us a chance to constitute ourselves as responsible citizens. Democracy is an ongoing exercise in responsibility, in choosing wisely. That is why the mission of public space is to show as many perspectives as possible. For it is precisely the possibility of choosing among different opinions, including the unpleasant ones, that awakens our moral self and requires us to take our choices and ourselves seriously.

In countries where people are not allowed to make this choice, where all newspapers make sure that, like Aftonbladet Kultur, they only publish "the right views", where all media are sanctioned by some cultural boss, people stop thinking for themselves. It is someone else, the newspapers, the media, the unions, the politicians who think for them.

Therefore, the more you think for others, the more they disappear as thinking people. And vice versa. The more democracy trusts in us, in the individual, gives us a chance to become mature responsibilities, the more we become wise citizens, worthy of the democratic opportunity to choose.

Democracy in Sweden is being challenged today from two directions. The first danger is the xenophobes, who are beginning to question the equal value of human beings. The second danger is the radical left, which does not understand that people must be taken for responsible and wise in order to act responsibly and wisely.

The narrow path

The task of the Liberals is therefore to find the narrow path between Scylla and Carybdis, fighting the xenophobes at the same time as fighting attempts to gnaw away at democracy. Keep it clean in both directions. "Away with any tendency towards dictatorship", says the Liberals' poster from 1936.

Because we have no other choice. We have to trust reason, trust arguments, trust the people around us. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of us will then defend democracy. Because, at the end of the day, it's all we have that's worth something.

We should look "to what is more important", says Judith Kiros. I agree.

But we differ on what is more important. For you, democracy is secondary to your struggle. For me, democracy is more important. That's why I don't want to be with you.


The base translation for this text was with DeepL translator and then edited for context.