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OPINION

SWEDEN

Is art the ultimate refuge of racism in Denmark?

The controversial decision to sell and display Dan Park's art in Denmark is emblematic of Europe's history of dehumanising black people, the head of the European Network Against Racism argues.

Is art the ultimate refuge of racism in Denmark?
Dan Park (holding sign) outside a Malmö gallery earlier this year. Photo: Drago Prvulovic/ TT/Scanpix
This week sees the start of the latest in a series of trials against Swedish self-declared artist Dan Park, convicted in August of defamation and incitement to racial hatred. The controversial art pieces – banned by several galleries in Sweden following the indictment – are now on sale online in Denmark, where the Danish Free Press Society will also display the pictures at an art gallery in Copenhagen later this month. The society seems to pursue what looks increasingly like a tradition of swapping a responsible use of freedom of expression with some sort of ‘entitlement racism’, therefore claiming a ‘right’ to insult and bully ethnic minorities.
 
 
Dan Park notably created and distributed posters with a picture of the human rights defender Jallow Momodou, Chair of the Pan African Movement for Justice (Afrosvenskarnas forum för rättvisa) and Vice-Chair of the European Network Against Racism, superimposed on the image of a naked slave in chains. Park's posters were distributed around Malmö and also included Momodou's name and contact details. Other pieces by the ‘artist’ include a picture of three black men hanged on a bridge, one of whom is Jallow Momodou and the other is a victim of racially motivated violence, with the caption ‘hang on Afrophobians’.
 
This questions the extent to which art can be used freely to offend minority groups, in this case the millions of people of African descent living in Europe, and in the most extreme cases, incite to racial hatred. 
 
Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democracy, in particular for artists and journalists. Extensive and vibrant case-law by the European Court of Human Rights shows that the balance between freedom of expression and other individual or collective rights is a matter of careful analysis. However, it is clear that when art or freedom of expression crosses the line into incitement to, or the promotion, of hatred, we need to set certain limits. The glorification of violence by the Swedish artist against identifiable individuals is clearly incompatible with fundamental rights. Hate speech can be perceived as an authorisation to take action and often does lead to violence. 
 
This case reveals a worrying underlying problem: the denigrating and dehumanising portrayal of black people. These representations are not isolated incidents and are the result of a long European history of negation of Africans’ and black people’s humanity, rooted in the legacy of slavery and colonialism.
 
Some 150 years after the abolition of the slave trade, black people continue to be perceived and constructed as second class citizens in European societies. The fact that our parents or grandparents might have visited human zoos, in which Africans were exhibited in cages, is but one indication of the bedrock of racism that underlies the mentality prevalent in European societies. Human zoos are still a reality today, albeit in a slightly more subtle format: an installation that replicates the ‘human zoo’ has been touring different European cities this year.
 
Such representations of black people reinforce deeply ingrained negative stereotypes and perpetuate power structures within European societies, leading to high levels of discrimination. They also send the message that racist prejudices are socially and legally acceptable.
 
It is therefore essential that everyone acts responsibly to redress these twisted representations, in particular through intelligent and sensitive art. In addition, European states must show political will to combat the specific form of racism that is Afrophobia. They must recognise the severe and ongoing impact of Europe’s history of hostility and violence towards blacks, and develop effective strategies to counter the structural and everyday racism that prevents the inclusion of many blacks in European society.
 
Sarah IsalSarah Isal is the chairwoman of the European Network Against Racism, a Brussels-based group that connects local and national anti-racist NGOs throughout Europe

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TOURISM

Danes flout travel advice to visit Swedish summer houses

Kirsten, a Dane from Copenhagen, has been spending her weekends at her wooden holiday house in the Skåne countryside throughout Denmark's lockdown -- and to the irritation of Swedes barred from travelling in the other direction, she is far from unusual.

Danes flout travel advice to visit Swedish summer houses
Kirsten enjoying coffee on her terrace in Skåne. Photo: Richard Orange
“We chose not to follow the government's recommendation because we thought we have important things to do here and we don't socialize with our neighbours at this moment,” she explains when The Local visits her at her house near the village or Rörum in the Swedish holiday district of Österlen. 
 
“So we get out of Copenhagen and we stay at our own house and in our garden and don't talk to anyone. So we're even safer here than in Copenhagen.”
 
She points out that the head of the Danish Health Authority, Søren Brostrøm, had said from the start that closing borders had been a “political” decision, which had not been recommended by health experts.  
 
Since Denmark closed its borders on March 14th, Danish residents  have officially been advised not to cross the border into Sweden unless it is “strictly necessary”, even if the latest advice from the foreign ministry is that they do not need to quarantine. 
 
When Denmark opened the border to tourists from the Nordic countries on June 18th, it left every county in Sweden apart from Västerbotten off its list of “open regions”, meaning the travel advisory for Danes still applies to Skåne. 
 
The updated guidelines on July 4th expanded the list of Swedish “open regions” to Blekinge and Kronoberg. 
 
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But crossing the Øresund Bridge and driving out to southeastern Skåne been part of Kirsten and her husband's weekly ritual since they bought the house 15 years ago, and it's easy to see why they would be reluctant to leave the house and its beautiful garden untended. 
 
“I have to take care of my kitchen garden and my greenhouse,” she says pointing to an area — fenced in to keep out deer and wild boar — which is brimming with strawberries, rocket and unusual varieties of cabbage. 
 
“It would be two or three times as expensive to buy a home in Denmark,” she adds. “We come here all year round, so it's not just a summer house for us.”
 
For most of the lockdown period, no one really seemed to mind that Danes were visiting their holiday houses in Skåne and Småland. It was only when the lockdown was being slowly lifted that the sentiment suddenly changed. 
 
“They changed the rhetoric when one Sunday it took two hours to pass the bridge. And we were in that queue. And suddenly all hell broke loose in Denmark and everything was on the news and in the newspapers and companies had to send out new regulation warnings to their employees,” she says. 
 
“But before that, there was no problem. And we still see a lot of Danish cars on the streets and we know other Danes who also have chosen not to follow the regulations.” 
 
 
The couple nonetheless mostly kept their weekly trips secret. 
 
“I didn't tell anyone in the beginning,” she explains. “We have a doctor in the family that that could lose their job if they do not follow the recommendations.” 
 
She doesn't think that the flurry of newspaper article about Danes flouting the government's advice has had any impact on the number of Danes she sees crossing the bridge and back over the weekend. 
 
But some people have clearly stopped. At the nearby port of Ystad, Mia and Rune are taking the ferry to holiday in Bornholm rather than visiting their summer house near the Swedish city of Kalmar, as they have decided to follow the Danish government's recommendations.
 
“I have to follow the orders from Denmark, of course, but I think it's kind of funny that I can go to Bornholm, but I cannot go to my summer house in Sweden which is out in the countryside,” she said. 
 
“It's a little silly,” her husband adds. “If we can go the other way, they should be able to go our way as well.”
 
But Kerstin suspects that many of the cars she sees leaving Copenhagen on Fridays are not simply using Sweden as a bridge to cross over into Bornholm. 
 
“And if they are all going to Bornholm, some of them are taking a big detour because they head straight off on the road to Stockholm!” she laughs. 
 
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