Sweden: New report calls threat to art a threat to democracy

swedish culture report 2016
One out of three Swedish writers and visual artists have been exposed to threats, harassment, violence or vandalism, revealed a new report, ‘Culture under threat?’, published 14 April 2016 by Kulturanalys, the Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy.

“The extent of this is so great that it must be seen as a real problem,” the agency’s investigator Gunnar Myrberg told Swedish Radio. “It’s not about individuals, but a large proportion of those working as artists and writers who live with threats and violence and vandalism in their everyday lives.”

According to the report, every sixth respondent has been exposed to some kind of threat or harassment during the past 12 months.

“The findings are more shocking than expected. This is an extreme problem to democracy,” Sofia Curman, editor of KRO/KIF’s magazine Konstnären (The Artist) told Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. ”I hope the report will make everyone realize the kind of threats artistic freedom and democracy face.”

The report was carried out in cooperation with Swedish visual artists’ union KRO/KIF and writers’ union SFF, who sent questionnaires to their entire membership, and as such the report focuses specifically on visual artists and authors. Nearly 3,000 of the over 6,000 union members participated.

“The most common response when we asked who the perpetrators were was that it was about an individual angry person or someone who is opposed to the content of art,” Myrberg said.


Threats linked to extremism
Several threats and attacks can be linked to right-wing extremist and racist views. This was also addressed in a Freemuse article ‘Sweden: Art under threat’ published in May 2015.

The article described how artists Dror Feiler and Gunilla Sköld Feiler found a swastika painted on their door in May 2013. This was after Dror Feiler’s name and picture had been displayed in nazi online forums following his participation in a protest march against Svenskarnas Parti in Jönköping that same month.

To paint the swastika, the nazis had to first gain entry to an apartment block and then climb several flights to the Feilers’ apartment. Feiler discovered the vandalism when he went to take out the rubbish the next morning. He felt disgusted. Feiler was also verbally attacked while walking in Malmö not long after. A few men in a car followed him, shouting “Communist bastard”, “bloody Jew” and “pig”. Feiler filed an official police complaint. The police recorded the incident as harassment rather than a hate crime.


Threats are underreported worldwide
Earlier this year, Freemuse Executive Director, Ole Reitov, held a workshop with staff members of the Swedish Agency conducting the report.

Freemuse pointed out in its annual statistics that violations and threats are underreported. However, compiling the annual statistics is a very important step in reporting and making visible the threats that artists face worldwide, serving as inspiration to artists’ organisations and researchers in other countries to deal with this serious, often “hidden”, problem that affects not only the artists and families, but societies as a whole.


Frequency of threats and the risk of self-censorship
According to the Swedish report, the level and type of exposure differs between visual artists and authors. It is more common for authors to suffer threats and harassment. 35 percent of the respondent authors have suffered threats and harassment during their professional career, and 19 percent during the past 12 months. On the other hand, it is more common for visual artists to experience damage and theft. 25 percent of the respondent artists have been exposed to damage or theft and 7 percent during the past 12 months.

The risk of self-censorship is also reflected in the Swedish report. Many of the victims ask themselves if it is “really worth pursuing their art”, and consider abandoning their profession. The report notes that around a third of those surveyed who have suffered exposure have withdrawn from the public and consider not taking up certain commissions or themes. Further, one sixth of those who feel exposed feel their freedom is restricted.


Social media threats most common
According to the report, the most common type of incident is threats via social media and other digital channels. Authors who are mentioned in the media, who are active on social media and claim they are publicly known figures, run the highest risk of exposure.

Among authors, there is also a clear link between ambitions for social criticism and an increased exposure to threats, harassment, violence, theft and damage. This link between exposure in the media and ambitions for social criticism and the risk of exposure to threats is not prevalent among artists.

The survey also indicates that artists and authors with a foreign background are more exposed, particularly to violence. In terms of gender, the differences in exposure are relatively minor.


Sources

» Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy – 14 April 2016:
Culture under threat? A survey about threats, harassment and violence against artists and authors in Sweden

» Swedish Radio – 14 April 2016:
New report: Many writers and artists have been threatened

» Dagens Nyheter – 14 April 2016:
Many authors are exposed to hatred and threats


Related information

» Freemuse.org – 16 February 2016:
Art Under Threat: Attacks on artistic freedom in 2015

» Artsfreedom.org – 12 May 2015:
Sweden: Art under threat

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