The right-wing populist perpetuum mobile
Like many others, appalled by what I find extremely dubious and divisive rhetoric in disarming the credibility of independent testimony from Holocaust survivors, I started a petition against Teodorescu’s editorials. Its main aim was to make the owners of GP (the media house Stampen AB, Stena Finans and other lesser known Swedish investors) aware of the fact that Teodorescu, to my mind, had crossed a line and, moreover, that many people would not support her opinions in an allegedly ‘independent liberal’ newspaper. I might be right on this account, and I might be wrong. It is of course true is that national GP is a newspaper sold on a media market and that the opinions advanced by the paper are protected constitutionally. However, the expression of opinions in a privately-owned commercial product makes these opinions also relative when exposed to economic realities. Columnists are employees in a contractually regulated framework; while readers are consumers of a media product in a competitive market. If the latter read content in a newspaper that labels itself as an ‘independent liberal’, but simultaneously undermines testimony of Holocaust survivors while expressing support for a radical right party with historical origins in neo-Nazism, this begs the question if the label is honest, or if the paper engages in false labeling. Already in 2016, a report was published in which it was argued that GP had moved from being ‘social liberal’ to ‘right-wing populist’, https://www.lo.se/home/lo/res.nsf/vRes/lo_distriktet_i_vastsverige_1474017161760_fyrvaktaren_pdf/$File/Fyrvaktaren.pdf. GP has since published a string of Op Eds that continuously are pushing the limits and in their aggressive dynamics with their online supporters are a schoolbook example of what Ruth Wodak (2015) has branded ‘the right-wing populist perpetuum mobile ‘: scandal, denial, claiming victimhood, dramatization and exaggeration, exploitation of the freedom of speech, accusations of political correctness, construction of conspiracist narratives and finally a new scandal. All of this sometimes paired with quasi-apologies for the original incident that triggered the debate. Following this pattern, agendas are set, but worse: “mainstream politics moves more and more to the right and the public becomes disillusioned, de-politicized and ‘tired’ of ever new scandals” – the exception is the new normal (Wodak 2015:20). As if it not was enough, in September 2018, GP hired another columnist who is an outright supporter of sanitizing collaboration with the SD.
Another perspective may also be found in that, also in 2016, the media house Stampen AB was close to insolvency but was rescued and reconstructed by the current investors. If GP had ceased its publication, no one could have blamed the owners for infringing upon a columnist’s constitutionally granted relative right of free expression.
People have argued that I was attempting to ‘de-platform’ Teodorescu, in practice blocking her from her right of free expression. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, I agree it is always be better to counter the opinions of a columnist than question the politico-economic superstructure behind him. I was possibly also too quick: to my mind the point against Teodorescu had already been made sufficiently; many had agreed that she had crossed the line of decency in the fragile situation in which Swedish politics finds itself.
However, let us not be naive: a campaign to lobby the private owners of GP to release a columnist from a contract has nothing at all to do with the columnists’ right to free expression. Her right to publish opinions in a particular media-product is secondary to constitutionally granted freedoms granted by the state, and always relative to the conditions of employment and work description. Conversely, not everyone has the automatic right to publish his or her opinions in a particular privately-owned media product – this is always and ultimately up to the owners to decide upon. Should the columnist in question suddenly assume a communist perspective in published articles or only write about shape-shifting lizard-alien conspiracy theories, I am sure that the owners legitimately would have the right to fire him or her. Still, I understand that people had difficulties with my argument and the above claims are open for debate.
What I cannot understand (and even less accept) though is how those who supposedly are Teodorescu’s supporters and followers – purported champions of free speech and the right of free expression – made their case against me. Orchestrated from the highest echelons of the Swedish radical right (by among others, the platform ledarsidorna.se), a digital mob was unleashed that, within hours, attacked me on social media with a force of fervent fanaticism. The narrative was disseminated top-down in a network of radicalized hate, bizarre accusations, fake accounts and digital trolls. It claimed that I (as a representative of the ‘oppressive system’ and abusing my position at a public university) sought censorship in the most dictatorial fashion. I have been called a communist, fascist and traitor whose life is unworthy and who should be assaulted physically. The sheer force of hate and verbal attacks initially bullied me into silence. Friends and family convinced me that I had gone too far. Although my petition had received 800 supporters and thus mobilized support, I closed it down after 24 hours.
Thereafter, a counter-petition was started in support of Teodorescu; more than fifteen thousand signed it within a couple of days. I published an official excuse on a blog, but people did not accept it and contaminated the comments-section with more hate, lies and offences – I had to close that down as well. Meanwhile the digital mob peered into the slightest pockets of my partially-accessible Facebook to insult me, most of them angry white men. When comments started to target my dearest and closest I admitted defeat. My university received a steady stream of angry emails. I have been ridiculed in public by Johan Hakelius – a key influencer who is known for relativizing SD, and who has close ties to Teodorescu and the top levels of the Swedish radical right (and of course without consulting me or providing any space for counterpoints) – in the major Swedish news outlet Fokus. The most unexpected opening arrived from the least expected direction. Chang Frick of the alternative libertarian magazine Nyheter Idag (with some clear right-wing leanings) contacted me and offered me the chance to explain my campaign , which I accepted since it was an option for clarification that others denied me.
Yet the central issue in all this drama should not be obscured: are Swedish Holocaust survivors and their testimonies to be regarded as merely ‘straw men’ for the radical right? It is not at all impossible to read Teodorescu’s editorial in this way, or to see Holocaust survivors as passive puppets in the hands of left-wing wirepullers, stripped of any independent agency. What makes her attempts to whitewash SD and, at the same time, to refuse to accept historical comparisons (even made by victims of the Nazi genocide) particularly sensitive is the next step of the argument; the next dot to connect it with in an only too well-known conspiracy narrative: who will now be unable to imagine that the wire-pullers are directed by a ‘globalist’ media-house, Bonniers, and by its ‘globalist’ editor in chief of DN, Peter Wolodarski? Needless to say, any door opened towards the perception of Jewish world dominance in finance, media, or politics should ring alarm bells.
A friend suggested that I have arrived at a dead end; that well-known ‘road to hell paved with good intentions’. But this is incorrect. I have no interest in appearing as a ‘good’ person and do not feel myself to be morally superior, I have no ‘good intentions’ in a moral sense and for that matter no evil either. “To think freely is great, but thinking rightly is greater” (“Tänka fritt är stort men tänka rätt är större”), as Swedish philosopher Thomas Thorild (1759-1808) stated and as it engraved in golden letters at the entrance of the university hall of Uppsala. I still believe that it is possible to filter out some truth values from statements even by paid opinion peddlers in a politically tense situation. I am principally guided by the view that Alice Teodorescu’s positions primarily are epistemologically false, not simply ethically wrong. She has all freedom to say what and where she wants, but that does not mean that she is right. And I still believe that private owners of a newspaper have a responsibility for avoiding opinions that spread false conclusions – either about the political state of Sweden or the authenticity of historical testimony and its comparability over time. This question is open for debate – but it is unacceptable that its agenda is set by the radical right and its aggressive armies of online abuse.
Dr Andreas Önnerfors is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Associate Professor in the History of Ideas, University of Gothenberg. See his profile here:
© Andreas Önnerfors. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
Comment of Mattias Karlsson: https://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/sd-topps-inlagg-pa-sociala-medier-moter-stark-kritik, 12 September 2018
Results of the Swedish national elections 2018: https://www.val.se/valresultat/riksdag-landsting-och-kommun/2018/valresultat.html
Alice Teodorescu: “Nej, 1930-talet är inte här igen” (“No, the 1930s are not here again”), http://www.gp.se/ledare/teodorescu-nej-1930-talet-är-inte-här-igen-1.9408959, 26 September 2018.
Johan Hilton, “Exempellöst rått av Alice Teodorescu” (”Unprecedently brute by Alice Teodoresu”), https://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/johan-hilton-exempellost-ratt-av-alice-teodorescu/, 27 September 2018
On prohibition of NMR in Finland: https://svenska.yle.fi/artikel/2018/10/02/beslutet-om-att-forbjuda-nmr-skickar-ett-viktigt-politiskt-budskap-sager, 2 October 2018
Alice Teodorescu, “Tänk bort SD för en stund” (“Don’t think about SD for a while”), http://www.gp.se/ledare/teodorescu-tänk-bort-sd-för-en-stund-1.9543405, 28 September 2018
“Inte bara ekonomin är bankrutt – GP från socialliberalism till högerpopulism” (”Not only economy is bankrupt. GP from social liberalism to right-wing populism”), https://www.lo.se/home/lo/res.nsf/vRes/lo_distriktet_i_vastsverige_1474017161760_fyrvaktaren_pdf/$File/Fyrvaktaren.pdf, 16 September 2016
Gert Gelotte, Maria Robsahm (et. Al.), “Göteborgs Posten på väg mot politiskt förfall” (”GP heads towards political decay”), https://www.aftonbladet.se/a/e1x3Gg, 30 August 2018
Andreas Magnusson, “Hur liberala GP blev SD-beroende” (“How liberal GP was made dependend of SD”), https://www.magasinetparagraf.se/nyheter/kronikor/53067-hur-liberala-goteborgs-posten-blev-sd-beroende/, 5 October 2018
Ruth Wodak, The Politics of Fear: What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean (Sage, 2015)