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Provocative Street Artist on Trial in Sweden, Charged With Hate Speech – Daniel Hammarberg

Provocative Street Artist on Trial in Sweden, Charged With Hate Speech – Daniel Hammarberg

Street artist Dan Park is now facing possible prison time for his work

Back on 20 April, 42-year-old Dan Park had spent the afternoon putting up highly provocative wanted posters of a black man named Jallow Momodou, depicting him as a slave gone missing. To quote the poster: “Our negro slave has run away!! If you know where he is or if you’ve seen him please call.” In the process, Park had been pursued by a citizen who had seen what he was doing and who called the police on him. Shortly thereafter, they arrested him red-handed putting up posters. This Thursday he was subsequently indicted for hate speech under the Swedish HMF law (agitation against ethnic group) as well as two other crimes, facing a possible two years in prison.

But first a word or two about the background to this story. On Saturday night the week before, student association Halland nation at Lund University had held a staged slave auction during a costume party, where three students wearing blackface had been sold off as slaves. This saw Jallow Momodou of Afrosvenskarnas riksförbund, the Afro-Swedish Association, report what had transpired to the police under the same HMF law. When Dan Park learned of this lawsuit, he immediately went to work with his artistic commentary. For over 20 years now, Park has created assorted satire on recent events, something’s that caused a bit of controversy now and then, but nothing that would get the attention that this poster now did.

A common history

This wasn’t the first time the two of them had run across each other. A couple of years ago, Jallow had been on the editorial board of a magazine called Mascara, which did an interview with Dan Park about his artwork. Jallow wasn’t pleased with them giving this provocative man the spotlight, even though it’s far from the largest magazine that’s done so – for example, in 2009, Swedish Fokus magazine did an in-depth interview with him. When Park was featured in Jallow’s magazine, Jallow demanded that the rest of the editorial board should apologize and that the editor-in-chief be fired. Jallow was able to get both of his demands met at the time. Following this, every time Park and Jallow encountered each other at Malmö college where they were a student and an employee, respectively, Park would walk up to Jallow and laugh him in his face.

That Wednesday on the 20th of April, Park had made a photo montage of the Kunta Kinte character from 1977 TV series Roots with Jallow’s head replacing the original one, set against the background of Halland nation. As Park would tell the police when he was being interrogated, the poster was meant to resemble a “missing pet” ad, and the phone number provided was the office of Elinor Lavesson at Halland nation. Park usually goes about preparing these posters by printing them at a copying machine he could his hands on, and this time he used the one at Malmö college. He prints roughly 25 copies in ISO A3 format, which he cuts in two by hand; but as he leaves the area, he inadvertently leaves a couple of them behind at the machine. Then he heads off to nearby Lund to plaster the city with his posters.

Park and his hate crimes

Photo of Dan Park courtesy of Fokus magazine

It doesn’t take long for Park to be spotted as he’s putting up posters. Soon a couple start following him around as he places them on electric cabinets, and while the woman calls the police to notify them, the man confronts Park about what he’s doing, telling him it’s wrong. Park ignores him and keeps on doing his round. Now the woman notes where he’s placed his posters and keeps the police directly updated on where he’s going. At 16:25 (4.25 PM), the police catch up with him, arrest him and take him into custody. They find that Park has put up 24 posters and still has 14 left on his person; these are seized by the police, and so are his brush and his glue.

The police hold an initial interrogation with him later at the station, with him relinquishing the right to have an attorney present. He’s informed he’s being charged with illegal bill-posting and agitation against ethnic group (HMF) for the posters. Park admits guilt concerning bill-posting but denies the “hate speech” charges. He tells them he put up the posters to add a comedic touch to the slave auction, but doesn’t consider this a crime.

While Park had gone to Lund, Jallow had been alerted to the posters having been produced at his college. That day he both reports the incident to the police, and is also interviewed by Swedish state TV branch Sydnytt about the posters. Now, somehow, one of the posters are on display on the college’s main billboard, and Jallow is up in arms about it. To quote:

“This is a sign of the symptoms of racism that exist in Sweden today, which we must fight. And this is only the beginning. I can’t but help to be worried about my children.”

“We who are black, we’re very visible, and we suffer from discrimination and racism on a daily basis.”

Jallow doesn’t go into detail about these occurrences, however. Two days earlier, he had been interviewed by newspaper Sydsvenskan about the slave auction, where he had this to say:

“Slavery was one of the greatest crimes ever against mankind and then students at Lund university make jokes about it. They laugh about the fact that several million of my ancestors were kidnapped, raped and killed. This is horribly tasteless, I can’t put down in words how offended I am.”

Jallow and his background combating racism

Jallow is a member of the National Afro-Swedish Association, an organization that has become known for filing HMF lawsuits against anything it experiences as offensive, which has included the old comic book Tintin; mid 20th-century Swedish children’s book series Ture Sventon, for using the word “negro;” a city district of Karlstad carrying the name “the negro” since 1866; an ice cream called Nogger; and assorted other things. Though sparse in actual membership, the organization has filed numerous lawsuits and received immense media attention.

After the charges had been filed against him, Park had showed up at a demonstration Jallow had held on 12 May and stood there laughing at him from his place in the the crowd, something that Jallow complained about to the police a few days later. This incident didn’t result in any additional charges, however.

Dan Park, a social misfit

When all the reports had been filed, Park would be charged with five counts of crime: Two counts of agitation against ethnic group in Lund and Malmö; illegal bill-posting; and two counts of defamation against Jallow and Elinor Lavesson at Halland nation.

Interviewed by Swedish national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, he has this to say:

“I think it’s a silly prosecution. It’s a commentary on what took place at Halland nation. Just about anything can be considered agitation, I feel they overreacted.”

So who is this man? Park is very open about his life on his blog , and doesn’t hide the fact that he’s been out of work for the last ten years and is on welfare – apart from when he’s denied this last line of the Swedish social security system, which he was in March of this year, for not having applied for more than seven jobs that month. Though stating that he’s a vegan and an animal rights activist, he also posts receipts of his many tobacco and beer purchases, as well as bargains he finds such as a 2-dollar shirt at his favorite discount store. He grew up with a foster family on a farm in northern Sweden and started leaving his mark on society when he first put up posters up there in 1988.

Though he’s slowly become more and more of a cult figure in Swedish society for his steady stream of provocative posters, the impression you get is of a modern-day Pagliaccio, leading a miserable life, with the attention he gets being the only thing he lives for. In spite of his artwork often involving shocking political imagery, he’s not declared having any political sympathies. In fact, as Fokus magazine points out, he mocks all ideologies and creeds – having ridiculed Christians, Jews as well as Muslims for one. This doesn’t prevent him from being accused of being a “Nazi” by some left-wingers, however, and earlier this year, he was assaulted and badly beaten by four masked men.

During a police interrogation on 7 July, Park states that Jallow ought to thank him for the attention he’s given him, “since that’s what they make their living from. Now they can get even more government money because they’re such a sorry bunch.” He likens his art to Lars Vilk’s roundabout dogs and the Mohammed caricatures, explaining that he pokes fun at easy-to-offend groups in the same manner.

Not everyone can get offended

The Swedish HMF law, something I cover extensively in my book The Madhouse, don’t cover everyone. A hate crime is defined under Swedish law as something a member of a majority group does against a minority group. Swedes and Christians are considered majority groups, hence not protected by this law. A person can be found guilty of this if he or she “threatens or expresses disrespect for an ethnic group,” with ethnic group being defined in a number of ways, with homosexuals having been given protected status as well in 2003. This legislation covers any expression having been made in any shape or form in Sweden – written, verbal or in the form of art – and aggravated cases can render the accused as much as four years in prison. Park was only charged with the regular classification, however, hence he’s facing at most two years. Had the roles been reversed in this matter, the HMF law would not have applied at all.

The lawsuit and the media furor provides ample food for thought, as Park is this poor man without any realistic way of making himself a career in his native country, while Jallow, who’s arrived to Sweden as an immigrant, has a fancy job as a communicator at Malmö college, and mass media is at his beck and call whenever he feels offended. Yet because of Jallow’s race, this well-connected man can paint himself as a victim of oppression by this outcast Park, whose only weapon is the mockery inherent in his posters. And when it comes to slavery – Sweden does indeed have quite a history of it – one of Swedes keeping their compatriots as serfs in pretty much the same manner blacks were kept before the abolition . There are no opportunities to be had for Swedes who drag up their slave ancestry, however, in spite of the last vestiges of indentured servitude lasting to as late a year as 1945, something I cover more extensively in my book.

The poster certainly was distasteful – but just how far can you take these lawsuits before it becomes evident that it’s really the powerful beating up the little guy? And how can you achieve an integrated society if you yell racism and call for censorship at every turn, demanding special protection?

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Daniel Hammarberg

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