Report from Scandinavia
From: Bruce Gagnon and Dave Webb
February 3 - 13 2017
Dave arrived in Stockholm in the afternoon of Thursday 2nd, took the airport bus to Stockholm bus Terminal and in the cafe there met Claes Engelbrand from the local No to Nato Group. They both then took about a 45 minute bus ride through cold Stockholm surrounds to Marilyn Barden’s house. Marilyn was kind enough to be our host for the next few days. Marliyn's house is about an hour outside of Stockholm in the Swedish countryside - a charming, quiet, wooded area of Värmdö.
Unfortunately Marilyn had hurt her leg in a fall ans so couldn't drive us around but she had a great network of friends and colleagues who chipped in and helped us out. Marilyn is, among many things, an international coordinator of Neva River Clearwater - an NGO which works around the Neva Riiver in St Petersburg. She is focused on environmental education ans employs illustrated stories for children which she and her late husband Berra Barden, a Swedish political cartoonist and life-long socialist who died in 2012. Marilyn has been involved in peace work in the Swedish Peace Committee and she showed us some of the amaing cartoons that Berra had published in the Swedish Peace and Solidarity journal.
Marilyn is also been involved in the international
“Transition” movement in Sweden. The aim of the movement is to promote and lead
a transition of the way of thinking and living from a modern consumer society
and globalization processes to the local market, deliberate and responsible
attitude towards nature, sustainable consumption and harmonious use of the local
climate and landscape. Marilyn and other members of “Transition” movement in
Varmdö have established a small permaculture garden where everybody can grow
vegetables and herbs; they were allowed to use communal land for this purpose.
This morning was free and enabled a visit to the German church and the Nobel Museum in Old Stockholm.
At 2pm a small group (about 25) of conference attendees (including GN Board member Reginal Hagen) started assembling at Slussen Station to go by metro and bus to the island of Lovön (where we would apparently find the world's third largest spystation, run by the Försvarets radioanstalt - the FRA, the Swedish equivalent of the US National Security Agency - the NSA). There was not much to see other than fences and a few buildings. It operates under the code name "Sardine", hence the banner ....
According to Wkipedia, Lovön is the headquarters of the FRA which was allocated SEK 860 million in the annual budget for the fiscal year of 2014. Until 2009 the FRA was
Now, a change in legislation has created a new law, kown informally known as the "FRA law", which proposes changes to allow the FRA to monitor both wireless and cable bound signals passing the Swedish border without a court order. It was argued that this would enable Internet surveillance to be regulated and threats to national security (such as terrorism and serious international crime) to be dealt with more effectively. However, opponents have claimed that it enables mass surveillance and violates rights to privacy. After a heated debate and public protests, the law was passed and went into effect January 1, 2009.
Under Swedish legislation the transfer of data to other states is allowed if authorized by the Government and in 2013 documents provided to the media by Edward Snowden revealed that Sweden had indded provided the NSA with a "unique collection on high-priority Russian targets such as leadership, internal politics, and energy." Dave's presentation at the conference goes into more details on this and other related matters.
After the short visit to the FRA and a longer visit to a chinese resteraunt back near Shlussen, Dave returned to Marilyn's to find that Bruce had arrived, having been given permission to leave his trial early in order to travel to Sweden in time for the tour.
Bruce had been on of 12 people arrested for protesting at the christening ceremony of the multi-billion dollar 'stealth' destroyer Zumwalt, built at Bath Iron Works in Maine. He had left before the jury's verdict was announced but found out in Stockholm that all 12 had been found guilty. He did not seems surprised and writes about the trial and his statement and much more on Bruce's blog.
That evening Marilyn ahd invited a number of friends and compatriots to join us for dinner which was a very pleasant and informative end to the day.
Details of the conference (including papers presented and video links) are given here:
The conference in Stockholm today was entitled 'The North - A Zone of Peace' and focused on US-NATO encirclement of Russia by using Norway and Sweden as space warfare technology bases. The Nordic region is being massively militarized including Finland that even during the height of the Cold War stayed neutral in the big power push-and-shove that took the world to the nuclear brink.
If the audience today was any indication there is a strong interest in our analysis about US-NATO use of space technology to prepare for war with Russia (and China). More than 80 activist leaders turned out from all over Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway to hear us.
After the conference there was a party at The Solidarity House to celebrate the day and Agneta's birthday!
The Solidarity House is an amazing resource for peace, human rights and justice campaigning groups. There was a number of tributes to Agneta's incredible dedication, drive and passionate campaigning activities. Friends, colleagues and activists queued up to present their own personal recollections, reflections and appreciation. It is clear that Agneta is a force to be reckoned with and a source of inspiration to so many people. Following this there was a screening of the unfinished film made about a year in her life which will be released hopefully very soon.
We (Bruce, Dave and Regina) were kindly invited to a small family gathering to celebrate Agneta by her son and it was a pleasure to meet her family who all (young and old!) are so musically talented!
Following our all too brief stay at the celebration we were driven to the local port to catch an overnight ferry to Helsinki.
Our two friends from the Finnish Peace Committee were also returning to Helsinki on the same boat and accompanied us to dinner during the evening voyage.
Later he showed us to our accommodation at the CheapSleep Hostel in the city centre, a clean and lively place - busy with young, friendly travellers.
The next day we moved on to the place for our meeting - the wonderful Peace Station House in the centre of Helsinki, close to Pasila railway station, the second busiest railway station in Finland. The old wooden Peace Station was, in fact, the first railway station at Pasila and was opened in 1862. In 1990 it was moved about 400 metres to its current location and is the home of the Peace Unions Office and a number of other associated organisations.
An amazing resource for peace and human rights groups to share. It seems to be quite common in Scandinavia for groups to work together to establish and maintain this kind of common place to work from. Sometimes they are even provided, at least in part, by the local authorities.
Also speaking at the meeting was Tarja Cronberg the Finnish Green League politician who was a Member of the Finnish Parliament from 2003 to 2007 and from 2007 to 2009 she was Minister of Labour. She was then elected as a member of the European Parliament from 2011 until 2014 and became chair of the European Parliament delegation for relations with Iran and served on the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on Security and Defence.
Around a dozen or so people turned up and took part in an interesting discussion and Q&A exchange.
The next morning Teemu picked us up from our accommodation in Helsinki (which sits on the Baltic Sea) and took us to the airport from where we flew to to Gothenburg, Sweden (on the North Sea). Both these bodies of water are currently being militarized by the US-NATO war alliance.
We were met at the airport by Claudio, one of our local hosts, and taken to a high point overlooking the port city. Gothenburg is a major port and an industrial city where Volvo is headquartered (inside the airport there were a number of Volvo displays). But for an industrial city it is clean and remarkably attractive.
Claudio took us to the Folkets Hus, the local meeting place and specialist cinema run by the community. Here we met some of the people who would be helping set up the evening meeting. We then went to our accommodation - the Masthuggsterassens Vandrarhem Hostel - a very quiet, comfortable and well kept within easy walking distance of the city centre. Highly recommended! That evening we joined with some of our evening hosts for dinner.
The flyer advertising our evening event carried a photo of Donald Trump - we've seen his picture practically everywhere you turn since we arrived in Sweden and Finland days ago. Needless to say people are still trying to figure out what Trump will do in the coming years.
The huge US-NATO aurora War game will be held around Gothenburg this coming August-September and will of course be aimed at Russia. Like across much of the west Russia and Putin are being continually demonized in Sweden (and Finland) and one of our hosts reported that local police and other public institutions are being mandated to become part of the ‘total defense mobilization’ against the coming Russian invasion. Non-stop fear mongering does have an impact on a public who are captives of corporate media! However, data from SIPRI about military spending in 2015 showing that the US spent 36% of the world’s military spending total and when you add the NATO member (and partner) states that figure jumps to well over 50%. Russia spends 4% of the global total and in 2016 Moscow actually cut their military spending due to economic sanctions and dropping oil prices. So the question remains - is Russia, with its huge land mass and many borders to protect from a NATO on steroids, really going to invade Europe and beyond?
Despite the propaganda, the people of Sweden and Finland remain unconvinced by the necessity of the increasing military exercises by the US and NATO. We were told that there is still a majority in both countries that feel they should keep out of NATO - although most do not realise how closely their country already works with NATO in the so called "Partnership for Peace" programme and beyond.
People are also mobilising to oppose the exercise and there have been attempts by the people of Gothenburg to prevent nuclear war ships from berthing at their port. This has been achieved in the past by the citizens of Kobe (declared a nuclear weapons free port in 1975) in Japan and the country of New Zealand (which barred nuclear powered or nuclear armed ships from using its ports in 1984) but proves to be more difficult in Sweden where the government says that the city cannot determine foreign policy in this way. However, the people are still trying and the local government have stated that they will not be providing any civic welcome or reception to foreign war ships.
In his blog, Bruce mentions how, after our talk in Gothenburg, an Iraqi military veteran told him that he agreed with a point that Bruce had made in his talk about the 1991 Persian Gulf War being the 'first space war'. The Pentagon had already identified Iraq's military targets using spy satellites and communication interceptions previous to the war starting and 95% of those targets were destroyed in the first 2-3 days of the war. Hence the war was essentially over at that point. But the US dragged the war on for weeks, expending lots of weapons that needed to be replaced at military production facilities back home, as they 'field tested' the US space war fighting technology system. The Iraqi soldier agreed, saying, "We felt the same way. The war was a field test of US military space technology."
Next day we travelled by train to Helsingborg. Claudio had provided us with the tickets and we had a pleasant journey through the Swedish countryside. We were met at the railway station in Helsingborg by Andre Brochu (an old friend of Bruce's who was originally from Massachusetts and came to Sweden as a draft resister during the Vietnam War).
Andre took us to the venue for our talk that evening - a cosy cave-like basement second-hand bookstore which doubles as a meeting place for peace and human rights groups. Before our speaking event began one of the bookstore hosts approached us with an armload of books - all written in English. "These don't sell well here, please take home what you'd like." We both took two books each - Bruce wrote about one of his - entitled: PETE: The Story of Peter V. Cacchione, New York's First Communist Councilman - in his blog.
The meeting went well and afterwards we made our way to the train station and took the train south to Malmö where we were staying with our friend Andre who is originally from Maine, in the northeast of the US, but moved to Sweden during the Vietnam war as part of his draft resistance. He stayed there, raised a family, and worked as a librarian.
Andre had done his best to advertise our talk that evening in the ABF House but only a few people actually turned up. However, we did have a very interesting discussion .
As Bruce says in his blog:
It turns out that subsequent Swedish governments have privatised many of the previously publicly owned apartments - so now people have to take out expensive personal loans to purchase their homes. The repayment times are long and many people feel they need to protect their ‘investment’ by voting for the conservative rather than socialist candidates.
As a consequence the once strong sense of community and civic participation is drying up and a young Swedish friend at one of our meetings described how the local pubs, that used to be filled with political activists and vigorous debate, have closed and been transformed into eating and meeting places for the new generation who have little interest in politics or current affairs.
Today was a free day in Malmö and Andre took us on a short walk around some of the sights of the lovely old city .
On the final day of our speaking tour in the Nordic nations we travelled by train to Copenhagen. On the journey we travelled over the famous bridge between the two cities and could clearly see the wind farm that stretched across the waters. This was a useful reminder of the kinds of technological industry that people, currently working on building military machines of death and destruction, could be better employed in.
In Copenhagen we made our way to the Verdens Kultur Centret where we had a good meeting on the 3rd floor of a former school that has been turned into a community meeting space. Public peace centres or community spaces with offices for progressive groups and rooms for meetings has been a feature of our visit to Scandinavia - although times have changed recently these wonderful resources have continued to be maintained by and serve the communities.
One of the big issues facing Denmark is the US pushing them to purchase the F-35 fighter plane that is getting lots of bad reviews for being a complicated and temperamental war plane. Peace activists here are organizing a campaign to block their government from buying the planes – the US is even demanding they purchase spare parts up front which is not a real confidence builder in the quality of the plane.
The demonisation of Russia by NATO was once again at the forefront in our discussions. One Danish woman in the meeting said, “We’ve got to work together globally and do it around NATO which is at the centre of what is creating tensions.”
The next NATO Summit will be held in Brussels on May
24-25 and will be met by
European-wide peace protests. Then in August and September NATO will be holding
their Aurora war games in Gothenburg, Sweden and peace groups in the Nordic
region are gearing up to organize protests there as well.