Swedish PM defends new minister over teenage ‘Hitler salute’ photo

A week after she was appointed, Sweden's new minister for public administration, Ida Karkiainen, 33, is in the news after a picture emerged of her extending her right arm at a party when she was in her mid-teens.

Swedish PM defends new minister over teenage 'Hitler salute' photo
Ida Karkiainen, minister for public administration, said she had no memory of ever making a Hitler salute. Photo: Sören Andersson/TT

In the picture, first published by right-wing populist site Nyheter Idag, a 15- or 16-year old Karkiainen is sitting on a kitchen counter in the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, who is now her sambo (cohabiting partner). Her right arm is raised in what could be interpreted as a Hitler salute.

“I have no memory of making that kind of gesture,” Karkiainen said in a Facebook post. “I understand how it looks, but I’ve never done something like that in order to sympathise with the despicable ideology Nazism stands for. If I did, it was done ironically or as a less-than-successful attempt to ridicule the ideology.”

She also denied making a Hitler salute in an interview with the Expressen tabloid, which also published the picture.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said when asked about the photo at a press conference on Covid-19 on Tuesday that she had “spoken with Ida Karkiainen about this, but has full confidence that this is not something which reflects her values – something which she has also been clear about”.

Andersson did, however, describe “that kind of gesture” as “extremely inappropriate”. 

In another Facebook post, Karkiainen further explained her conversation with Andersson: “I have reassured her that I am completely opposed to all forms of racist symbols and white power statements. There must not be any doubt about this. All values that differentiate between people are completely unacceptable.”

Additionally, Karkiainen went into more detail about her background growing up in the northern Swedish town of Haparanda, addressing, among other things, her partner’s band.

Karkiainen’s partner, 36-year-old Mattias Lind, is a drummer in nationalist hard-rock band Raubtier. The controversial photo was taken in an apartment Lind and Karkiainen were sharing at the time.

“Our apartment was not a white power environment. Punks, raggare, hard rockers, death metal fans, talented girls and messy guys all hung out there. Sometimes, there were parties. Music was played by lots of people who wanted to control the song list. Music which I don’t stand for. I usually turned it off if I noticed that someone had put white power music on, but I probably didn’t every time,” Karkiainen said in her later Facebook post.

Raggare refers to members of a Swedish subculture, which emerged in the 1950s and was inspired by American greasers. Raggare are mostly small-town communities – from Swedish towns like Haparanda – known for their love of rockabilly music, leather vests, pomade and old American cars. Prejudice towards this subculture is based on the fact that historically, raggare had questionable morals, loud mouths and often archaic attitudes towards women.

“We often discussed politics, I usually tried to speak out if someone said something stupid or racist. Haparanda is a small town and everyone knows everyone. That’s why I feel secure that everyone knows exactly what kind of person I am and that I stand up for the idea that every human is of equal worth.”

Karkiainen also re-addressed reports that her partner’s band have a Confederate flag hanging in their practice room, something she had previously dismissed in the Expressen interview, saying that she “had no influence” in how the band decorated their practice room.

The Confederate flag, known in Sweden as a sydstatsflagga or “southern state flag”, was the flag used by the pro-slavery southern American states during the American civil war. It is a symbol commonly used in the USA among right-wing extremists and white supremacists. In Sweden, it is instead generally connected with raggare culture, often used as a nostalgic symbol for the American south – although its racist connotations have been increasingly debated in recent years in Sweden too.

“I should have made it more clear in an interview that I was against the Confederate flag in my partner’s band’s practice room, and the racism it represents, not just stuck to the fact that I am not responsible for what their practice room looks like,” she said.

“I have also had questions about an item of clothing my partner has with a Confederate flag on it. I’ve asked him to throw it out for a long time, but I’m not responsible for his choice of clothing.”

“I have always been secure in my beliefs that all people are of equal worth, stood up to racism. Everyone who knows me can confirm this. This is also what led me to becoming a proud Social Democrat,” Karkiainen concluded.

Member comments

  1. As a german i say, grow up all. Nothing to see here. I recommend one day a week staying of the internet. Does wonders not only for the

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Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

What's Sweden talking about this week? In The Local's Sweden Elects newsletter, editor Emma Löfgren rounds up some of the main talking points ahead of the Swedish election.

Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

In an interview that could have jeopardised his job a decade ago, Social Democrat Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman’s suggestion in DN that there should be a 50 percent cap on non-Nordic immigrants in troubled areas of Swedish cities showed how the debate has shifted in recent years.

That said, his comments did not go without criticism. The Left Party slammed them as “racist”, the Greens and the Centre Party also criticised them, and so did the Moderates and some within the Social Democrats.

Ygeman himself said that he had been misunderstood, that he had never meant it as an actual proposal, and that factors such as crime and unemployment were far more important in terms of integration.

“But of course segregation is not just class-based, it also has an ethnic dimension. If you have areas where almost everyone is from other countries, it’s harder to learn Swedish, and if it’s harder to learn Swedish, it’s harder to get a job,” he told public broadcaster SVT.

What do you think? Email me if you want to share your thoughts.

Campaign posters and a new poll

The centre-left Social Democrats and the Moderates, the largest right-wing opposition party, both unveiled their campaign posters last week, which I guess means that the summer holiday lull is officially over and the election campaign is now definitely under way. Just over a month to go.

It’s interesting that the Social Democrats are clearly trying to turn this into a “presidential” style campaign, taking advantage of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s overwhelming popularity compared to the Moderates’ Ulf Kristersson, whose reception among voters is lukewarm.

A poll by the DN newspaper and Ipsos a month ago suggested that 37 percent of voters want to see Andersson as prime minister, compared to 22 percent who preferred Kristersson (12 percent preferred the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats’ leader Jimmie Åkesson, and the other party leaders did not get more than four percent each).

Andersson is in the unique position where voters like her way more than they like her party – a new opinion poll by Demoskop suggests that 28.7 percent would vote for the Social Democrats if the election was held today (the Moderates would get 20.3 percent). The same poll has all the right-wing parties with a slight majority compared to the left-wing parties.

Anyway, the Social Democrats’ campaign posters cover pensions, schools (specifically, limiting profit-making free schools), crime and law and order. Climate change is conspicuously absent, but a party spokesperson told reporters it will be more prominent in its social media campaigns.

When Kristersson, on the other hand, spoke at his party’s event to kick off their election campaign, he emphasised how he’s got a viable coalition on his side – a jibe at the Social Democrats, who will struggle to get their partners (specifically the Centre and Left parties) to collaborate.

He also reiterated his praise for the Sweden Democrats, and The Local asked several experts if the Moderates are the same party that fought the 2018 election, when Kristersson promised Holocaust survivor Hédi Fried he would not cooperate with the Sweden Democrats after the election.

Election pledges

The Local’s Becky Waterton has looked at the election pledges of Sweden’s four main parties, the Social Democrats, Moderates, Sweden Democrats and Centre Party. Click here to read her guide, it’s a really useful roundup.

And what about Covid? Is Sweden’s handling of the pandemic not going to be a talking point in this election? No, at least not if the parties have their way. The Social Democrats run the government, but most of the regions (who are in charge of healthcare) are run by right-wing coalitions. So from a strictly realpolitik perspective, no party is able to attack another without putting themselves at risk of becoming a target. Best forget about it.

In other political news…

… a Sweden Democrat member of parliament has been accused of sending unsolicited dick pics to women, the Moderates want to legalise altruistic surrogacy in Sweden, the Christian Democrats want a national scheme to improve maternity care, the Liberals want to make it harder for people with a criminal record to become Swedish citizens, and Centre Party leader Annie Lööf hit the campaign trail just before the weekend by pledging to reject any proposal for raised taxes after the election.

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.