Swedish gallery owner Henrik Ronnquist locking up his gallery on July 5 after Swedish police arrested artist Dan Park and confiscated a number of his works. Park is now in a Swedish prison for committing verboten art. (DI photo by Roger Salhstrom)
Dispatch International co-editor Lars Hedegaard writes in with the latest alarming news about the end of free speech in Europe, as formerly democratic nations eliminate criticism and satire of the ideological vise by which increasingly totalitarian governments control the masses once thought of as citizens.
How do they do it? The story Lars highights is chillingly instructive.
You may have heard of the Swedish street artist Dan Park. He is now in jail for having made some politically incorrect pictures.
I cannot think of a similar case in the Western world since the downfall of the Third Reich.
Let the words sink in for a moment: A street artist is in jail for his pictures. I had heard about Park's case (some stories here) -- how in July Swedish police had storm-trooped through a Malmo gallery showing his pictures, confiscating pictures -- already a totalitarian outrage -- but I was not aware the man was in jail.
The artist on the day he was arrested (DI photo by Roger Sahlstrom)
Here are some of the salient facts of Dan Park's case:
April 4: The Swedish court sentences Dan Park to two months in jail for three posters.
April 9: The Swedish court adds one month to Dan Park's jail sentence of one month because Park blogged about the April 4 court case.
July 5: Swedish police arrest Dan Park during the varnishing at Gallery Rönnquist in Malmö, where nine pictures are confiscated.
August 21: The Swedish court sentences Dan Park to six months in jail. The court decides that eight of his pictures are to be destroyed.
October 6-8: All three convictions are to be reviewed by the court of Skåne and Blekinge.
On September 10, Ingrid Karlqvist, co-editor of Dispatch International, published an interview with Park headlined, "In Sweden They Jail Artists."
This week, Lars Hedegaard announced that his publishing company would be printing and selling eight copies of the nine Dan Park prints -- Entartete Kunst (Degerate Art) -- that were confiscated by police. The Swedish government has determined that eight of the confiscated nine should be destroyed for having violated Sweden's law prohibiting "slander of people groups" (it is unclear what they intend to do with the ninth). These prints are unique, numbered and signed, and sell for the same price at which the gallery valued them ($800). The proceeds will go for the defense of free speech.
Lars discusses this extremely urgent case in an interview published yesterday at Dispatch International. It begins by asking Lars if he respects the Swedish authorities' evaluation of Dan Park's art.
Of course, we can all guess the answer to that -- but there is nothing better than reading Lars himself elaborate. Here is the full exchange.
LARS HEDEGAARD: I don’t respect it one bit. I respect the Swedish judicial system as I would have respected Hitler’s, the Soviet Union’s, China’s and those of other totalitarian countries. There is no better indicator of a totalitarian country than the way it treats its artists. Where artists are put in jail, freedom is lost.
DI: But there is a Swedish law prohibiting ”slander of people groups” and the court has determined that Dan Park has violated that law?
LH: They can stuff it! In Sweden they have their slander law, which they use to strangle people that don’t toe the line. In Nazi Germany it was denigration of the Aryan race and the Fuhrer. In the Soviet Union it was defamation of the socialist order. And so forth. Of course all totalitarian states have laws that protect the powers against criticism. But they should not expect those of us who are living in countries with a measure of freedom to put up with their despicable behavior.
It is characteristic of totalitarian states that as long as the power structure is intact, there will be broad acceptance of the government’s behavior. It seemed obvious to most Germans that Hitler’s eradication of free speech was the right thing to do and he was overwhelmingly popular. Once the foundation of the Third Reich began to crumble, he was not very popular and today few Germans think it was a good idea to suppress nonconformist authors, journalists and artists.
All totalitarian regimes are headed for their downfall precisely due to their suppression of free speech. A state that wants to eradicate thoughts it considers evil is incapable of correcting its course and is steering straight for the abyss.
DI: But in Sweden there is widespread agreement that one should silence artists like Dan Park. Practically all political parties, the public prosecutor, the courts, the journalists and the cultural elites support this position. They think that people like Park are undermining the state?
LH: It is precisely this unanimity that is so scary. It reminds me of the saying: ”One hundred billion flies can’t be wrong. Eat shit!” If art is to mean anything, artists must not be flies. And if journalism is to have any other mission than heaping praise on the government, all journalists can’t write the same things.
Unfortunately I notice that the Swedish disease has gained a foothold in Denmark. Saturday night the infamous Danish journalist Martin Krasnik, who hosts the television program Deadline, characterized Dan Park’s pictures as ”clearly racist”. The man is a total idiot. Either he doesn’t know what he is talking about or he does know – and is trying to pave the way for Swedish conditions. Fortunately we can still speak fairly freely in Denmark and I don’t think the police will come and arrest me. Nor do I expect to be extradited for prosecution in Sweden.
DI: But aren’t Dan Park’s pictures racist? He offends blacks and gypsies and writes about ”Negroes” and ”niggers”. He depicts Momodou Jallow as a runaway slave. That’s not very nice?
LH: What utter nonsense! If you take the trouble to enter into Dan Park’s tangled brain, you will realize that his art is a sarcastic rebellion against the politically correct that holler racist from morning till night. It is a rebellion against types such as Momodou Jallow and the gypsy couple Kaldaras who have made it a lucrative business to accuse white Swedes of frightful crimes. The persecution of Dan Park will no doubt encourage these jobbers in ”anti-racism” to come up with new game plans that will give them power and money.
At our website entartetekunst.dk you can read about the concrete background that has made Dan Park draw the forbidden pictures and you’ll relize that he has had his reasons for doing it. Not that one should ask artists for reasons. Why did Goya paint The Naked Maja and was it really necessary for Titian to depict Venus from Urbino without clothes when it offends Muslims and other ”minorities”? Yes, it was necessary because the artists felt like doing it that way. And you shouldn’t ask them to do it any other way.
DI: You are not comparing Dan Park to Goya?
LH: No, I think Goya is a bit better than Park. I also think that Beethoven is a better composer than the guy who wrote, ”How much is that doggie in the window”. But that doesn’t make me want to ban Park’s art or the tunes of trivial composers.
DI: What does the publisher expect to get out of its initiative?
LH: We expect to make some money to be spent on the defense of free speech. And speaking about money, it’s worth pointing out that forbidden works have a habit of going up in price once this madness has subsided. Right now we’re selling a very limited edition of numbered and authenticated prints and there will never be more. Once we have sold out, you will see that the pictures are traded at much higher prices.
That was what happened when the Danish Free Press Society printed and sold 1000 copies of Kurt Westergaard’s famous picture of the prophet with a bomb in his turban. They sold like hot cakes and when we didn’t have more to sell, people kept calling to ask if they could buy them at higher prices. Unfortunately, we couldn’t help them.
In addition, when free speech is at stake, one must act. Professions that free speech is our most inalienable right are well and good but it is better to counter the oppressors by taking action.
Actions speak louder than words.
Ordering information is here.
In his email, Lars adds:
There seems to no end to the Swedish madness. Now they are censoring Pippi Longstocking.
The spectacle of artists in jail may soon come to a place near you.