Thu, May 09, 2019 - Page 9 News List

The Swedish city that
said no to neo-Nazis

After a 14-year-old was murdered by neo-Nazis in 1995, Kungalv launched a pioneering project that has changed how people think about tackling racism

By David Crouch  /  The Guardian

“I think about what would have happened to me without that experience. I would probably be a Nazi’s girlfriend today,” said Madeleine, now 31 and a teaching assistant. “I didn’t have the network around me to get out of it.”

The approach has become known as the “Kungalv model” for tackling racism among teenagers, and its techniques are practiced in more than 60 schools in Sweden. In Kungalv itself, the program has inoculated a generation of young people against right-wing extremism.

Loa Ek took part in the Tolerance Project in 2012. She was 14 and by her own admission a difficult child who was skipping classes and failing exams.

“It was hard for me to keep my mouth shut at first, but I calmed down — nobody judged me,” Ek, 21, said.

“It was a safe space — it helped me to understand and control myself. We learned how easy it is to manipulate people through racism,” she said.

Ek’s outspoken nature now has other targets.

“It irritates me so much when people don’t like immigrants. I tell them to go read some books,” she said.

Breaking down the barriers between groups of school students is key to success, said Maarten van Zalk, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Osnabruck in Germany, whose research has measured the effect of the Kungalv model on pupils’ outlook and opinions.

“When you are part of a racist subculture, it is unlikely you will interact with immigrant students,” he said.

“With the Tolerance Project they are strongly encouraged to engage, and with the engagement they break the circle. The more they break that circle, the higher the level of tolerance,” Zalk said.

A 2013 study backed by diversity and anti-racism organizations estimated that the economic benefits of the project, measured in terms of preventing damage to society caused by neo-Nazi gangs, outweighed the investment required by a factor of 20.

A study by a researcher at Birmingham University last year concluded that the project had led to “an increased sense of security, less vulnerability, and most important of all, less hatred.”

Cristine Lysell, who is now in charge of upper secondary school education for Kungalv council, saw for herself the changes at Ytterby school, where she was a teacher when the neo-Nazis were at their height.

“The racism started to disappear — it became more calm and students started to react when they heard people express racist views,” Lysell said.

“Everyone in the school was standing up for integration. Then we began to realize the hard work was paying off,” she said.

Today the neo-Nazis do not recruit from Ytterby school, Kraffke said.

“They are strong here, their leader lives nearby, but they don’t target the school, they have nothing to get from us,” she said.

A student from a neighboring school was so moved by her experience of the Tolerance Project that she and some friends organized a memorial concert for John Hron, 20 years after his death. About 5,000 people took part.

“We called it Together for Kungalv — instead of saying we hate the racists, we wanted a message that was positive and inclusive,” said Louise Eklund, now 21.

“We wanted to show a society where everyone can feel safe and happy, and live their lives, where we can understand that people are different,” Eklund said.

In 2015, the project’s success led to the establishment of the Segerstedt Institute at Gothenburg University, with the aim of developing and spreading the Kungalv model. The institute trains teachers and social workers to apply the methodology in their own environments, tailoring it to the specifics of youth culture and style.

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