~ from Vikbolandet, Sweden, by Martin Smedjeback

(From the Nuclear Resister #154, July 17, 2009)

Strategy Behind Swedish Disarmament

The network Ofog (meaning mischief in Swedish) started in 2002 as an anti-militarist network for a nuclear-free world. Inspired by the Trident Ploughshares campaign in Great Britain, we used mainly blockades in our actions but also other forms of direct action, like penetrating weapon factories and swimming out to nuclear submarines. Seeing how the Swedish weapons exports were growing continually, we activists in Ofog felt a need to address also our own national contribution to militarisation of the world.
Ofog started a week-long peace camp in 2006 in Karlskoga, the weapons capital of Sweden. Camp participants held town meetings and workshops about the weapons export, did “weapons inspections” inside of the weapon factory, sit-ins, painted a tank and made a banner to hang from one of the buildings of the factory. Arrests and legal charges were brought against all the participants in these actions. The peace camps were held every year, but the weapons export also grew every year.

Although information about Swedish weapons export is readily available, it is not talked about very much at all and public debate is almost nonexistent. We felt that it was time to show that there is some wealth that most Swedes take for granted.

I have learned from the U.S. civil rights movement that many African-Americans were rather passive politically until there were some students who risked arrest by sitting in at segregated lunch counters. When these young people were put in prison, it ignited a new spirit of struggle for the issue among the people. Could this effect manifest itself around Swedish weapons export in 2009?

Up to this point no one in Ofog had done any “direct disarmament” – i.e. destruction of a weapon. There had been very few people who had actually resisted weapons factories in Sweden or the politicians who support them. Sure, the peace movement had made the usual complaints about the irresponsible export to dictatorships and wars, but the weapons industry was not even close to being challenged. The problem was not only the fact that the export increased but also that the authorities and politicians even gave permission to weapon trades that went against our own guidelines decided by the Swedish parliament. We felt that when the politicians didn’t even follow democratic decisions like these, then we as citizens have a responsibility to intervene and physically stop these weapons.

The hope was that these actions of disarmament also would generate a much needed discussion in Sweden about the illegality of particular weapon deals and weapons export in general. Now after the third disarmament action in this campaign, the Gripen fighter disarmament action, we can conclude that weapons worth more than 100 000 ยค have been stopped. The actions have generated some interest, but not nearly the debate that we would have hoped for. But maybe it is too soon to evaluate the outcome and better to see these actions as work in progress.

One very tangible outcome is that – regardless of their influence on the actual weapons industry – these actions seem to inspire and give hope to many people, judging from the letters we have received here in prison. That in itself is very rewarding because we need to be more people taking concrete steps against war profiteering. So if these actions function as mobilising events perhaps we in the long run can count on a stronger resistance against the weapon producers in Sweden and elsewhere.

[Martin Smedjeback is a peace activist and nonviolence trainer. In the current Disarm campaign he was charged for peace actions at four different weapon industries in Sweden. He was released on July 2, 2009 after ten weeks in prison for disarming Swedish-made weapons for export.]