The parties in parliament have today, 11 September, agreed to continue with the referendum, but de facto have closed the official ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns. In a brutal way, the situation surrounding the referendum has been dramatically changed. The vote will now take place in a climate markedly affected by the mood following the assault and the news of Anna Lindh’s death. There is a great risk that the horror and sympathy of ordinary people can be turned into increased support for the ‘Yes’ campaign which has overwhelming dominance in the media. This has been admitted even by Prime Minister Göran Persson, even though he has falsely tried to claim that there has been a “strong rally” for the ‘Yes’ campaign. On the contrary, in all the opinion polls from the beginning of this week, the ‘No’ campaign was increasing its support
It is still not clear who the attacker was. The police have not come forward with any possible motive. But regardless of the ‘who?’ and the ‘why?’, the murder will strongly affect the result of the referendum. It is a loathsome act which not only killed Anna Lindh. It also deals a brutal blow to the vote which was expected to express massive opposition to the EMU/euro and the right wing policies which are its trade-mark.
As with the murder of Social Democratic Prime Minister Olaf Palme in 1986, the murder of Anna Lindh will tend to boost support for the government. It can temporarily act as a brake on the mood of distrust building up against the establishment which the opinion against the EMU expresses. This distrust and anger is today much stronger than in 1986. In particular, the perception of what Social Democracy represents has changed. The murder of Olaf Palme was seen by many as an assault on the very welfare system established by Social Democracy. It was also coloured by the conflicts of that time, including the strong right-wing hatred against Palme. The shooting of 1 March, 1986 affected the political situation for some months. Criticism against the government was held back, but in the autumn it returned and was expressed in a strike by workers in the public sector against cuts in spending.
This stabbing will have immediate consequences, but not on the level of the shooting of 1986. Because of the present crisis of the capitalist establishment, to which Social Democracy firmly belongs, they will have more difficulty this time in using the tragedy to “unify the nation”. This will be the case even if there is now a victory for the ‘Yes’ campaign.
Following the death of Anna Lindh, the official ‘No’ campaign has actually muzzled itself and seems to have given up on the referendum altogether. But the ‘No’ campaign has no reason to be apologetic in this regard – the reasons to vote ‘No’ are as strong as they were before. It is not only the case that people should go out and vote. We say: “Still vote and still vote ‘No’!”.
Despite important differences, there are similarities between what could now happen in the Swedish referendum and the unexpected success in the election in the Netherlands in 2002 of the List Pim Fortuyn (LPF). The founder of the LPF, Fortuyn, was murdered in the run-up to the election and all campaigning was suspended. The racist LPF then reached record results in the election because of the sympathy whipped up by the media after the murder. The lack of workers’ parties or socialist mass alternatives gives rise to the possibility of dramatic turns in public sentiment.
After yesterday’s murder, journalists in Sweden immediately began to speculate that the whole referendum would be postponed. That, however, was never very likely, because the government and the ‘Yes’ campaign probably believe that they will gain more now from the sympathy vote. In the past, shocking tragedies have tended to benefit the government of the day. The terror attacks in the USA, for example, on 11 September 2001, sharply increased support in the opinion polls for Swedish Prime Minister, Göran Persson.
The police are saying they are not sure if there was any political motive for yesterday’s outrage. It is not unlike other vicious attacks that have happened recently in Stockholm. One was the assault with an axe in the Åkeshov underground station, where one person was killed and several others wounded. Another was a car being driven into a crowd in the city centre this summer. Both were conducted by mentally ill men. These acts, as well as the development of a generally more violent society, are no doubt connected with the drastic cuts in spending on health care and the dismantling of the welfare system which have been conducted over the last decade.
We will not know who carried out the attack on Anna Lindh or the motives involved, at least until the culprit is found. If the deed is found in any way to have a political connection it is a completely reactionary act.
The editorial in the liberal daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, attempts to claim that it was the ‘Yes’ campaign itself which was the target. It links the knife attack to the massive criticism of Anna Lindh by the ‘No’ campaign for the joint statement she made in favour of the euro/EMU with the Ericsson boss, Carl Henrik Svanberg. They were claiming that that many jobs would be lost if the ‘No’ vote won the referendum.
This editorial comment, however, is pure speculation from Dagens Nyheter, unscrupulously aimed at winning over to the ‘Yes’ campaign the many Social Democrats who were going to vote ‘No’.
It is impermissible to link the murder of the Foreign Minister with the fact that sharp criticism of the ‘Yes’ campaign has been expressed by many workers. They genuinely believe that Social Democracy has degenerated through open collaboration with company managers and the other traditional capitalist parties in Sweden and the referendum was developing into a clear vote of no confidence against the government’s right wing policies and the huge cuts in public spending.
Politically, the murder of Anna Lindh may now have a temporary dampening effect on this revolt against the establishment. However, it will quickly be thrown off and there will be a return to the combative mood shown already this year in the anti-war movement, the council workers’ strike and in the anti-EMU campaign itself.