We like to think of the Scandinavian states as bastions of progressiveness and social democracy. While that popular conception is certainly true to some extent—a healthy social safety net, varying degrees of progressive taxation, as well as other programmes that put many Western countries to shame—it is not, by any means, the complete picture. From Denmark to Sweden to Norway, it is an unfortunate truth that despite many social advancements to be proud of, racism and xenophobia still run deep; and in times of economic downturn or societal crisis those tendencies are as ripe for stoking and exploiting as anywhere else.
Case in point: Sweden, which is heading to the polls in September, and where a key election battleground is immigration and asylum. Because Europe, after having caused or exacerbated the wars that begat the biggest refugee crisis since World War II in the first place, is now in the process of hardening its heart against—and closing its doors to—those fleeing their native lands and European bombs. Sweden is no exception, with the far-right Sweden Democrats polling strongly ahead of the upcoming election. The country has been dealing with a backlog of asylum seekers, and since a spike in applications a few years ago it has made it much more difficult for new arrivals to get in and stay. Numbers have fallen sharply as a result, with the country continuing to deny entry, as well as processing those already there for deportation.
But though xenophobia and fascist rhetoric is playing well in the polls, opposition to it is alive and well. Opposition that in some cases finds a human face. A heroic avatar. Enter Elin Ersson. Yesterday, Elin, a student activist at Gothenburg university, was sat on a flight from Gothenburg to Turkey. She was not on that particular flight by accident. On the same plane sat a young Afghan, an asylum seeker from the war-torn country seeking refuge in Sweden. With him was a Swedish security team, in the process of removing him from the country. Ms Ersson had found out beforehand that this flight would be used to deport that young man, and so she booked herself a ticket. Then, when the plane was preparing to take off, she stood up, and started filming. Knowing full well that the plane couldn’t take off with her standing up, and facing some hostility from other passengers, she refused to sit down.
Said Ersson: ‘I don’t want a man’s life to be taken away just because you don’t want to miss your flight. I am not going to sit down until the person is off the plane.’
Despite opposition from some flight crew who tried to get her to sit down, Ersson persisted.
‘I am doing what I can to save a person’s life. As long as a person is standing up the pilot cannot take off. All I want to do is stop the deportation and then I will comply with the rules here. This is all perfectly legal and I have not committed a crime.’
At one point, an irate passenger intervened and tried to seize Ersson’s phone. She was having none of it:
‘What is more important, a life, or your time? … I want him to get off the plane because he is not safe in Afghanistan. I am trying to change my country’s rules, I don’t like them. It is not right to send people to hell.’
As the old saying goes: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’. Monsters are few and far between. They alone cannot change the course of history. It is only when normal people stand idly by, allowing atrocities to occur, that the monsters triumph, and humanity travels down dark roads. Elin Ersson stood, but she did not stand idly. She stood as a hero.
Eventually, thanks to Ersson and to applause from some passengers, the young Afghan was escorted by the security team off the plane.
According to The Guardian:
Local media said the man due to be deported on Monday had disappeared but Deutsche Welle reported that he was still in custody and would be deported at a later date.
The fight is not over. But every victory counts. No human being is illegal.
Source: The Guardian.
(Header image from The Guardian’s YouTube)