Swedish sister admag Resumé has just published an interview with Joakim Wallerstein, the man responsible for the communication strategy for political party SD. Their posters apologising to tourists for organized begging were famously torn down in a riot the day after they were put up, and earned countless amounts of earned media both at home and abroad. The Independent, US news, and Newsweek reported on the posters and the protests against them.
Hate it or love it, this poster campaign is historically the most talked about political campaign in Sweden since Albert Engström's prohibition referendum poster "crayfish require these drinks" in 1922. Resumé asks Wallerstein if he expected this. "We hoped for attention of course, but this amount of attention is historically unprecedented."
Resumé states that "many people believe this is hate speech", to which Wallerstein responds "I'm puzzled by that. Do you feel that it is?"
Resumé: You don't call out a particular ethnic group in the text, but between the lines it is about the Roma?
Wallerstein: "It is racist to assume that. We have never claimed that. We maintain that it is forced begging that is the problem. Internationally, it is not strange to say this, but the bubble in Stockholm it is."
Resumé: So it's not about the Roma?
Wallerstein: "We have never criticized them. We're talking about forced begging. The Council of Europe points out that there are people from eastern Europe trafficked for this, but do not mention ethnic groups. It is bad no matter who is forced to beg."
Resumé: Though there are reports that begging is organized?
Wallerstein: "Yes, they usually refer to a Norwegian report. But the Council of Europe are very clear stating that Sweden isn't doing enough when it comes to overcoming the forced begging."
I believe that Wallerstein is referring to the COE's advisory to Sweden here. Antislavery.org also has an informative PDF on trafficking for forced criminal activities and begging in Europe created with the financial support of the Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme European Commission- Directorate-General Home Affairs. The study found that the issue is more widespread than previously reported, with victims being exploited through a variety of criminal activities.
SvD report however that Michaël Guet, the Council of Europe's residing expert on Roma issues, considers the campaign "hate speech" and interprets the posters as targeting Roma. "The campaign is extremely controversial and provocative, and misleads the public" he is quoted as saying, continuing "I am convinced that Swedes won't fall for the anti-Roma propaganda, because so many demonstrated against it on Norrmalmstorg, and that so many reported it as hate speech to the Justice Department".
SL will not put the torn down campaign back up, and cite as one of the reason that people may get hurt trying to tear it down again - as we've seen in the plentiful riot footage people had to stand on top of the escalators to be able to reach. Wallerstein remarks that it's unfortunate they won't get the two weeks that they paid for, but they will let it lie. In the end, the earned media is worth millions so this was quite a bargain.