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Boycott of opening of new racism research institute

On 14 August the new Segerstedt Institute, intended to serve as a national resource centre against violent ideologies and movements and the result of a special government assignment, was inaugurated at the University of Gothenburg with the participation of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.

“Knowledge has always been racism’s greatest enemy. The Segerstedt Institute will make the University of Gothenburg a centre in the struggle against violent extremism and racism,” said Löfven.

According to the government assignment, “the University of Gothenburg is to develop and disseminate knowledge and methods to reduce the recruitment of people to violent ideologies and movements and to racist organisations”.

The Segerstedt Institute, which was established at the University of Gothenburg on 1 July, is named after father and daughter Torgny Segerstedt (1876-1945) and Ingrid Segerstedt Wiberg (1911-2010), both known for fighting against Nazism and working for human rights, freedom and peace.

In addition to the prime minister, the inauguration on 14 August was attended by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström and the Minister of Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson, together with former Social Democratic Party leader Mona Sahlin and the former leader of the Liberal People’s Party, Lars Leijonborg.

The government has allocated SEK10 million (US$1.18 million) to Gothenburg University to build up “exchange of research-based experience that can prevent recruitment to movements embracing violence”.

The leader of the new institute will be PhD-student Christer Mattsson, who is also the leader of a 20-year project at Kungälv Municipality known as the ‘Tolerance Project’, with a model that has “resulted in increased tolerance and reduced racism and intolerance in the municipality”. This project will continue in the Segerstedt Institute.

The Kungälv project was set up by the municipality following the murder of a 14-year-old schoolboy John Hron by neo-Nazi youths in 1995.

At the opening, Prime Minister Löfven said: “The initiative to establish the Segerstedt Institute is stemming from the firm belief that we can make a difference; that people can create resistance movements and that we have a duty to do so. We are not bystanders to what is happening today, we are actors. The Segerstedt Institute shall contribute to strengthening the force in the resistance, because resistance is becoming stronger when it is founded upon knowledge and research.”

He added: “The national coordination to work against violence supporting extremism is mandated to Mona Sahlin with an extended mandate and more resources, so that the necessary preventive measures can find a strategy so that both family [of recruited extremists] and [extremists] exiting [from terror organisations] can be supported.”

Boycott of the opening

However, 18 research staff members at Gothenburg University boycotted the opening of the institute. In an op ed article in the major Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, they wrote: “The new racism institute is dictated too much by a political agenda. The national investment in research against racism is not of a sufficiently high scientific quality, and the focus on combating violence embracing extremism is deeply problematic. Therefore we will not participate in the inauguration.

They continued: “The focus on combating violence embracing extremism implies that the university is subordinate to a political discourse that is founded in some of the political parties in the parliament, which is highly problematic if our universities shall live up to the principle of being independent from political influence and foster critical thinking.

“At a time when racism is strengthened it is important that both Gothenburg University and other universities and colleges in the country are secured the resources for both research and a pedagogy against racism,” they said.

The appointment of Christer Mattsson as research leader of the Segerstedt Institute was criticised as he has not completed his PhD thesis which was not recommended for defence by an ethics committee.

In the op ed article, the argument of the 18 young researchers continues as follows:

“The discourse around violence embracing extremism has emerged closely related to our time’s overarching political paradigm directed towards the war on terrorism and has been infected by its overconfidence in monitoring and use of safety measures as a universal solution to what in reality are social problems. Among the most serious consequences of this is the pointing out of already socially and politically vulnerable groups as if they should be particularly susceptible to violence.

“Swedish Muslims today are telling stories of how their children in kindergarten are already regarded as being in the danger zone to become terrorists.”

Addressing the criticisms of the 18 Gothenburg researchers, Mattsson said: “We have done our own evaluations. We know that our method [in the Kungälv project] does work. But there is a lack of research on how and why it is working.”


Professor Bo Rothstein from Gothenburg University, in a debate article in Dagens Nyheter, commented that the situation created by the boycotting scientists demonstrates an interesting ambiguity, illustrating that politicians and scientist often have different objectives.

“Politicians, the schools and the individual teacher have a need for measures that can work now,” Rothstein argues, “while the researchers boycotting the inauguration might be right in their analysis that the basic reasons for racism and violence embracing extremism might be deeply rooted in historical and structural conditions. The problem is that politicians, the schools and the individual teachers have a need to find something that might work now, and for them such knowledge [of historical and structural causes] is of no value.”

Higher Education Minister Hellmark Knutsson in Dagens Nyheter further elaborated on how the government is investing in studies on racism in two parts: one through the Segerstedt Institute, which is fully under the authority of Gothenburg University to develop further, and the other through a national research programme, which is open to a competitive process.

“The government is firmly decided upon fighting the threat of racism and extremism against Sweden, individual persons and our democratic system,” she wrote.
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