When I went to university in the U.K., there was a policy called ‘no platform’. This meant that students were allowed to demonstrate, hold rallies and meetings about any subject they liked except with one agenda – racist. The university claimed it was democratic but also allowed ‘no platform for racists’. I personally do not hold right-wing views, but this policy never sat easily with me as I saw the clear paradox that it created and it raised the question of what a democracy is. This is a question that raises its head very frequently in today’s culturally and politically polarized society.
One very recent example in Sweden is the annual politics week that finishes today on the Baltic island of Gotland. This is a week where political parties gather and debate the current political landscape of the country. It’s a tradition that started in 1968 under the initiative of legendary leader Olof Palme. This year, for the first time, a Nazi group were allowed to participate with a tent and speeches. They, course, were condemned by all parties and many voices to ban them were heard – ‘no platform for Nazis’.
This is the dilemma for any modern democracy. If democracy means that everybody has the right to exercise their own ideas and beliefs, then society can not ban or intervene when people have the ‘wrong’ beliefs. We can’t just stop somebody from participating because we don’t like their point of view. It is different of course if they are breaking the law. But being a nazi is not breaking the law in Sweden, just as it is not illegal to be a civil rights activist, a communist or a feminist campaigner.
We shouldn’t forget the very foundation of a democratic society means the right to hold whatever belief we want and go wherever we want with whoever we want. That is our liberty. If we start to infringe on it with bans, or ‘no platform’ policies, we are heading down a slippery slope of state control, elitism and autocracy.
For me, Nazis should not be forbidden to go to Gotland. To ban them is to undermine our democracy. Threatening behavior, nazi symbolism, Hitler salutes, encitement of violence are however illegal and should not be accepted or allowed.
It is in the shadow that their presence casts that a counter balance can be demonstrated. And exactly that happened on Gotland in the form of a well-visited Diversity Parade. Thousands of people marched for a plurastic society and in protest of the views propagated by right wing parties. This was a fantastic manifestation representing the majority of Swedes. And this could only happen in a democratic society.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not undermining anybody’s discomfort or fear. I am sure that the presence of the Nazis was horrible to experience. But if history has shown us anything it is that we cannot put our heads in the sand and ignore these destructive forces. We must face them head on in debate, in demonstration, in democracy and in massive, massive resistence.