Activist with the Avrusta ("disarm" in Swedish), which aims to stop Swedish arms exports to countries violating human rights.
Activist with the Swedish Christian peace network, Ofog.
Institutions like the Nobel Prize have helped link Sweden’s international reputation to peace and reconciliation, but few people know Sweden is also one of the world’s top exporters of weapons. Sweden is among the world’s top arms exporters in per capita terms. Its clients include the United States and Britain, with shipments more than doubling since 2000. We speak with two activists in Sweden. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We move on now to the peace protests that are taking place, yes, right here in Sweden. And Professor Palmer will be leaving us, and we’ll be joined by two peace protesters, as we continue this broadcast from Stockholm, Sweden.
Institutions like the Nobel Prize have helped link Sweden’s international reputation to peace and reconciliation. But few people know Sweden is also one of the world’s top exporters of weapons. Sweden is among the world’s top arms exporters in per capita terms. Its clients include the United States and Britain, with shipments more than doubling since 2000.
Annika Spalde is an activist with Avrusta, which is called "disarm" in Swedish. It aims to stop Swedish arms exports to countries violating human rights. The group is part of the Swedish peace network, Ofog. Annika joins me here in Stockholm.
And we are also joined by another activist who will talk about her work, as well. Why don’t you introduce yourself?
CATTIS LASKA: Well, my name is Cattis Laska, and I’m also part of the anti-militaristic peace movement Ofog.
AMY GOODMAN: And “Ofog” means…?
CATTIS LASKA: It’s an old word for “mischief” in Swedish, and it’s also meaning “disobedience” to power structures and, yeah, not obeying laws that we think are unjust.
AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to talk to both of you about your protest in October. Annika, why don’t you begin? What did you do?
ANNIKA SPALDE: Well, since we feel that the peace movement has been working for so many years to stop these arms sales, which also violate our own guidelines, for example, that we sell weapons to countries at war and to countries who seriously violate human rights, and still these sales just grow bigger and bigger, so we feel that we, as ordinary citizens, have a responsibility to act then and to physically try to stop these weapons from being shipped off.
And so, apart from more traditional political methods, we also then use disarmament actions, which means that we, with an ordinary hammer, starts the disarmaments by disabling parts of weapons or weapons, so that they can’t be used to kill or hurt anybody. So then, in October, we went into two different factories in Sweden, both part of the old Bofors Company, which is now, one of them, owned by BAE Systems.
AMY GOODMAN: BAE meaning British Aerospace.
ANNIKA SPALDE: Yes, Europe’s biggest weapons company.
AMY GOODMAN: And Bofors is where Alfred Nobel actually established the weapons industry.
ANNIKA SPALDE: It was, yes, in Karlskoga.
AMY GOODMAN: Bofors, for our audience around the world, is spelled B-o-f-o-r-s, if you’re looking for it on a map.
ANNIKA SPALDE: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes?
ANNIKA SPALDE: And the other group went into Saab, Bofors Dynamics, which is another company owned by — Swedish-owned, by Saab.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Saab is interesting, because we think of Saab —- well, General Motors owns Saab in the United States, the automaker, and Ford owns Volvo, another Swedish company. Both, they are trying to sell. But Saab here is not the automaker, because it was bought by General Motors, but just the weapons manufacturer?
ANNIKA SPALDE: Yes. Saab now is Sweden’s biggest weapons manufacturer. And not all Swedes know that either. They do, among other things, the fighter jet, the Gripen, and also grenade launchers that we sell now to US, used in Iraq -—
AMY GOODMAN: What are these grenade launchers called?
ANNIKA SPALDE: — like the Carl-Gustaf and the AT4. And also a GPS-guided newly developed grenade called Excalibur.
AMY GOODMAN: And these are used in Iraq.
ANNIKA SPALDE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Are there soldiers in Iraq from Sweden?
ANNIKA SPALDE: No, no. Sweden is not part of the war in Iraq. And most Swedes strongly — we’re strongly against the invasion of Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: But soldiers are part of the war in Afghanistan.
ANNIKA SPALDE: Yes, in Afghanistan, they are.
AMY GOODMAN: So, specifically, I’d like you to talk about your actions. Cattis Laska, talk about what happened in October. What did you do?
CATTIS LASKA: Well, we were an action group, a part of Ofog. And we went into two weapon factories at the same night. Two persons went into Saab Bofors Dynamics in Eskilstuna, where they make, for example, the AT4 and the Carl-Gustaf grenade launchers, and they disarmed about twenty Carl-Gustaf grenade launchers.
AMY GOODMAN: And when you say “disarmed twenty Carl-Gustaf grenade launchers,” what do you mean , “disarmed”?
CATTIS LASKA: They disabled them so — well, to prevent them to being used in wars, so they can’t be used now.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you mean, “disabled”? How did they do this?
CATTIS LASKA: They did it by using a hammer, making scraps inside the grenade launchers.
AMY GOODMAN: They scraped inside of the grenade launcher?
CATTIS LASKA: Yeah, yeah. And so, it’s very important that —- well, there’s very much details in those launchers, so they have to be perfect. So it’s enough just to scrape it to disable them. And then, me and another person went into the BAE Systems Bofors factory in Karlskoga.
AMY GOODMAN: British Aerospace.
CATTIS LASKA: Yes, and where we disabled some parts for Howitzers going to India.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you do disable them?
CATTIS LASKA: We also used hammers to scrape and to, yeah, hammer them.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you gone to trial for this?
CATTIS LASKA: Yes, the two of us going into British Aerospace Bofors had a trial in the beginning of November. But now it’s on appeal for another trial.
AMY GOODMAN: And were you sentenced for that action?
CATTIS LASKA: Yeah, we were sentenced to three months in prison and -—
AMY GOODMAN: Will you be going to prison soon?
CATTIS LASKA: Well, first we will have the other trial and then probably we’ll be sentenced to prison again.
AMY GOODMAN: Annika, your role in all of this?
ANNIKA SPALDE: Yes. We decided that I’d be outside at this night and having phone contact with both the groups and also receiving material that they filmed in Eskilstuna, which you can actually see on YouTube, for example, where they are disabling these grenade launchers, put that on our website. And then I met some journalists the day after, then later tried to go in myself — or I went in myself at BAE Systems, so to try and continue the disarmaments, but I was then arrested before I disarmed anything.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you tell the authorities yourself what you had done? This seems to be a tradition of Ploughshares activists in other countries, from the United States to Britain, is telling them, calling them up and saying you’ve done this.
ANNIKA SPALDE: Yes, yes. I mean, we feel very strongly about nonviolence and openness, and we always tell exactly, yeah, what we have done and take responsibility for that. And those in Eskilstuna had the time, actually, to call the police when they felt they were ready with the disarmament work. And Cattis and Pelle were discovered before they had that opportunity. But that’s important for us, to take responsibility and also, in the following trials, to be able to argue our case, and with the goal of sometime having these laws changed that permit this exportation going on.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the response of the Swedish population? I think many people must be surprised listening to or watching you both today. I mean, we are going to see the celebration of the Nobel Peace Prize in honor of Alfred Nobel here in Sweden. And here you are, peace activists taking on what may surprise people to be the second-largest weapons exporter per capita in the world, Sweden.
CATTIS LASKA: Yeah, I think many people just doesn’t know about it, not — well, Swedish citizens doesn’t know about Sweden being one of the top ten largest arms producers in the world. But then, yeah, there’s also these laws that — yeah, that permit the weapons export and, yeah, stop people from protesting against it, because then they will get fines and be put into prison.
ANNIKA SPALDE: We have received a lot of support. We have this webpage where you can also sign an appeal, where it says that “I support these kind of nonviolent disarmament actions, and I see them as necessary in this situation.” And we have at least a couple of hundred people and several organizations who have signed that.
And so, I think it’s — a lot of people feel that quite radical action needs to be taken, also with this government, because there will be, next year probably, a new proposal for new regulations, guidelines for the weapons export, which then risks to be much more liberal than those that we have today. So it’s important to act, we feel, also at this moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Your website?
ANNIKA SPALDE: That’s Ofog.org.
AMY GOODMAN: Spell it.
ANNIKA SPALDE: Or it’s Avrusta.se, a-v-r-u-s-t-a-dot-s-e.
AMY GOODMAN: And we will link to it at democracynow.org. Annika Spalde, I want to thank you very much for being with us. And, Cattis Laska, thank you. We will follow your case and see what happens on appeal.