Samidoun Gothenburg organized an anti-imperialist conference at Viktoriahuset in Gothenburg, Sweden on May 7th to conclude an open study circle they held that tackled Torkil Lauesen’s book “Riding the Wave: Sweden’s Integration into the Imperialist World System”. The first part of the conference was a presentation and open conversation with Lauesen about his book and its implications for anti-imperialist forces in Sweden. The second part was an open panel discussion, moderated by a member of Samidoun Gothenburg, with extensive engagement by the audience. The panelists who joined Lauesen on stage were Lina Mohageb, who runs the Instagram account @avkoloniseramera; Adrián Groglopo, lecturer at the University of Gothenburg and chairman of Antirasistiska Akademin; and Claudio Alvarez, chairman of Svensk-kubanska föreningen in Gothenburg. Following the conference was a relaxed mingle in which everybody who attended could exchange thoughts and ideas.
The “symbol” for the conference–or, perhaps more accurately, the background image on the flyer which invited to the conference–was the cinnamon roll, notoriously consumed in the Swedish fika. Ostensibly, the pastry is nothing more than a harmless sweet. But hiding in plain sight, right at the top surface, we can discern a staple colonial good: sugar. Digging deeper, in the middle of the roll, we find the real juice and yet another colonial commodity: cinnamon. The cinnamon roll is a fitting symbol for the conference because it exposes how the colonialism of the past lives on in the colonialism of the present. The cinnamon roll is also a fitting expression of Swedish imperialism more generally; seemingly innocent to the uncritical mind, yet simultaneously deeply revealing of Sweden’s complicity and involvement in colonialist and imperialist practices.
The cinnamon roll, introduced as a symbol in the second half of the conference, led to a back-and-forth discussion between the panellists and the audience about the perverse ways in which imperialism expresses itself in every-day life. The conversation centred in part around ourselves. Are we–you, me, and those who attended the conference–complicit in Swedish imperialism? We certainly reap the fruits of the imperial set-up of global capitalism in which our purchasing power vis-à-vis the cheap labour of the Global South allows for insatiable consumption patterns. The Global North seems to enjoy its position so much that it would rather destroy the planet than let go of its imperial way of living. It prefers walking off a cliff.
At the conference, cinnamon rolls and coffee (yet another colonial good) was served for free. Additionally, I was wearing clothes made in Bangladesh, and had a smartphone in my pocket made in China. (As a quick sidenote: if the iPhone X was produced in the United States, it would cost around $30,000, making it unaffordable to the vast majority of people.) Self-interrogation and self-examination is key. As Socrates put it: the “unexamined life is not worth living’” However, to conclude by saying that each of us should be held individually responsible for past and present imperialist practices is dubious at best and, more importantly, misses the point. We are all thrown into this world. The question is therefore not so much whether or not we are in some way complicit in (Swedish) imperialism–which we are–but rather what we are going to do about it.
Emile Durkheim argues in “Suicide” that with the rupturing of social bonds, individuals and societies engage in acts of self-annihilation. I believe that this so called “anomie” lies at the core of our inability to address the nihilistic sentiment of everyday people – a feeling of lovelessness, purposelessness, and hopelessness–and our inability to set in motion a democratic and revolutionary love train. This conference, however, did exactly that. It joined people together under a common cause: anti-imperialism in Sweden, and helped lay the groundwork for what is absolutely necessary: to organise.
Authored by a conference attendee