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The anti-Nazi who took the world by storm

Stieg Larsson – The man who played with the fire
Regissør: Henrik Georgsson

MATCH / After his death, Stieg Larsson became world famous for the crime trilogy about Lisbeth Salander, but his life was first and foremost marked by a tireless struggle to map and uncover the growing movement of neo-Nazism and fascism.


The point is carved in granite several times during the documentary: Stieg Larsson worked himself to death. In that sense, the Nazis whom he dedicated all his waking hours to fight ended up taking his life, which they had so often threatened to do.

Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire documents one of Sweden's most significant anti-Nazi lives and works, an anti-Nazi who became world-renowned when his Millennium trilogy about the ill-mannered and crude Lisbeth Salander was published shortly after the author's premature death.


The documentary is composed of interviews with Stieg Larsson's life partner, Eva Gabrielsson, with former colleagues at TT Nyhetbyrån and on the anti-fascist media Exhibition, which Larsson co-founded, with former colleagues at the British anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, as well as childhood friends and neighbors in the remote Swedish countryside, where Stieg Larsson spent the first nine years of his life with his grandparents.

Larsson's grandfather was a communist and committed anti-Nazi, from whom Larsson learned much. Larsson himself became a (Trotskyist) communist, but the documentary about him bypasses this part of the story, and the only one mentioned by his and his grandfather's political orientering are polite and meaningless phrases about «wanting everyone to be equal». Instead, Larsson is portrayed as a "democrat" – what he naturally was, and a radical one of a kind (unlike most bourgeois democrats), but in the documentary's framework, it becomes a rather vague label.

Contradictions are blurred

Why must the director have made such great efforts to exclude this part of Larsson's political legacy? Presumably in an attempt to support the bestseller identity created around Larsson after his death, an attempt that in no way honors the project Larsson lived and died for, but instead eradicates all political contradictions of cynical profit-oriented årsager. Only one political divide is drawn in the documentary: between democrats and anti-democrats (in this context fascists and nazis).

Nevertheless, one of the key points Larsson worked so hard to make understandable is that the so-called welfare democracy, which Sweden is believed to be, also forms the basis for new flourishes of Nazism and fascism.
In other words, the reality is just not so simple that the struggle is simply between democratic and anti-democratic forces. This is where the documentary is weakest – with its level of analysis being light years below Stieg Larsson's.


The Man Who Played With Fire however, in another crucial way honors his memory, namely, by drawing attention back to the part of his work that ended up killing him: the careful and degrading work of mapping and documenting Nazi, fascist and racist groups, parties, movements and flows in Sweden and beyond Sweden's borders. A work he initiated in the early 1970s and continued until he died of congestion and neglect of his own physical health in 2004.

The past is the present

When he began, most people believed that Nazism was dead, something that belonged to the past. An impressive self-elected ignorance in a country where no one has really tried to clean up the political and economic relations between Swedish and German elites during World War II, where eugenics prevailed – and was embraced far into powerful social democracy – and where skinhead groups were more active and more organized violent than in the rest of Scandinavia.

By tracing Stieg Larsson's life and work, the documentary retells the stories of the Nordiska Rikspartiet, founded as Sweden's National Socialist Fighting Federation in 1956, about the rise of the BSS movement – Preserve Sweden Swedish – from which the current Swedish Democrats grew, and the spread of Vit Makt music, launched as "Viking Rock", which popularized racist and fascist worldviews in the 1990s.


It also reminds us of the extensive violence perpetrated by ultra-right groups in Sweden, violence targeting Jews, migrants and asylum seekers, non-whites, gays and women – as well as people like Stieg Larsson and his peers and partners who uncovered organizations and people at the far right as well as their activities, relations and alliances.


New and old forms of racism

Another important point of the documentary – which emerges through archival interviews with Stieg Larsson as well as interviews with his associates – is that the "new" forms of racism and fascism are not fundamentally different from the old ones just because the word race has been replaced with culture, or just because people who spread these ideologies have let their hair grow out and put on suits, or just because anti-Semitism – especially after 9/11 – has been (strategically) replaced with hatred towards Muslims.


The documentary also shows how the popularized plot developed by Stieg Larsson in his Millennium trilogy is as much fact as fiction. The brutality of the violence perpetrated by men against women, the structural violence of the welfare state, the widespread corruption in an allegedly unpolluted and moral society, the interweaving of the Swedish elite with Nazism. All of this is something Stieg Larsson had observed and observed through his work on mapping what one of the interviewees called "the dark sides of Sweden".

The "new" forms of racism and fascism are not fundamentally different from the old ones just because the word race has been replaced with culture.

When Larsson began his life project documenting neo-Nazi and fascist groups in Sweden, most of them operated in hiding. Now their activities take place in full daylight. And while the self-elected ignorant claim once was that these currents belonged to the past, the astonishing claim today is that they are not really Nazis and fascists.The Man Who Played With Fire goes to great lengths to conclude that those who dedicate their lives to fighting Nazism, racism and fascism are not just "democrats" in general, but are often communists and socialists. Despite this political choice to blur important parts of history, the documentary will hopefully help raise awareness of the fact that fascism and Nazism are far from dead; on the contrary, the currents are again on their way to power.

Nina Trige Andersen
Nina Trige Andersen
Trige Andersen is a freelance journalist and historian.

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