My Sweden: Clean Spaces, Clean Information
Published June 12, 2007

”I dont understand what you mean by street art. If it has no permission, it is regular destruction and should be punished. I think it is equal to destroying someones car.”
Mikael Söderlund, vice mayor Stockholm

Trial and Error, Stockholm – I recently went to a concert with my father, where the artist Peter Carlsson sang ”You have to wipe your shoes clean before you get into town. You cant leave any fingerprints in town.” Stockholms transformation into a large clean shopping center started long ago, but since the conservative party (Moderaterna) gained control of City hall, it has accelerated. Two examples:
1. They have decided that the subway is a largely unused commercial space. But today I waited for the sub on a platform covered in huge commercials, got into a wagon that was totally covered in a commercial on the outside, and then I counted 40 commercials inside the wagon.
2. At the same time they introduce a zero tolerance policy against graffiti, scribblings and postings in unassigned places.

My first naive reflection is the difference between the underground landscape and the above ground landscape, rather like a city plan made by Leonardo da Vinci, where a whole city was to be built in two floors. The lower floor, without sunlight and wind, was populated by workers. Their goods and services were transported up by stairs to the top floor, where the noblemen, priests and so on lived with sunshine and good air.

The Stockholm City museum has a very popular guided tour which is sold out all the time. It guides people to the street art of the town. ”To have tours in city art is like picking mushrooms” says the guide. ”I never know what is there and what has been taken away.” Since these tours are legimitizing something that the conservative party is against, the newspaper Södermalmsnytt contacted our vice mayor Mikael Söderlund. Here is the interview:
SN (Södermalmsnytt): But the tours are popular and many think that city art is fine. MS (Mikael Söderlund): I dont understand what you mean by street art. If it has no permission, it is regular destruction and should be punished. I think it is equal to destroying someones car. SN: Posters, mosaics, miniature summerhouses and decals. Have you not seen it? MS: No, but Stockholm would look pretty strange if everybody would put up summerhouses everywhere. If you want to erect an art piece you have to apply for permission. Everything else is illegal. SN: Can you apply for permission for the erection of a graffiti painting? MS: No, we dont accept graffiti in Stockholm. And we dont think, like others, that graffiti is an art form. We dont want graffiti here. SN: The English authorities declined from washing away a spray painting from the street artist Banksy because of his great popularity. The value of the apartements in the houses he had painted has peaked. His wall paintings are valued to more than 4 million kronor [about 580 000 USD, writers remark]. Any comments? MS: He is not welcome to Stockholm.

A hotline will now be set up to take emergency calls on new public art, graffiti or posters in Stockholm. After the alarm, it wont take more than 48 hours before a squad will be sent to the new illegal painting (or what it might be) and remove it. Reading about this on the internet also gave me the information about how to bring down this new hot line with fake alarms, etc. Searching this information on the net also brings up the issue on Swedish surveillance. Beside all the security cameras in buses, subways, squares, shops and every possible public space, the Swedish government also hope to pass a law which gives them the right to monitor Swedish and international traffic on the internet. This proposition has been debated (lamely) in Swedish media but has also caused Google to compare Sweden with Saudi Arabia and China.
My Sweden from an international perspective: Its not a country in any risk of terrorism, or a country involved in high risk security issues, or war, or large scale crime or violence. And it might not be the home of the brave, but we really take our cleanliness seriously, both when it comes to our spaces and our information.