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Before it was culture – now, it’s genetics and race

In the Global North political parties on the right have come up with one absurd proposal, trying to erase people and languages ​​that do not fit into the image of the nation-state. Shockingly, the solution to poverty and crime is not tearing down class society and striving for a fairer distribution of resources but discriminatory measures against children. Some enter the argument directly and want to discuss how legitimate these proposals are. Not at all, of course. Illusions of serious party politics should have left long ago, just as all dreams of justice should have been left with the dead and locked up. 

It’s hard not to get nostalgic, as if longing for another time could change the current direction. We have already been asked to go under the banner of freedom of choice, under which welfare was sold out, and people got stone rich. We have already become competitors, consumers and customers who must believe that some are worse at competing than others. First, it was a matter of culture, and now, it is a matter of genetics and race. That’s the racist attitude that bleeds through all politics. 

It has become so normalized in Global Norths politics that the liberal approach to migration as cheap labour now feels utopian, despite the “need” of the growing middle class for a house renovation, house cleaning, delivery of food, clothes, plants, chewing gum, whatever, is based on lousy working conditions that migrants are willing to work under to avoid deportation. Those who cannot work or live a criminal lifestyle lack human value and should preferably already be on a direct flight from here.

At the same time, absolute freedom is shrinking in people who are already circumcised due to increased segregation and worse living conditions. It is now a matter of restricting people’s reproduction and family formation. This social policy is as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago when it tried to deal with the consequences of the transition to an industrial society and the class differences it gave rise to.

It eventually resulted in sterilization laws, and during the interwar period, in some Global North countries, the state began forcibly sterilizing specific ethnic groups, the mentally ill, the disabled, sex workers, and transgender people, while political opponents were put in internment camps and prisons. 

This is not the first time that the Global North has tried to erase people and languages ​​that do not fit into the image of the nation-state. In the film Historjá – stitches for Sápmi (2022), the artist Britta Marakatt-Labba tells about a traumatic experience of attending a nomadic school in Karesuando of seven where Sami children would learn Swedish because it was considered their mother tongue. 

She talks about the forced displacements at the beginning of the 20th century, when the Norwegian state was formed, and the border between Norway and Sweden was established, for many, a fictitious border implemented by force. She says she was born into the political struggle, which can be seen in the incredible work The Crows (1981), which portrays the barricade at Alta and a flock of crows that undergo a metamorphosis into policemen. She says that her mother first put animals in different political contexts: “After a while the wind came and swept away the tracks, the crows have been here”. 

The figurative embroidery Marakatt-Labba often combines the tactile and visual to reinforce the closeness to what is represented. She says her work process is “like travelling in a fog” to see which worlds open up. It is often about stories linked to the landscape and Sami mythology, the underworld and the underground. Those who disappear when the land and these sacred places are exploited. She says that the now uncertain weather conditions during the winter mean that the reindeer do not have access to pasture under the ice crust formed by the snow melting and freezing to the ice again and again and therefore cannot survive, which means that young people are forced to start working in the mines and reluctantly exploit the land for a living. 

I think of all the issues that stand in the shadow of the political game and how devastating it is that they are not allowed to take place. All that takes place in silence, rarely going through a struggle between activists and the police. 

Just a couple of days after the film premiered in Sweden, the court decision came to let Beowulf Mining build a mine in Gallók. The railway connecting northern Sweden with the capital is to be expanded. This is called a “green transition”, even by the left, and will hopefully save us from runaway electricity prices, post-pandemic, recession and war. New industrialization is not new at all, not even when the ground-breaking documentary book Gruva (1968) came out, where miners in Svappavaara were photographed by Odd Uhrbohm and spoke through Sara Lidmanstranscriptions and pen. The historic strike that lasted fifty-seven days in 1969-70 was about the miners’ working conditions under the LKAB and what the work did to the body and psyche, but now the issues are much more significant. 

What will happen in ten or twelve years when the mine becomes worthless? What should the distribution of resources look like nationally? How much will the electricity cost us? Are non-Nordic or non-westerly winds blowing? Will water be privatized? How many more cities will be moved to allow companies to keep digging in the ground until we are all swallowed by one big hole? Who will save healthcare? See these questions as a language test of their own, from a citizen to our politicians. Let us know what the result will be.

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