Since the onset of the wave of Black Lives Matters protests, numerous monuments to historic figures proclaimed “racists” and “slave traders” have been vandalised or demolished across Europe.
In a new twist to the crusade against undesirable monuments sweeping Europe, a case for removing the statues of one of Sweden’s arguably best-known kings and replacing him with teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg was made.
Citing riots in the US, former city director Jan Björinge has called to remove “autocrat ruler” Charles XII and replace him with climate activist Greta Thunberg. This, he argued, would contribute to a “more humane and more sustainable world”.
“The riots in the United States have made the issue of statues in public places red hot”, Björinge wrote in an opinion piece in the daily Aftonbladet, musing whether it is right to “provide public places for the dissemination of anti-democratic values”.
Björinge stressed that statues have been “overthrown by crowds over the years time and again”, citing the demolished statues of Lenin, Marx, and Saddam Hussein. According to him, this happened because they “reflected the values of oppressors”.
He also lambasted the Swedish National Heritage Board for “protecting the monuments of oppressors”, referring to a tweet by its director Lars Amréus.
“I don’t mean to say that all statues will remain forever. But there is probably enough injustice in our own time that needs to be addressed. Trying to correct history may not always serve that purpose”, Amréus tweeted about the war against monuments that has rocked Europe.
“A more reasonable attitude from the Swedish National Heritage Board and other state institutions, as well as the country’s municipalities, should be to free public places from symbols of evil deeds and outdated values. Instead, fill parks and squares with things that promote cohesion and the benevolent social spirit of our country”, he argued.
Charles XII, also known as Carl XII, is a polarising figure, as the warlord ruler brought his country to the pinnacle of its imperial might, but also spelled its downfall with his ill-fated invasion of Russia and the Northern War that led to the demise of the Swedish Empire within years of his own death. Nevertheless, in the modern era, Charles XII remains an iconic figure in patriotic circles.
At the same time, Magnus Rodell, an associate professor of history of ideas at Södertörn University suggested that symbols associated with the Swedish Empire, in which Charles XII played an important part, will ultimately be demolished as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“If you begin to delve into the history of the rulers of the Imperial era, they represent expansive warfare that led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people”, Rodell said in a TV interview. “If, for example, someone were to blow up the ship Vasa it would probably lead to some upset, at the same time, it was intended to be part of a war of expansion by Sweden”, he added, citing people’s anger, resentment, and powerlessness.
The Vasa is a Swedish warship that foundered during into her maiden voyage in 1628 and has since become one of Stockholm’s key museums.
As another instance of Swedish imperialism, Rodell named the statue of Louis De Geer in his hometown of Norrköping. De Geer was a 17th century Swedish-Walloon merchant, often referred to as “the father of Swedish industry”. At the same time, he initiated the founding of the Swedish African Company in 1649, which among other things traded in slaves.
On social media, the suggestions triggered a mixed reactions. While some argued that history should rather be kept “as is”, others were supportive.
“It is said that the madness has risen from the basement, climbing the walls, hanging in the ceiling lights. Now we will have a purification bath and a re-education!” one user wrote.
“I think this is good. Why should we lift white men who advocated violence and patriarchal men’s standards?” another netizen weighed in.
Earlier, Black Lives Matter activists rallied to remove the statues of celebrated biologist Carl Linnaeus, who is credited with the classification of the plant and animal kingdom and is often referred to as “the father of the modern taxonomy”. The activists see him as the founder of racial biology as he divided Africans and Europeans into different races with different characteristics.
In connection with the Black Lives Matters demonstrations following George Floyd’s death, statues in the US and Europe have been attacked with graffitti and paint, and in many cases even demolished, when the mob took matters into its own hands.
Among the scalps claimed by the BLM movement are the statues of Belgian King Leopold II, the colonial ruler of the Congo Free State, slave trader Edward Colston, Christopher Columbus, and one of America’s founding fathers Thomas Jefferson.