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on the world: a view on human rights

The Antifascists: A Film Review

2017, Sweden/Greece, documentary directed by Patrik Öberg and Emil Ramos, running time: 75 minutes


From Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to Narendra Modi in India and Donald Trump in the USA, the spectre of fascism haunts the world. The current political landscape has emboldened the far right.

At street level, this translates into the increasing number of far-right marches and attacks on minority communities. Attacks on immigrants and violence based on perceived or actual racial, ethnic, religious or sexual identity, from verbal abuse and threats to physical attacks and even murder, do not only take place when they are reported in the media.

The mainstream media itself has demonstrated, in recent elections in the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands, that it offers disproportionate coverage to far-right candidates and parties. On the other hand, right-wing acts of terrorism, even when prosecuted as such, are seldom given that label, such as the 2016 murder of British MP Jo Cox.

The police, whose job it is to ensure the safety and security of all residents and citizens of a state, are frequently accused of institutional racism. In the ongoing “kebab murders” trial in Germany, the authorities overlooked a string of murders by a Neo-Nazi cell, including that of a police officer, over a period of seven years.

The documentary The Antifascists, released in March 2017, opens up this rather narrow mainstream discourse. Starting with a warning from history about the failure to deal with the threat posed by Nazism and the far right, the film offers a glimpse behind the masks of anti-fascists in two European states: Sweden and Greece.

It looks at two cases in Sweden: the first, a neo-Nazi attack on an anti-racist demonstration attended by families in the Stockholm suburb of Kärrtorp in December 2013. Armed Nazis travelled to the protest, turning the peaceful demonstration into a violent clash between fascists and anti-fascists. The police knew that Nazis would be attending, and informed the organisers, as shown in the film, but claimed they lacked the resources to deal with the situation; they were aware that the attack was planned. One anti-fascist was convicted after he grabbed a knife from a Nazi protester who was threatening others. A number of Nazi activists were also sentenced, including one who already had a murder conviction.

The other incident was an attack in March 2014 in Malmö that left an anti-fascist activist seriously injured. Showan Shattak from “Football Fans Against Homophobia” was one of four people attacked. His neo-Nazi attacker, who fled to Ukraine and was later extradited to Sweden, was convicted of assault but not attempted murder; he was acquitted on appeal. Speaking in the film, Shattak calls anti-fascism “self-defence”. Both incidents led to large anti-fascist marches.

Although there are similarities across Europe, the situation in Greece has a unique feature: the Golden Dawn party is both represented by neo-Nazis on the streets and as a parliamentary party.

According to Professor Spyros Marchetos, “fascism starts from above”. Rather than challenge the financial and political structures that led to the current financial crisis and collapse, channelled through fascist ideologies such as those espoused by the Golden Dawn, people instead look downwards and blame those in an inferior social position. The film, however, concedes that the rise of fascism is not directly linked to austerity: Norway, a more affluent state, is also witnessing a rise in the far right and has suffered the worst right-wing terrorist attack in Europe.

Marchetos also talks about the three pillars of anti-fascism: deconstructing fascist slogans; mass mobilisation against fascist groups; and stopping fascists from terrorising the streets. Other anti-fascists interviewed state that anti-fascism is about reclaiming social spaces, so that people do not feel afraid in their own neighbourhoods or excluded from participation in society. Others see anti-fascism as a necessary component of class war.

In Greece, the police not only facilitate fascist activity but were reported to have tortured anti-fascist protesters in 2012. Claims of infiltration and collaboration with Golden Dawn have been made. In July 2017, a Greek court convicted two men and a women for an attack on an Afghan man in 2011; it was the first such case brought before the courts since 1999.

In both countries, and elsewhere, the problem continues to intensify. What is the role of anti-fascists, and is violence the only answer to the violence of the state? Non-violent resistance  can also encounter violence, as experienced by the peaceful demonstrators in Kärrtorp. The authorities in some states have also been accused of using far-right groups to stir up violent confrontations with left-wing and other activists.

Discussion of forms of institutional and state violence that are not perceived as such – for example, forced evictions, punitive measures against the poor and homeless, surveillance of minority communities and activists – that demonstrate the depth and extent of state violence, could have strengthened the premise of the film. On the other hand, the lack of excessive post-editing lends a sense of urgency to the subject matter and makes it more engaging.

The far right response is often to attempt to equate anti-fascism with fascism. The mainstream focus on fascist groups overshadows those on the opposite side of the spectrum. The film does not offer solutions or preach an ideology. It allows viewers to make up their own minds. The film is the start of a debate, which has thus far been one-sided.

Future screening information available here.


One comment on “The Antifascists: A Film Review

  1. sahra
    June 8, 2019

    I was quite disappointed about the film… i think it is rather superficial and glorifying. there is clearly no alternative to antifascism and it always strikes me that even the more left-wing media and politicians use the word as if it was something negative at the same time i must say i also find the methods used to stop nazis to be rather unsatisfying and often contraproductive. the film didnt give any ideas what to do to change the right-wing movement and the normalization of their ideology, other than literally fight them in the streets. the problem is, that this (even if one thinks its the rigth thing to do) is not very popular and always leads to, that a lot of people are taking a distance to AFA. This is tragical because we need to do something effective now! I also disagree with the constant figths against the police. not because i love them so much but because we need to concentrate on the real problems: normalization of nazi-ideas and the capitalist system that builds on, and only works with big unequality.. what can we do constructively to work against the right-wing-propaganda that wants to divide the world? I would have liked to hear a bit more of the journalist that was critical about the methods AFA is using. also the guy that stepped a nazi started talking about how violence is not the only and maybe not the best way.. but the film didnt get into this.. also as an information to the ‘normal people’ about AFA the film is not working since the info is so one-sided and weak.

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