Thursday, 13 July 2017

Narrative images: A Woman Hitting a Neo-Nazi With Her Handbag

"Some images never go out of date. They remain endlessly urgent. Where most viral photos enjoy a fleeting flash of fame, flaring up like a rash across social media, there is a cache of imperishable images that have lingered longer and strike a deeper chord. They stay forever part of the mind’s permanent collection of archetypal signs."
Kelly Grovier

"Kvinnan med handväskan" or "The woman with the handbag" is a photograph that was taken by Hans Runesson in the Swedish city of Växjö on 13 April 1985. The photograph shows neo-nazis marching and supporting the "Nordic Reich Party" and, most importantly, Danuta Danielsson (1947-1988) hitting a neo-nazi (via).
"Predating by decades the instant-reaction platforms of Facebook and Twitter, an edgy image captured on the streets of Växjö, Sweden in April 1985 during a demonstration by the Neo-Nazi Nordic Reich Party succeeded (without today’s propulsive power of ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’) to imprint itself on the cultural consciousness. Snapped at the instant when a Polish-Swedish passerby, whose mother had reportedly been sent to a Nazi concentration camp, could no longer contain her irritation at having to share civic space with fascists, the black-and-white photo of Danuta Danielsson clocking a Neo-Nazi with her handbag continues to resonate for many as a silent rallying cry." Kelly Grovier
Reactions to this photograph ranged from applauding Danuta Danielsson, calling her a hero and wanting to honour her with a statue... to criticising her and deciding not to honour her with a statue as that would - among other reasons - otherwise "glorify violence"... back to people hanging handbags on statues around the world in reaction to Danielsson's statue not being built (via). A debate started whether a mild form of violence as the "handbag scene" captured is socially acceptable with the moralising undertone that one needs to differentiate "between behaviour we might understand and behaviour we can applaud" (via). Of course violence is not acceptable. Still, the focus of this discussion may only be touching the surface considering the form of violence exhibited here, the background of the woman and what the neo-nazi was actively demonstrating for.
"She is unquestionably also one of Nazism’s real victims–this is the downtrodden’s reaction to racist violence." Ola Luoto
Danuta Danielsson was of Polish-Jewish origin. 85% of the deportees murdered in Auschwitz were Jewish (i.e. 1.1 million people, 900.000 of them in gas chambers immediately on arrival), 10.8% (i.e. 140.000 persons) of the deportees killed there were Poles (via). Danuta Danielsson's mother was one of the few persons (31.746 were reported in January 1945, via) who survived Auschwitz.
And there she is in a Swedish city, four decades after the official end of the murderous Nazi regime and sees skinheads mourning the good old nazi days and supporting the Nordic Reich Party, a party that was "deeply involved in extended legal disputes with the Swedish government over the distribution of anti-Semitic literature". The Nordic Reich Party was led by Göran Assar Oredsson who actively promoted "the National Socialist revival in Scandinavia" (Kaplan, 2000). When "Keep Sweden Swedish" emerged in 1979, a nationalist activist group that "prophesized cultural and economic devastation due to immigration, as well as the loss of racial purity and the inability for nonwhites to function in Swedish society", the Nordic Reich Party was not part of this movement because Keep Sweden Swedish hardly celebrated Hitler or presented Jews as a significant threat, in other words, was too moderate and not nazi enough. The Nordic Reich Party even alleged that "the activist group was filled with disguised Zionists bent on undermining National Socialism and the resurgence of the Nordic race" (Teitelbaum, 2017). This is the ideology the "handbag victim" was demonstrating for.

The skinhead Danielsson hit, by the way, was Seppo Seluska who was said to be convicted for torturing and murdering a Jewish homosexual the same year the photograph was taken (via). Danuta Danielsson allegedly commited suicide in 1988 (via).

There is the question why statues of men holding swords are more acceptable than a woman holding a handbag (via). There is also the hypothetical question what this neo-nazi would have done to her Jewish mother in the 1940s. There are many more questions. The photograph is still considered to be both controversial and inspiring. Artist Susanna Arwin created a small bronze model in 2014, in 2015, handbags "mysteriously started to appear on statues across Sweden" protesting the decision not to dedicate a statue to Danielsson (via). This year, Ramsey Nasser and Jane Friedhoff developed "Handväska" ("handbag"), a video game in which you can hit nazis with handbags (via)
"That photo was from f*** yesterday. It’s from Sweden, and it was the local Swedish neo-nazi movement going on parade. So this was way after the second World War." Ramsey Nasser
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- Kaplan, J. (2000). Encyclopedia of White Power: A Sourcebook on the Radical Racist Right. Walnut Creek, Lanham, New York &. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield
- Teitelbaum, B. R. (2017). Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Nordic Radical Nationalism. Oxford University Press ebook
- photograph via