Julian Assange: From hero to chauvinist pig
The Swedish view of Julian Assange, who lost his appeal against extradition to face sex allegations on November 2, has changed in a year from the James Bond of the internet to a paranoid chauvinist pig. The man who has been holed up in an English country house instead of allowing himself to be questioned here in Sweden about an alleged rape cuts an increasingly pitiable figure.
His attempts to depict Sweden as a banana republic that would ship him on to the United States is another sign of how desperate Assange has become. You can blame Sweden for lots of things—filthy weather, overrated crime novels, Ikea furniture—but to claim this country is the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA’s) accomplice, with an extremist law on sex crimes, irritates even his most loyal fans, of whom there are still a few.
It is ironic that Sweden, the country Assange once admired because of laws that shield our freedom of expression and freedom of the press, should have been the place where his sun began to set. In the spring of 2010, when the Collateral Damage video had just been released, he announced that he wanted to move central parts of the WikiLeaks operation to Stockholm.
Ours is one of the most wired-up countries in the world and a culture of illegal downloading and net activism is strong here. Perhaps that’s why the love affair between Assange and Sweden started so strongly. Even among those who would never use their computers for anything but Google and email, the remains of the anti-Americanism of the 1970s radical left produced a certain admiration for the man.
Last April, freelance journalist Johannes Wahlstrom conducted a grovelling interview in the left-wing culture pages of the Stockholm tabloid, Aftonbladet, in which his hero appeared almost supernatural: “To meet Julian Assange is a bit like meeting James Bond ... His age is uncertain. He has no fixed address. No one has seen him in the hotel where he is staying and, when we finally meet, he suddenly appears half a metre in front of me.”
Wahlstrom later became the WikiLeaks representative in Sweden and Norway, while his father—notorious anti-Semitic propagandist Israel Shamir—ran the site’s dealings with Russia. Assange has subsequently called Sweden “the Saudi Arabia of feminism”. Shamir had earlier talked about “the CIA feminism” which he claimed lay behind the two women who reported Assange to the police.
Assange-the-hero vanished somewhere in that anti-Semitic and anti-feminist slime. Sweden’s relatively high measure of sexual equality and consciousness when it comes to gender questions is a matter of national pride. That a dodgy hacker from Australia started knocking the country was not popular.
Last month, two women journalists who started a Twitter campaign over Assange’s contemptuous remarks about Swedish women were nominated for the most prestigious prize in Swedish journalism. The “Let’s Talk About It” campaign got thousands of people to discuss the grey areas of sexual conduct openly.
Not even the culture pages of Aftonbladet, which kept up their uncritical admiration for Assange longer than anyone else, can keep it up now. Noted left-wing commentator Dan Josefsson admitted recently that Assange was not the radical hero he had supposed but “a solitary and shabby libertarian who wants to tear down democratic societies”.
It’s probably too late for Assange to recover his former glory. But if he could give up his futile struggle against extradition and show a little respect to the Swedish justice system, that would at least be a first, necessary step.—