Russian posters smear famous Swedes as Nazi supporters

Images of Bergman, author Astrid Lindgren and Ikea founder used in Moscow campaign

Russia has been accused of launching a disinformation campaign against Sweden that smears celebrated Swedes, including Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, as enthusiastic supporters of the Nazis.

Posters have appeared across the Russian capital, including on a bus stop outside the Swedish embassy, featuring the faces of Kamprad, author Astrid Lindgren and film director Ingmar Bergman.

Alongside selective quotes from them, a central slogan, in Sweden’s national colours, reads: “We are against Nazis, they are not”.

With a nod to Russia's justification for invading Ukraine, to remove supposed neo-Nazis running the country, former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt wondered on Twitter whether Moscow is "preparing a 'denazifying' operation against Sweden as well?"

Sweden Defence University researcher Oscar Jonsson tweeted a picture of a poster, suggesting they were "more of a provocation to Sweden than something for the Russian people".

On the poster, alongside a photograph of the Ikea founder, Kamprad is quoted as saying: “I was a Nazi! I admired Hitler!” That was a line from a 2011 book in which Kamprad, who died in 2018, described his enthusiastic wartime membership of Sweden’s Nazi youth movement as the “greatest mistake of my life”. He was a supporter of Swedish fascist leader Per Engdahl, even after the second World War, and considered him “a great human being” at the time.

Kamprad distanced himself in later life from his early fascist fascination, and the first Ikea employee, his close friend Otto Ullmann, was an Austrian Jew whose parents sent him to Sweden to escape the Nazi takeover in their homeland.

A committed anti-Nazi

Another image on the poster is of Lindgren, the Swedish writer who created the popular children’s book character Pippi Longstocking. In a wartime diary entry, she expressed concern that the consequences of a Russian invasion could be worse than a Nazi occupation.

“I think I’d rather say ‘Heil Hitler’ my whole life than get the Russians on top of us,” she wrote. “You can hardly think of anything so awful.”

In her diary Lindgren, a committed anti-Nazi, mocked Hitler as an “unknown German artist” who had destroyed German culture to become the nemesis of his own people.

A final poster quote, from Bergman's memoir, describes his enthusiasm for the fascist movement as a 16-year-old on a school exchange to Nazi Germany. As a birthday present, his pro-Nazi host family gave him as a picture of Hitler, which was hung over his bed. Attending Nazi rallies with them, Bergman wrote how he "shouted like everyone else, held out my arm like everyone else, howled like everyone else, and loved it like everyone else". After the war, he dismissed images from Nazi death camps at first as "propaganda lies".

“But when the truth finally conquered my resistance, I was overcome with despair,” wrote Bergman, who died in 2007. “My self-contempt, already a severe burden, accelerated beyond the borders of endurance.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin