Anti-Begging Advertisements Removed in Sweden After 1,000-Strong Protest

Stockholm's public transport network has stopped an anti-begging political poster campaign on the city's underground system, after a 1,000-strong protest against the adverts last night.

The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party were behind the controversial campaign, which was aimed at tourists and apologised for the "mess" caused by beggars. "Sorry about the mess here in Sweden," read one slogan in English above the escalators at Stockholm's Östermalmstorg station. "We have a serious problem with forced begging! International gangs profit from people's desperation. Our goverment [sic] won't do what's needed. But we will! And we're growing at record speed. We are the opposition and we promise real change! We are the Sweden Democrats! Welcome back to a better Sweden in 2018!". 2018 is the year of the next Swedish general election.

Another slogan read "Sweden should do better than this," above a picture of homeless people sleeping on the streets.

The adverts prompted a furious response. On Tuesday night, over 1,000 protesters rallied against the Swedish Democrat party at the Norrmalmstorg square in central Stockholm. A number of activists stormed the Östermalmstorg station and tore down some of the posters, according to the Independent newspaper. Two people have since been arrested.

"During the demonstrations against the political party yesterday, most of the advertising was vandalised," Jesper Pettersson, a spokesperson for Stockholm's public transport company SL, told Newsweek.

"Today we made a decision not to let the party renew the campaign, because some of the messages in the adverts were placed on the ceiling above the escalator. Vandals climbed on top of the escalators to reach the adverts in order to tear them down, and this presented a security risk, both for the activists and for innocent bystanders. It was a decision based purely on security."

Pettersson added that SL had not anticipated that the adverts would cause a protest of such severity, and said the decision to allow the adverts on the transport network in the first place was a question of free speech. "If we allow one political party to advertise we have to allow all parties to advertise," he said.

Speaking to The Local news website on Tuesday, the organisers of the protest spoke of their shock on first seeing the adverts. "We were shocked that our subway company allows these types of racist opinions about a group of people in society," one of the organisers, Amie Bramme Sey, told The Local. "They call [beggars] a mess like they are going to clean them away."

A survey conducted by Swedish broadcaster SVT earlier this year estimated that there are around 4,000 migrants from within the EU begging in Sweden, mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, a figure double that estimated a year earlier.

The Sweden Democrats have defended the adverts, arguing that they are not racist, but part of the party's aim to tackle law and order issues, reports The Scotsman.