Eva Gabrielsson spent 32 years of her life as the girlfriend, partner, and journalistic colleague of late Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson, whose Millennium trilogy — The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Woke The Hornet’s Nest — sold 60 million copies world-wide. (Larsson died in 2004, at the age of 50.) She has recently written the memoir “There Are Things I Want You To Know” About Stieg Larsson and Me, where she writes about both mundane events in their decades together and his life-long investigative crusade against the extremist right-wing groups who managed to survive — and sometimes, thrive — in the winter paradises of Scandinavia. The issues that he wrote about came into stark relief last month in Oslo, Norway, when an unknown extremist named Anders Breivik set off a bomb in the middle of Oslo and then took a boat over to an island summer camp nearby for young members of the center-left Labor party, where he gunned down more than 60 children and teenagers. I spoke with Gabrielsson by phone last Thursday. An edited transcript is below.
You first met Stieg as young journalists, and both of you focused most of your journalistic energy on extremist right-wing and fascist groups in Scandinavia. How do Breivik’s beliefs and actions fit in with those political currents?
I’ve read parts of his manifesto, and I’ve tried to find the key issue for him. Of course, he’s anti-Muslim, he wants to provoke a civil war. But his larger aim is to overthrow all European states — he feels that all countries, all politicians, even media are traitors – it’s really anti-constitutional. His targets include journalists and conferences with more than 500 participants. It’s horrible reading. This is absolutely in line with the neo-Nazis, in line with the old Hitler Germany — he’s just switched the Jews with the Muslims. He developed his own troubled worldview, but it fit with the an extremist ideology which we have seen in Sweden and Scandinavia. In America, you have less of this, except for Timothy McVeigh. It’s still unclear whether Breivik had contacts in Norway.
Most of us know Stieg Larsson from his novels like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which are crime thrillers that explore extremist undercurrents in the winter welfare state paradise of Sweden. Did he write them as a way of confronting the fascist tendencies that the two of you were investigating?
Yes. He was angry and disappointed and frustrated with the passivity and complacency about the rise of discrimination and acceptance of extremism, and he needed to get it off his chest. The only outlet he had for that was to incorporate that into the Millennium Trilogy.
The old Nazi heritage that still lingers can be seen in the first Millenium book (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), where you see the Vanger family, and they come from a Nazi background. And you see what happens when there’s a culture where someone who has the right to do whatever they want to do to people. You see how the women are subjected to the oppression, the men take the power for granted. That’s where you can see the connection to the old Nazi heritage and how it affects certain families and the politics.
What do you think of the political response in Norway so far?
Personally think, I must say that we — Sweden — are extremely close to Norway. We really feel that this is an attack on us as well. … The Norwegian Prime Minister Jan Stoltenberg said we will meet this with more openness, more humanity, more democracy. The proper response is not to criminalize, not to have more police. The more you darken the world in that respect, the better these guys get at avoiding it. It’s also an impractical investment to do. The best defense is normal people.
But what about mainstream right-wing parties — what role should they have in holding extremists accountable?
The problem is that the anti-racist politics and the slander against immigrant groups this has moved into the parliament, these parliamentary parties. It’s a big problem — defending democracy, that means you have to defend elections. These right-wing groups are really doing well.
The problem has actually grown worse. These anti-Muslim, the anti-feminist currents, they have been acclimated to right-wing politics. For extreme right-wing groups, someone has stolen their issue — this might actually explain the Norwegian attack.
In your book, you write about the 1994 Oklahoma City bombings, and how many people immediately assumed it was an Islamist terrorist, but Stieg suspected an American-born right-winger. In the case of the Oslo attacks, many also assumed at first that it was an Islamist. How did he know?
Stieg had read the Turner Diaries [a far-right tract that describes a race war in America] and discussed them with people doing similar research all over the world, so he had quite a good grasp when the Oklahoma bombing occurred and everyone was running around saying it was foreign terrorists. He was saying it was probably someone who read the Turner Diaries and was from a right-wing militia.
I remembered Stieg’s evaluation of the Oklahoma City bombing immediately after the Norway attacks — bombing the government offices, that might be Al-Qaeda, but combined with the slaughtering of the Social Democratic Youth Party, it didn’t seem right. We have to think a while about how everyone automatically assumes it has to be an Islamic terror and not let the right-wing groups set the agenda. That scared me a bit this time.