SABATON's 'Public Educator' Award Is Under Review Following Bassist's Controversial Past Crimea CommentsJanuary 11, 2023
The Swedish Skeptics Association (Vetenskap Och Folkbildning) is "reviewing" its decision to honor Swedish metallers SABATON with the Årets Folkbildare 2022 (Public Educator Of The Year) award after it came to light that the band made some controversial comments about Russian-occupied Crimea.
Årets Folkbildare is an annual award that began in 1987. It is traditionally presented to academics, authors, journalists and media outlets that go above and beyond what is expected in order to educate people.
Vetenskap Och Folkbildning hand-picked SABATON specifically for the band's ability to deliver factual content, expressing that they stand out from their contemporaries and peers in the music scene for their dedication to giving truthful, historical accounts with the assistance of qualified historians and experts.
SABATON bassist and founder Pär Sundström was happy about the award when he spoke to Dagens Nyheter on Tuesday.
"It feels great to get confirmation that you are doing something right. It feels great," he said.
"Hard rock comes first, but it's great that our side story gets attention as well.
Sundström went on to say that he and his bandmates work in such a way that they first have a musical idea which they then bring together with a historical story.
"Today we have a lot of people in our network who are more than happy to help give us information in case we are not sure about anything about the story," he explained.
The announcement of SABATON receiving the Årets Folkbildare award came just days after SABATON's song "Carolus Rex" was removed from a Spotify playlist of music that will represent Sweden while the country holds the presidency of the council of the European Union (also known as the Council Of Ministers) in the first six months of 2023. The SABATON track, which was written about the Swedish king Karl XII, was taken off the list after the Swedish government was alerted to the band's 2015 performance in Crimea, following Russia's illegal annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. The concert was reportedly organized by the Russian biker gang Nattvargarna, which is close to Vladimir Putin.
"This is not something we want to be associated with the Swedish presidency", the government's press service for the Swedish EU presidency said in an e-mail to Dagens Nyheter.
The gig also caused the Swedish Armed Forces to stop working with the band two years ago.
Vetenskap Och Folkbildning was initially unfazed by the controversy, with Per Johan Råsmark, who sits on the board at VOF, telling Dagens Nyheter: "No one gets the award because they are perfect people or organizations. Everyone gets the prize for what they do as public educators."
Sundström told Dagens Nyheter on Tuesday that he did not even know SABATON was on the Spotify playlist when he was told that "Carolus Rex" had been removed.
"It is perhaps a bit unnecessary in general to have a list where politicians tell you what to listen to and what not," he said, adding that he didn't "attach much importance" to SABATON being removed from the list.
In an interview in 2015 in connection with the Crimea gig, Pär said that he and his SABATON bandmates "play for fans, regardless of where they are. We were there to spread our music, as we always do."
Asked what he thinks of Russia's actions in Ukraine today, Pär told Dagens Nyheter: "I do not want to comment on what I think about someone's actions in a political context. It's not my thing today." But he added: "I think all wars are stupid. We sing about history because we hope that war will not be repeated. It tells us quite clearly our position and where we stand on it."
After Dagens Nyheter's interview with Sundström on Tuesday, Dagens ETC published an article about Sundström's 2016 comments to Sweden Rock Magazine where he said, among other things, that Crimea had previously been occupied by Ukraine.
"If you go to Sevastopol, you hardly feel that they feel occupied — quite the opposite," he told Sweden Rock. "They have been occupied for years only because they ended up on the wrong side when the border was drawn between the Soviet Union and Ukraine. All these years they have felt like Russians but treated like a small piece of Ukraine."
In a new statement to Dagens Nyheter, Sundström clarified his 2016 comments to Sweden Rock, saying: "My quote was how I experienced the situation there and then on site and the impressions I took home with me. That someone invades or occupies another country is against international law, which I think should apply instead of someone resorting to armed conflict as has now happened in Ukraine. Our catalog of songs is proof that there has been enough fighting.”
After Dagens ETC reported on Sundström's statement about Crimea, Vetenskap Og Folkbildning said that they will hold an extraordinary meeting in the near future where they will discuss the award.
"It is not normally the case that we have meetings immediately afterwards. But there is nothing that can say anything about what decision we will make or when it will be," Per Johan Råsmark told Dagens Nyheter on Wednesday.
When Vetenskap Och Folkbildning first announced that it was giving the award to SABATON, president Pontus Böckman said in a statement: "SABATON combine their artistic work with public education in a unique way. In a world where we are inundated with fake news and conspiracy theories, fact-checked information is delivered from the last place many would expect — a heavy metal band."
Sundström was equally enthusiastic about the award, saying: "We've started the year in the best way possible. We love making music and we've received a significant amount of recognition for our releases, but to be recognized for the hard work and effort that goes into the topics of our songs with an award such as this is a whole different thing. It's a whole new level of validation that means the world to us and makes us quite emotional. We put hours and hours of work into every song we write, and work hand in hand with historians and academics to ensure that what we are putting out into the world is accurate and factual. This is something we stand by and will make sure we continue in the same vein."
He added: "What we create is not just metal. We build vivid pictures around the narratives from conflicts spanning the globe, and we do this from a neutral standpoint. We feel it's fundamental to not let these stories collect dust. We need to bring them to the light for people to learn from past incidents. We want to awaken a passion for history and curiosity among our listeners. I really want to thank the Swedish Skeptics Association for this incredible accolade. It truly is an honor."
Since it was founded in 1982, the Swedish Skeptics Association's main purpose has been to raise the public's awareness of scientific methods and results. The association publishes a quarterly journal and coordinates lectures on themes related to science and pseudoscience.
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