Genocide Between History, Law, and Politics: An Analysis of the Proposed Amendment to Sweden's Hate Speech Law

In April 2023, Minister of Justice Gunnar Strömmer submitted a proposal for revisions to Sweden's Law on Hate Speech. This proposal included an addition addressing the criminalisation of the denial or distortion of genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. According to the proposal, those instances of mass murder that Swedish courts or international tribunals have defined as for instance genocide should be “acknowledged” as such. Consequently, denying or disputing them should be subject to criminalisation, providing the denial or distortion is done in conjunction with engaging in hate speech.

The proposal raises profound questions that connects law and history. Particularly noteworthy is the explicit intent of lawmakers to employ legislation as a means to "protect" the memory of historical events or processes. Moreover, it underscores the inherent contrast between the "binary" nature of legal proceedings, wherein a court must render a conviction, and historical analysis, which permits reinterpretations and diverse perspectives that may evolve with the emergence of new evidence lead to a revision of prior assumptions. Crucially, the proposal prompts numerous questions of fundamental importance. Should the state utilise the legal system to enforce a specific interpretation of history? What is the interplay between law and scholarly inquiry? Can the state's endorsement of particular historical interpretations be reconciled with the imperative of independence and critical examination of established "truths," as espoused by Swedish legislation governing higher education and academic freedom? These critical issues will be explored during the lecture, with a focus on the intersection of law, justice, collective memory, and pedagogical approaches within the realm of Holocaust and genocide studies.

Tomislav Dulić is a professor of Holocaust and Genocide studies at the Hugo Valentin Centre at the Department of History, Uppsala University. His research focus is on the social dynamics of violence, comparative genocide, the spatial dimension of mass killing, and collective memory about historical atrocity.