Ådalen shootings

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A picture of the peaceful part of the demonstration in Ådalen.

The Ådalen shootings (Swedish: skotten i Ådalen), was a series of events in and around the sawmill district of Ådalen, Kramfors Municipality, Ångermanland, Sweden, in May 1931. During a protest on May 14, five persons were killed by bullets fired by Swedish military troops called in as reinforcements by the police.

Background to the shootings[edit]

As a response to an drawnout industrial conflict over pay reductions at the pulp factory at Långrör, workers at other plants went on a sympathy strike. The owner of the Graninge company, Gerhard Versteegh, hired around 60 strike-breakers (a.k.a. "scabs"), who arrived in the village Lunde in Ådalen on May 12. The workers held a peaceful protest rally in Kramfors and marched to the Sandviken plant north of the town, where they approached and attacked some of the strike-breakers.[citation needed] Since the police had not been able to intervene, the County Administrative Board asked for military troops from Sollefteå to be deployed to protect the strike-breakers. When the troops arrived, May 13, in the late evening, they were met by protesters, allegedly throwing stones.[citation needed]

The confrontation[edit]

On May 14 the trade unions held another rally, during which the attending workers decided to stop all work in the timber and pulp industries in Ådalen - a general strike. After the meeting, several thousand participants marched to the strike-breakers quarters in Lunde, where the military troops had been ordered to defend the strike-breakers. When they arrived in the village, a patrol of mounted troops tried, and failed, to stop them.[citation needed] In the confusion that followed, at least one man fell off his horse and another drew his pistol and fired warning-shots while the patrol withdrew. The military commander, Captain Nils Mesterton, claimed to have believed the demonstrators carried weapons since he heard shots as well as seeing some of the mounted patrol bleeding.[citation needed] At a distance of less than 100 meters, he ordered his troops to fire which they did, aiming in the ground halfway between the line and the demonstrators just as planned. Ricochets however hit the gathered demonstrators, and when a machinegun was ordered to a new position it was dropped and some 30 rounds were accidentally fired. Five people were killed by the military's bullets: Oskar Berggren, Erik Bergström, Evert Nygren, Sture Larsson and Eira Söderberg, a 20-year old bystander. Five people were injured. An inquiry later concluded that there was no evidence that the workers were in fact armed.[citation needed]

The same day, the County Administrative Board had decided to prohibit the strike-breakers from working. Their decision did not reach the demonstrators until after the shooting. It is widely believed that the confrontation could have been avoided if the news had reached the marchers earlier. The Swedish Employers' Association later asked the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsmen to review the decision.[citation needed]


The events spawned a raging national debate, deeply divided along political lines. The political left called the shootings "murder"[citation needed], while the right claimed that the military had been forced to open fire to defend themselves and the "willing workers" from the rage of the demonstrators.[citation needed] The publishers of several left-wing newspapers were convicted for violations against the limitations in the Freedom of the Press Act.[citation needed] Major demonstrations took place in Stockholm.

The County Governor was tried in court but acquitted. Captain Nils Mesterton and Captain Beckman was first convicted in court martial, but the court martial of appeal acquitted them and the verdict was confirmed by the supreme court (Högsta Domstolen). Sergeant Rask and furir Tapper who were manning the machinegun was also put to trial since the repositioning had been done with a loaded weapon which was against the Army regulations. Rask was acquitted while Tapper was found guilty and was sentenced to three days confined arrest with loss of pay. On the other hand, several demonstrators had to face severe sentences: Axel Nordström, considered to be the leader, was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment with hard labour. No damages were awarded to the wounded persons and the families of the five dead.[citation needed]

The government, under the liberal Prime Minister Carl Gustaf Ekman, replaced the County Governor and launched an investigation into the event. The investigation, with representatives from both employers and trade unions, later concluded that the military was highly unfit to uphold public order in similar situations.[1] The use of military against civilians was more strictly regulated, but the legislation was on the books until it was repealed by the 1969 Riksdag. However, there was broad political unity not to use military force against civilians. The Ådalen shootings were still a concern in the discussions after the 9/11 events, when military support to the police was considered. Therefore, the legislation that allowed the military to take part in anti-terrorism actions contained several safeguards. The military must be under command by the police and legislation specifically says that the military can not be used against demonstrations.[1][2] There was still concern that these safeguards would not be enough.[3][4]

At the time of the 1931 events, there existed no possibility to call in police reinforcements from outside the county. Thus, army assistance was the only recourse available to a County Governor when the county's police force would be insufficient to deal with large scale events. The shootings highlighted the inadequacy of this state of affairs. One effect of the Ådalen shootings was the formation of a national police force in 1933.

Contemporary significance[edit]

In 1969, well-known Swedish filmmaker Bo Widerberg told the story of the events in his film Ådalen 31 (released as Adalen Riots in the United States). Partly thanks to the film, partly through the persistent use of the events in political debate, the Ådalen shootings are still well known in Sweden, and are sometimes referred to in connection with violent clashes between demonstrators and police, such as the protests during the EU summit in Gothenburg 2001.

The incident is also mentioned several times in the 1979 Swedish comedy film Repmånad.


  1. ^ a b Proposition 2005/06:111 Försvarsmaktens stöd till polisen vid terrorismbekämpning, p. 44
  2. ^ "Lag (2006:343) om Försvarsmaktens stöd till polisen vid terrorismbekämpning" (in Swedish). Retrieved 13 November 2010. 
  3. ^ Andersen, Ivar (13 May 2006). "The law can be used against anything that does not fit in" (in Swedish). StockholmsFria. Retrieved 13 November 2010. 
  4. ^ Svanebro, Karin (10 May 2006). "The military proposes to use force and violence against civilians" (in Swedish). StockholmsFria. Retrieved 13 November 2010. 

Coordinates: 62°53′N 17°52′E / 62.883°N 17.867°E / 62.883; 17.867