Gothenburg discothèque fire

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Claes Hake's memorial for the dead, unveiled on the tenth anniversary of the fire in 2008.

The Gothenburg discothèque fire was a disastrous fire caused by arson which occurred on the night of October 29, 1998. It occurred on premises rented by an organization catering to the Macedonian community in Gothenburg, located on Hisingen island in Gothenburg, Sweden, where a discothèque had been arranged that night. There were 375 youths, a vast majority from various ethnic minority backgrounds, aged 12–25 years on the premises, which were rated by the fire department as capable of holding 150 persons. Of those in the building, 63 people died and around 200 people were injured.

The fire[edit]

The fire started on the premises of the Macedonian organization located on the third floor, where a discothèque for high school students had been arranged to celebrate Halloween.[1][2] It was started in a stairway to which the club's emergency exit fed into. Because of this, the emergency exit was not usable, making a single stairway the only route available for escape. Many youths jumped out the windows, but since the windows were 2.2 metres (7.2 feet) from the floor as well as 5 metres (16 feet) from the ground level, this was difficult.[3][4] The fire safety was generally poor on the site.

The first emergency call occurred at 23:42, but due to the noise on the site, it took a while before the operator could comprehend the address. At 23:45 a so-called "big dispatch" occurred at a fire station located on the island, and four minutes later the first rescue team arrived on the scene. Later, six other fire crews were dispatched. About 60 youths were rescued by firefighters with self-contained breathing apparatus; 40 of those youths were brought out through the staircase and 20 youths were taken out via windows. Others escaped by themselves.[4]

Consequences[edit]

A total of 63 youths died, and 213 were injured, of whom 50 were seriously injured.[4] For a long time, it was not determined whether the fire was an accident or an arson. Within a few days, it was speculated that the fire, of which the victims were mainly immigrants, was started by xenophobic or racist Swedes. Posters were distributed in Gothenburg, containing the text "60 immigrant youths have died, now 60 Swedes shall die."[5] It was later learned that the four arsonists were immigrants themselves, from Iran.[6][7][8]

On June 1, 1999, it was reported that two suspects had been arrested but later let go. In December, a reward of 3 million kronor was promised for the person or persons who could give information that would identify the cause of the fire.[9] At that time, no one knew how the fire had actually started, despite the interrogation of over 1,400 persons by the Swedish police. During that month, the police also asked for leads via a national TV show. In January 2000, three suspects were taken into custody by the police, and in February the fourth was brought in. However, they had been suspected of arson before the reward was offered. No preliminary investigation was started against the party's arrangers.

Criminal prosecution[edit]

The fire was started by four teenagers aged 17–19, who were denied entry to the discothèque because of an argument. They were convicted for gross arson, and the firestarter, Shoresh Kaveh, was sentenced by the district court in 2000 to eight years' imprisonment. Two others, Housein Arsani and Mohammad Mohammadamini, were sentenced to six years in prison, while the fourth, Meysam Mohammadyeh, who was a minor aged 17, received three years in a juvenile care facility. Both the defense and the aggrieved parties made appeals. The court of appeals upheld two of the verdicts, but the two verdicts of six years' imprisonment were changed to seven years in prison.

Mohammadyeh, called the youngest by the press, was defended by Leif Silbersky. It was established that the other three were friends, and even though Mohammadyeh wanted to become a friend of two of them, he was afraid of Kaveh.[10] Silbersky wanted Mohammadyeh to be acquitted, as Silbersky thought he ought not to be held juridically responsible for his passivity.[11] The court of appeals, however, held it as proven that the four "mutually had agreed to ruin the party by starting a fire", and that it was of "decisive importance with regards to the question of guilt that it has not been possible to investigate whether some person or persons other than Kaveh who tore the paper or started the fire in the stairway."[10] Professor Christian Diesen is of the opinion that it is possible that Mohammadyeh had "gotten involved in a sweep he did not belong to and would have been judged differently unless the fire had gotten such tremendous consequences."[12]

Thomas Bodström, later to become minister of justice in Sweden, was the legal adviser of the aggrieved parties.

Relatives of the victims founded the non-profit organization BOA (association for the relatives of the fire victims), which for instance has had contact with relatives of the victims of a discothèque fire in Volendam, The Netherlands, and offered support to relatives of victims of the 2004 tsunami. The fire department in Gothenburg, as well as survivors and relatives of victims, also provide information to make youths aware of how quickly a small fire can develop and what consequences it may lead to.[4]

On the decennial of the fire in 2008, a permanent memorial was unveiled, made out of polished granite with the names and ages of all the victims engraved in gold. The monument is located at Backaplan, which is the area on Hisingen where the fire occurred. It was designed by the artist Claes Hake.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 57°43′13″N 11°57′01″E / 57.72028°N 11.95028°E / 57.72028; 11.95028