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Iconic 1985 protest photo goes viral in 2016 for obvious reasons

By WITW Staff on December 13, 2016

Last week, a black-and-white protest photo shot in Sweden back in 1985 had a resurgence on social media … because, well, when you look at the image it’s pretty obvious why. And after all, 2016, a turbulent year to be sure, has produced at least two other gripping photos of protesters that are sure to have a lasting impact — one of them also captured in Sweden.

The 1985 photo was shot by Hans Runesson in Växjö, Sweden, and depicts a woman using her handbag to wallop a member of a neo-Nazi group that was marching in her town that day. The woman seen in the photo slugging the neo-Nazi is Danuta Danielsson. At the time, Danielsson was 38 years old. She was of Polish heritage and her mother had been sent to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp, and survived. Danielsson was so furious about having to see the Nordic Reich Party demonstrators marching in her town that she lashed out.

Though there was no Facebook and Twitter to amplify the power of Runesson’s image, it did the equivalent of going viral in the mid-’80s. It was published in several newspapers and sparked fierce debate in Sweden, according to the website Rare Historical Photos. While the image persists as an iconic moment of protest, the story has a grim coda. Within two years of the photo being taken, Danielsson had committed suicide, reportedly unable to handle the intense scrutiny and publicity that the photo brought with it. The skinhead seen in the image is reportedly Seppo Seluska, a militant from the Norich Reich Party. His fate after the image is murky at best, though some online sources report that he went on to carry out a violent crime and was subsequently convicted, though those details are officially unconfirmed.

Even in death, Danielsson has remained a controversial figure for carrying out that fateful act of protest. Nearly 30 years after her death, a Swedish artist wanted to honor Danielsson with a statue to be erected in the Växjö. But town lawmakers blocked her from putting the statue up. A member of the city council said there was no dispute that neo-Nazis are reviled, “But we can’t accept that one can hit a person because one does not like him or her,” according to The Washington Post. “Furthermore, a close relative has called us and has said he does not want Danielsson to be remembered that way.”

Read the full story at the BBC.