Jan Myrdal – author and provocateur (2005)

Documentary. Lena Einhorn Film for Sveriges Television; 57 min.
Writer: Lena Einhorn
Producer: Lena Einhorn
Photographer: Dan Myhrman
Editor: Kurt Bergmark

I remember more freely. I am an outsider, while Sissela is the establishment, chairman of the Pulitzer jury etc.. She is what I am not and do not wish to be.
Jan Myrdal about himself and his sister, 1998

Swedish author and political activist Jan Myrdal is one of the most controversial cultural figures in his country. Some hate him, some love him, everyone admits that he is a provocateur. A provocateur who loves to ignite fires. As his colleague Jan Guillou wrote when a slightly depressed, and age-neurotic Myrdal suddenly awakened from his lethargy by the threat of being excluded from PEN (because of his statements about the justifiability of the massacre in Tiananmen Square):

“Then followed a long period of Myrdal happily trumpeting without grumbling at all about DEATH …. Life was a party, a fight to win. ”

Jan Myrdal was born in 1927, as the eldest child – and only son – to Alva and Gunnar Myrdal, the intellectual architects of the modern Swedish welfare state. He had a lot to live up to – and eventually rejected it all:

I looked Alva straight in the eye and said I did not belong to their family anymore. I was not a part of it anymore. Yet again, they sacrifice us for their political ambitions and talk about their noble principles. 

From an early age, Jan takes on his role as outcast, rebel, as a badge of honor. He adopts it in childhood, and carries it on into his adult and working life. The establishment lies within reach, but he despises it, and rejects it. In any case, that is how he himself experiences it. For unambitious, he was not. Myrdal left school early, to write, and started as a journalist in a local newspaper at the age of seventeen. His debut, Folkets hus, in 1953, was self-published. He has since written some seventy books – fiction, plays, satires and political literature. He has published Balzac, Diderot, Sartre and Strindberg, all personal favorites. He was chairman of the Swedish-Chinese Association 1968-1971, and the Swedish-Chinese Friendship Society 1971-1973. And he was publisher of radical journals. But when the rest of society moved to the right, beginning in the early eighties, Myrdal refused to come along. And from having been a left-wing hero, his pronouncements would soon at times be perceived as so provocative, not to say bizarre, that he found virtually no support, not even in his old circles. A rebelliousness that once was a route to fame and prominence became less and less so. And with statements of support not only for the Chinese regime, but also for the mullahs of Iran, and even for Robert Faurisson, Jan Myrdal was relegated more and more to the fringe.

Yet, that which, according to many, is what will ultimately survive of all his works is the autobiographical trilogy that he began publishing in 1982. A series that, according to Myrdal biographer Kerstin Vinterhed, “in one fell swoop changed the story of the family Myrdal from a success story into a tragedy.”

In this documentary, Lena Einhorn presents a portrait of the author, activist and man Jan Myrdal. Jan Myrdal is not just one of our most prolific writers, he also reflects a significant period in the Swedish modern history – and its transformation.