Erni Friholt – Sweden

Linked with an EU Constitution for the 21st century.

She is She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “We need development that is driven forward with consideration for the various traditions and cultures and for human beings and nature” … and: “We want to remember former times with the store in Stocken and continue the traditions, so that life blossoms even when there are storms in autumn and winter. And we want to promote solidarity and support people all over the world”.

And she says (together with her husband): “We want an EU Constitution
for the 21st century, not for the 20th!”. (full text).

Erni and Ola Friholt - Sweden two.jpg

Erni and Ola Friholt – Sweden

She works for Svenska Kvinnors Vänsterförbund SKV, (the Federation of Leftist Swedish Women), also descrived on the swedish wikipedia; for Women’s International Democratic Federation; and for the Swedish Women’s Council for Development.

Swedish articles:

For 37 years, Erni Friholt has been an activist in peace building and peace education, women’s rights and solidarity, both locally and internationally in the Balkans, Bangladesh, India, and Ethiopia. She has been a journalist, speaker, volunteer and project manager, a demonstrator and organizer of an alternative solidarity fair trade café. For many years, she was editor-in-chief of the women’s magazine “Vi Mänskor” of the Federation of Leftist Swedish Women and chair of the organization. She has participated in many international women’s conferences, peace marches, and peace organizations.

Somewhere in every land there is an idyllic spot, a place of stillness, peace, and joy where war and violence are momentarily forgotten, suffering and pain overcome, and new energy created. And so it is in Sweden. On the footbridge of the Brygg Café in Stocken on the island of Orust north of Gothenberg, midsummer’s night has been joyously celebrated for more than twenty years with poetry, song, and dance, accompanied by feasting on herring and wine.

This idyll on the North Sea has a name: Solidariskt Bridge Café, run in the summer by Erni and Ola Friholt. Erni bakes pies and cakes with wondrous names like Mahatma Gandhi’s Dream and Rosa Luxemburg Cake and they organize evenings with music or discussion. Visitors from all over the world gather there and build a piece of utopia here on earth.

Erni arrived there in 1974. “My father-in-law worked on the boat and my mother-in-law painted. It was perfectly idyllic”, she recalls. She came here because of Ola, and the couple married in the home of his parents on the sea, Erni in a dirndl, for as a native Austrian, that had to be. But only watching the sea and viewing nature’s beauty till she had her fill did not satisfy Erni. Her idea of a good life had always had something to do with the lives of others. “We need development that is driven forward with consideration for the various traditions and cultures and for human beings and nature,,” says the lively woman with tousled red hair who was born in 1936. She and her husband try to transpose their vision of a more human society into their direct surroundings.

Their motto is “Think globally and act locally”, and so they struggle for the survival of Stocken, this fishing village of 150 souls in the straits. From the old white family house, from a shed in which Ola’s parents ran a hardware and notions store from 1934 to 1963, from the wooden bridge that had formerly served as the gathering place for the whole village, and from the sea emerged the idea of establishing a ’solidarity café’ and an art gallery. That was in 1986. “We want to remember former times with the store in Stocken and continue the traditions”, says Erni, “so that life blossoms even when there are storms in autumn and winter. And we want to promote solidarity and support people all over the world”.

In the gallery, the former boathouse, Ola exhibits his seascapes. The Friholts import coffee and tea from cooperatives in Bolivia, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Vietnam. They boycott transnational firms. They use solar energy and produce their own vegetables as well as red currants and strawberries in the summer garden they call ‘Samarkand’. “I have never been to Samarkand, but it must be simply wonderful there and it sounds like the thousand and one nights”.

Erni’s commitment grew during her childhood in Austria. There was a war, and the small girl lived through the shooting of her mother and father a week before the end of the Second World War. Her father died from the wounds. Her brother had already been killed. Erni did not want to be in Austria any longer and decided to go to her big sister Gertrude in Stockholm. She was 13 at the time, and Sweden became her new home. At 18, she married an Austrian and had two daughters. As a housewife, she went to evening school, studied, and became a teacher.

Then came the wild years of the late 1960s. Erni, curious and adventuresome, wanted to change her life and the world. So she went to the demonstrations in Paris in May 1968 and became the head of the regional peace association in Stockholm.

After 16 years of marriage, she separated from her husband and set off for new horizons by traveling to Bangladesh. The small country that received almost no reconstruction aid after a long war became her second home. With all her might, she wanted to commit herself to the future of the people. In Bangladesh, Erni met her husband Ola and they both went to India as volunteers for the Swedish aid organization The Swallows to ‘work with and for the poor’.

Since then, time and again Erni has been in India – once with a banner with ‘equality ever, violence never’ and in Bangladesh for consciousness raising work to support women in their struggle for equality.

Today she often receives visitors from both countries, naturally in the Solidariskt Café.

In order to commit themselves even more to the peace movement and third world work, Erni and her husband gave up teaching school. Tumultuous years followed.

Sometimes they struggled together, during peace demonstrations and projects or writing pamphlets and books. They were frequently in India and Bangladesh to support projects in the slums of Rajshahi and Chennai.

Erni also supports the fistula hospital in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. She has participated in many international women’s conferences and peace marches. For many years, she was editor-in-chief of the women’s magazine, Vi Mänskor, of the Federation of Leftist Swedish Women, and chairperson the organization.
During the Balkan War in the 1990s, she and her husband traveled to Serbia to learn about the Serbian peace movement.

In Erni and Ola’s Solidariskt summer café, there are cakes that Erni baked till the wee hours. A Rosa Luxemburg cake with rum, one with meringue and almonds that she calls Amandla Mandela, a cake with nuts and coffee cream that is called Mahatma Gandhi’s Dream, and the Elin Wägner bread, a homemade rye named for the feminist writer. The small handwritten tags offer guests interesting reading from the biographies of the namesakes.

Since the 1990s there has also been the Zitzer cake with red currants. How did this come about? During the war between Serbia and Croatia from 1991 to 1992, 200 men from the village in Tresnjevac in the northern Serbian province Vojvodina were called up for military service. Prompted by the village’s school principal and the women, those who had been called up decided to refuse to go.
They refused to shoot their compatriots simply because power-hungry politicians wanted them to. In the village’s pizzeria, The Zitzer, a peace camp was established. The government in Belgrade ordered numerous taks to encircle the village. The peace camp lasted for two months. Afterwards the village declared its independence from Belgrade and called itself ‘the Zitzer Spiritual Republic that has no territory and is a community of people who want peace’.

Erni drove there with her husband to learn about the local peace movement and to refute the lies about the alleged violent nature of the Serbs. She was impressed with the spirit of peace that reigned there and supported the population. In autumn 1995, the peace movement on the island of Orust opened a Zitzer consulate. In Tresnjevac in 2001, Erni and Ola, as Zitzer consuls on Orust, received the Pro Urbe Prize, an honor awarded to those who had helped the town in its time of need. Today, the Zitzer Republic no longer exists, but it lives on in Erni’s heart. The sign ‘Consulate of Zitzer’ still hangs on their house. (1000PeaceWomen).

ERNI FRIHOLT was born in Lilienfeld, Austria, on November 27, 1936. As a child, she was exposed to war and post-war conditions. One elder brother died during the campaign in the Soviet Union, and her father was killed on the home front just before the war ended. Since then she has been a devoted peace worker and activist and a solidarity worker in India and Bangladesh.

From 1950 onwards, in Sweden, she studied through the adult education system and finished as a student of German, English and pedagogy, after this she worked for a few years as a primary school teacher, which in turn she left for full-time peace and development work from 1970 onwards. She was particularly involved in supporting the birth of Bangladesh in connection with their liberation war. She also went there to study a development project in 1973, in Thanapara village. In 1974, she met her “compar”. (full text).

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