The Gothenburg discothèque fire was a devastating fire caused by an arson attack on October 29, 1998, which occurred in premises located on Hisingen island in Gothenburg, Sweden. These had been rented for the night by an organization catering to the Macedonian community in Gothenburg for the purpose of hosting a discothèque. 375 young people aged 12–25 years old were present in the premises at the time that the fire started, the vast majority of which had various ethnic minority backgrounds. The premises had been estimated by the fire department as safe for only 150 people. 63 people were killed during the incident and around 200 people were injured.
The fire started on the premises of the Macedonian organization on the third floor, where a discothèque for high school students had been arranged to celebrate Halloween. It was set in a stairway serving the club’s emergency exit. As a result, the emergency exit was blocked, and a single stairway became the only available escape route. Many young people were forced to jump out windows to safety, but since these were 2.2 metres (7.2 feet) above floor level and 5 metres (16 feet) above ground level outside the building, many were injured in the process. Furthermore, fire safety standards were generally poor at the site.
The first emergency call arrived at 23:42, but due to the background noise, it was some time before the operator could understand what the caller was trying to say. At 23:45 a so-called “major call-out” took place from a fire station on the island, and four minutes later the first rescue team arrived on the scene. Six other fire crews were dispatched a short time afterwards. About 60 young people were rescued by firefighters with self-contained breathing apparatus, 40 of which were led down the staircase and 20 carried out through the windows. Others managed to escape on their own.
A total of 63 young people were killed and 213 were injured, of whom 50 seriously. For some time afterwards, it could not be determined whether the fire had been accidental or caused by an arson attack, but speculation soon started that the fire, whose victims were mainly immigrants, had been started by xenophobic or racist Swedes. Posters were distributed around Gothenburg with the text “60 young immigrants have died, now 60 Swedes must die.” It was later ascertained that the four suspected arsonists were themselves immigrants from Iran.
On June 1, 1999, it was reported that two suspects had been arrested but later released. In December 1999, a reward of 3 million kronor was offered for information that might help to ascertain the cause of the fire. At that time, no one was sure how the fire had started, despite over 1,400 people being questioned by the Swedish police. Later that month, the police also appealed for leads on a national TV show. In January 2000, three suspects were eventually taken into custody by the police, and in February a fourth was arrested. However, these had been suspected of starting the fire before the reward had even offered. No preliminary investigation was ever started against the party’s arrangers.
The fire had been set by four teenagers aged 17–19, who had been denied entry to the disco as a result of an argument. All four were charged and found guilty of aggravated 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 at the time of the offence, received three years in a juvenile care facility. Both the defendants and the prosection appealed the sentences. The court of appeals upheld two of the verdicts, but the two verdicts of six years’ imprisonment were raised to seven years.
Mohammadyeh, nicknamed the youngest by the press, was represented by Leif Silbersky. It was established that the other three suspects were friends, and although Mohammadyeh had wanted to become friends with two of them, he was afraid of Kaveh. Silbersky asked for Mohammadyeh to be acquitted, as in his opinion thought Mohammadyeh should not be held legally responsible for his passivity. The court of appeals, however, considered it proven that the four “had mutually 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 had not been possible to prove that no other person or persons than Kaveh had torn the paper or started the fire in the stairway.” Professor Christian Diesen is of the opinion that it is possible that Mohammadyeh had “become involved in a sequence of events he had no control over and would have been judged differently if the fire had not had such devastating consequences.”
Thomas Bodström, who later became Minister for Justice in Sweden, acted as prosecutor on behalf of the victims.
Relatives of the victims later founded the non-profit organization BOA (association for the relatives of the fire victims), which for examples has been in contact with the relatives of victims in a similar discothèque fire in Volendam, The Netherlands, and has 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 raise awareness among young people of how quickly a small fire can spread and the potential consequences.
On the tenth anniversary of the fire in 2008, a permanent memorial was unveiled, made out of polished granite with the name and age of each victim engraved in gold. The monument was placed at Backaplan in the part of Hisingen where the fire occurred. It was designed by the artist Claes Hake.