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May 26, 2013
May 26, 2013

The Swedish model up in flames

Author: Katerina Stavroula Translator: Eleni Nicolaou
Source: Syllavizontas  Category: Protest
This article is also available in: eselfrpt-ptit
The Swedish model up in flames

Sweden has been for a long time the model state of social benefits, social equality and tolerance. An example that Greek political leaders never failed to use, either. Stockholm is one of the richest capitals in Europe. And yet last week its suburbs were rocked by riots reminiscent of the French suburbs. The youth of the suburbs for a week now has been burning cars and throwing stones against policemen and police stations, and the cases of a burnt down police station, a restaurant and a school have already been reported.

The reason for what the global media characterised, with surprise, as “the Swedish revolt,” was the murder by the police of a 69 year-old man of Portuguese origin who, locked in an apartment, threatened with a knife. The incident was recorded in the public opinion of the suburb Chasmpi, where it took place, as another incident of police arbitrariness and was the spark needed for the marginalised youth of the southern and western suburbs of Stockholm to make their appearance on the streets.

“The segregation in Stockholm is growing constantly and rapidly,” says Nina Entstrom to Associated Press; she is a social anthropologist who works to promote coexistence in a multicultural centre in Fitgia, where some of the violent incidents broke out. “There are huge social differences. There are many unemployed and angry young people. I am not surprised by what I see happening”.

After decades of the “Swedish model” being identified with generous social benefits, Sweden reduces the role of the state since as early as the 1990s, creating the most rapid growth of inequality among all the developed economies of the OECD. Despite the fact that the average living standards are still among the highest in Europe, the governments have failed to be effective in reducing long-term youth unemployment and poverty, particularly affecting immigrant communities.

The left-oriented newspaper Aftonbladet writes that the riots represent a “huge failure” of government policies that underestimated the ghettos arising in the suburbs. And the word ghetto seems even architecturally confirmed, by a mere look at the large apartment building blocks that the majority of migrants lives in. “We failed to give many people in the suburbs a hope for the future,” Anna Liv Margkret of the Left Party opposition noted, after the first few incidents, in the daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

At the same time around 15% of Sweden’s 9.5 million population was not born in the country, a rate that only five years ago was 10%. The rate is one of the highest in the region, consisting, in recent years, mainly of people fleeing to Sweden from countries at war like Iraq, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and recently Syria. In 2012 alone, Sweden received a total of 103,000 migrants, almost 44,000 people seeking asylum, a number increased by 50% over the previous year. Almost half of them will be able to simply get a temporary residence permit.

Unemployment among people who were not born in Sweden is about 16%, while for the native Swedes this number drops to 6%, according to OECD data. Among 44 industrialised countries Sweden comes fourth, in absolute numbers, in asylum seekers and second, in proportion to its population, according to UN data. Further concern is created by the fact that, particularly in migrant populations, youngsters, in a large percentage, have difficulty to complete high school and their limited education cuts off even more their access to jobs.

The inequalities environment created favours the far-right and anti-immigrant in rhetoric Sweden Democrats party, which climbs steadily in the polls reaching, in some of them, the third place in view of the elections scheduled for next year in the country.

This alarming trend that has started gaining ground in the Swedish society is confirmed by testimonies about police behaviour both before and during the incidents in the suburbs. The 15 year old Sebastian Chorniak tells the Associated Press that he saw policemen shooting in the air, yelling at a woman and calling her “monkey.” Kena Sorouko, a representative of Megkafonen, a collectivity of migrants aiming at social change, giving the citizens of the suburbs a voice, stated she heard the police officers calling people “rats, bums, Negroes.”

“We see a society that is increasingly broken down and where the gaps, both socially and economically, are getting bigger”, says Rami Al-Kamisi, co-founder of Megkafonen, “and people out there are further affected… We now have an institutional racism”. And more testimonials complement the findings about the isolation of the suburbs. “I talk with young people in some suburbs who tell me “it would be more fun if I could meet a Swedish ‘”says Camila Salazar, who works at a youth center to Frysouset.

“Here we have a group of young people who think they can change society through violence,” the center-right Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, states at a press conference, simplifying the phenomenon. And continues, a few days later, saying that burning a car “is not a free expression of opinion but hooliganism. » However, social phenomena cannot be exorcised by simplifying and urging to a return to peace, especially when studies show that in some of these poor neighborhoods one third of young people from 19 to 29 years old are not studying and not working.

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