The immigrant as burden. A Swedish masterclass in scapegoating.

The leader of the Swedish Moderate party aims to win the next election. To do this, he is taking further steps to the right to appeal to the conservative and nationalistic trend that is currently sweeping the country. It is his only way to grab the power he so desperately craves. This little man, with big ambition. In his most recent speech, he said that ‘immigration has become a burden for Sweden’.

What he really means is that immigrants have become a burden. Human beings. He isn’t talking about immigrants like his three adopted daughters from China. Oh no, they are raised as ‘proper Swedes’.

He isn’t either talking about white, privileged European immigrants like myself. Oh no, he’s referring to dark-skinned people, many who have had to fight for their survival, and who come to this country with nothing. According to him, it is these people of colour that are dragging the country down.

That is what he means. Make no mistake.

Racism, nationalism and fear are rapidly on the rise in Sweden, fueled by the lies of politicians like this man. His facts are wrong and his rhetoric exaggerated. Immigration is actually at an all time low in Sweden. The country currently has the strictest immigration laws it has ever had. But still this man and these ideas are gaining traction.

His party, and his right-wing lackies, supported by the media, have succeeded in associating Sweden’s current ills with immigrants: economic imbalance, crime, security. ‘Immigrant as criminal’ is not a new argument, it is a successful argument that echoes from our not-so-distant European history. It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s misleading and incorrect.

We humans seem to always want a scapegoat. This concept comes from the Bible’s Leviticus, in which a goat is designated to be cast out into the desert to carry away the sins of the community. Scapegoating can be traced as far back as the 24th century BC. We think we are so advanced in Sweden but we are not. We still fall for the lies of charismatic politicians and we still look for easy scapegoats. Blaming all the immigrants is the predictable option. A casebook example.

On Facebook, there is a group called ‘Nysvenskar i Sverige’ (New Swedes in Sweden). I urge you to join it. It is a refreshing counterbalance to the veiled xenophobia in main stream media and politics. The group is full of people who have moved to Sweden and who are telling their stories. Each person demonstrates how they are an asset to this country, and far from a burden on society. They work, they pay taxes to the Swedish state and they contribute. They end their texts with ‘I am not a burden’.

There are also Swedish-born people in the group. One person called Anna writes this:

I am plus 40 and was born in Sweden to Swedish parents. I have previously been unemployed for 6 months, I have been on sick leave due to cancer, several times. I have used the health care system to its max. I have three kids, all in state subsidized school. We receive parental benefit. Need I go on? NO!

I do not have to prove that I am a burden on society. Why should I also have to prove I am an asset? No. A handful of people have the need to call people a burden. We are ALL a ‘burden’ more than once in our lives. It is the blend of everything that makes us people. Nationality has nothing to do with how you are as a human. Those who think otherwise should educate themselves and go out into the world. Sincerely, A Human. Who happened to be born in Sweden.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Please share this post. Please join the FB group. Please make your voice heard.

Swedish Americans and American Swedes

Happy 4th July – Independence Day in the USA! Since 1776, Americans have been celebrating this day as the day they gained independence from Great Britain. Since 1938, it has been a paid public holiday. This got me thinking about the relationship between Sweden and the USA.

According to Statistics Sweden, there are approximately 49,000 American citizens living in Sweden. I know 6 of them – Lynn, Alex, Ruthie, Scott, Brian and Chris. The majority of Americans in Sweden live in the bigger cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg. There are various groups and societies to bring Americans together, such as the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce and The American Women’s Club.

Sweden and America have a long political relationship, with Sweden being the second country, after France, to officially acknowledge America’s independence in the 1700’s. Since then, the relationship has been smooth, with a couple of hiccups during the presidencies of Olof Palme and later Donald Trump. Today, the USA is Sweden’s third largest trade partner, and American-owned companies make up the largest number of foreign companies in Sweden.

Many Americans have family ties to Sweden due to the mass emigration of Swedes to the USA in 1885-1912. In fact, this is such a significant part of Sweden’s history that there is a tv program called ‘Allt för Sverige’ which helps Americans trace their Swedish Ancestry.

At the end of the 19th century 1.3 million Swedes fled famine and persecution in Sweden for a new life in the USA. This was a third of the population at the time. These Swedish Americans were mostly of Lutheran faith and settled primarily in the Mid West.

Prior to this, in 1638, the first Swedish settlers founded New Sweden, around Delaware. It only lasted 17 years before being absorbed into New Netherland and ceased to be a Swedish colony.

In 1639, Swedish settler Jonas Bronck settled a colony around the area of today’s New York. The settlement grew and flourished, and today is called The Bronx – after its original Swedish founder.

According the American Community survey, Swedish Americans and descendants make up around 2% of the US population today. Around 56,000 people still speak Swedish in their homes.

Some famous Americans of Swedish descent include: Emma Stone, Scarlet Johansson, Candice Bergen, Val Kilmer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Roberts, Uma Thurman, Peggy Lee, Steven Soderbergh and George W Bush.

Not many Americans have reached such fame in Sweden, however. One is Don Cherry, the jazz musician from Oklahoma who fathered artists Neneh and Eagle Eye Cherry. Another is Armand Duplantis from Louisiana, the American-Swedish pole vaulting world champion. A third one is LaGaylia Frazier, a singer and tv personality from Miami.

Chinese in Sweden

Today, 20 April is Chinese Language Day. The day was inaugurated by the UN to celebrate the linguistic diversity of the organisation. The date was chosen to pay tribute to Cangjie, a mythical figure who is presumed to have invented the Chinese alphabet 5,000 years ago. According to legend, he had four eyes and the gods and ghosts cried and the sky rained millet after his invention.

The first documented Chinese person in Sweden arrived on a Swedish East Indian Company boat in 1786. His name was ‘Afock’ and he was considered so ‘exotic’ that he was given an audience with the King. According to Sweden’s Statistical Bureau, there are 45,868 Chinese-born people registered as living in Sweden today.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s/80’s that immigration from China to Europe became common, and many of those who initially arrived supported themselves by opening restaurants. The first Chinese restaurant in Sweden, called ‘The Chinese Wall’, opened however in 1959 in Gothenburg.

Today, there are many Chinese restaurants and several Chinese shops and supermarkets. Unlike many other cities, such as London, San Francisco, Singapore, New York, Stockholm does not have a ‘Chinatown’. Many Chinese people who move to Sweden now come to study, and continue to work, often in the IT and Tech sectors.

A few Chinese-inspired pieces of architecture exist in Sweden. Three in Stockholm are The China Theatre, built 1928, the Chinese Pavilion in Haga Park and the UNESCO listed Chinese Palace built in 1753 in the grounds of Drottningholm Palace.

Perhaps the most bizarre piece of architecture is Dragon Gate, a monstrous compound built by the motorway outside the small town of Älvkarleby. This is intended to be a cultural meeting place for Swedes and Chinese and includes a temple, a museum, a copy of the Terra-cotta Army, monuments, restaurant, hotel, kungfu school and a huge square. It has been an economic failure since its opening and today is closed.

A recent survey carried out by the Swedish Institute looked at Chinese attitudes to Swedes and Sweden. The survey focused on Chinese people living in China, and not those who emigrated. Various perceptions were that Swedes are obedient, relaxed, lazy and introvert. Sweden was perceived as rich, beautiful and clean but expensive, with high taxes and a depressing climate.

Interestingly, many Chinese confuse Sweden with Athens! The probable explanation is that Sweden in Madarin is Ruidian and Athens is Yadian.

International Romani Day-Roma in Sweden

Today, 8 April, is International Romani Day. It marks the first World Romani Congress that was held in London in 1971, making today the 50th occasion it has been celebrated. The day exists to shine a light on the ongoing persecution and abuse that the Roma population of the world has been forced to endure throughout history.

The Romani originate from northern India. They are dispersed, and their most concentrated populations are located in Europe, and Western Asia, since around 1007. Nobody really knows why the Roma left India in the first place, as no records were kept. However theories abound: from early persecution based on caste, to banishment from angering the king, and religious war.

The estimated 12 million Roma are consequently a nomadic people with no land to call their own. Their mobility and the fact that they lived in temporary camps contributed through the centuries to associations with poverty and accusations of high rates of crime. The discomfort that others felt about their presence led to perceptions of the Roma as antisocial, unsophisticated or even dangerous. Partly for this reason, discrimination against the Romani people has continued to the present day.

Romani have existed in Sweden since at least the 1500’s and today they are classed as one of Sweden’s five national minority groups (together with Jews, Sami, Swedish Finns and Tornedalers). Romani chib has the status of official minority language.

Over the centuries, the people of Sweden discriminated against, marginalised and excluded its Roma population. For 40 years, Sweden had a legal policy of enforced sterilization of people to avoid ‘unacceptable offspring’. Much suggests that Roma women were particularly subjected to this abuse, and mostly it was involuntary. Sweden removed this law in 1976. The Pew Research Poll of 2016 found that 42% of Swedes held strong anti-Roma views (compared to 82% in Italy, and 37% in Holland).

A Romani political activist in Sweden was Singoalla Millon, who died in 2020, and spent her entire life fighting for education, housing and acceptance. Another was Katarina Taikon who dedicated herself to improving conditions for Romani people in Sweden. She tried to convince the Swedish government to see the Romani as political refugees. She died in 1995. Today, the politician Soraya Post has worked as an EU politician defending the rights of the Romani and other minorities.

In 2012, the Swedish government introduced an 20-year equal opportunities strategy for Roma people. The strategy includes objectives and measures within several areas such as schooling, employment; housing, health, social care, culture and language. Of course, discrimination and marginalization are still very real in Sweden, but this is at least a step in the right direction.

Pakistan in Sweden

Today is Pakistan Day – a national holiday in Pakistan commemorating the Lahore Resolution passed on 24 March 1940 and the adoption of the first constitution of Pakistan. In Islamabad, the day is celebrated with much pomp and circumstance.

In Sweden, there are approximately 28,000 Pakistanis, making them one of the smallest immigrant groups in the country. In fact, according to Sweden’s statistical office, they are the thirtieth largest immigrant group. The majority of Pakistani immigrants came to the Nordic region in the 1970’s and 1980’s, seeking employment and a better standard of living. Most of them were also very highly educated.

Sweden has solid relations with Pakistan, and has an embassy in Islamabad, as well as honorary consulates in Karachi and Lahore. Several networks exist to build relations between Swedes and Pakistanis such as the Swedish Pakistani Friendship Society and the Pakistani Sweden Business Council.

Pakistani cuisine is well worth a taste. Influenced by the Arabic and Indian kitchens, Pakistani food is fragrant and spicy, with the all important roti bread as a staple. According to Trip Advisor, the best Pakistani restaurants in Stockholm are Punjabi Masala Grill, Chili Masala Grill and the geographically accurate-sounding Lilla Karachi.

In the northern town of Umeå, restaurant Malala is named after the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban on her way to school. Some years later, she won the Nobel prize for her education activism. 1% of the restaurant’s turnover and tips is donated to supporting education for poor girls in rural areas in Pakistan.

Dear Swede – does this shameful act represent you??!

Currently at the border between Greece and Turkey, there are thousands of desperate refugees. Greece cannot cope with such a new massive influx of people and so, with support of the EU, the country is strengthening and protecting the border. Fortress Europe is a reality.

As a member of the EU, Sweden supports this approach and hopes to arrive at a new agreement with Turkey to cope with this humanitarian catastrophe. The aim is to find a solution that is manageable for both Turkey and the EU, and that is a responsible way to handle mass migration and immigration.

But one Swedish political party has taken matters into their own shameful hands. Literally. The leader of the right wing party Swedish Democrats has mustered up the energy to travel to the border. Here, he is facing the refugees eye to eye. He is looking into the fearful faces of men, women, elderly people and children. And he is handing them a flyer. The flyer has the following words on it:

Sweden is full. Don’t come to us! We can’t give you more money or provide any housing. Sorry about this message.’ The flyer is then signed ‘The Swedish people, Swedish Democrats’

I cannot imagine the lack of empathy that is required to be able to this. I cannot imagine how cold and hard this man’s heart must be. To stand at the border and hand out these fliers as part of a political caper is both callous and cruel.

He claims to represent Sweden in this matter. His party has only 17.5% of the vote. A massive majority of 82.5% of the electorate do not support him or his political ideals. He does not therefore represent Sweden or the ‘Swedish people’. And he certainly does not represent me. I absolutely and unequivocally reject him and condemn his beliefs and actions.

The Swedish Democrats claim to be patriots – true lovers of Sweden. What they have actually done with this action is drag Sweden’s good name down into the gutter with them. Shame on them.

And you, dear Swede, does this action represent you? If not, I ask you to react strongly and without hesitation.

Sweden’s romance with Germany

Sweden has many connections with Germany throughout its long history. As a nod to the growing German readership I have, I thought I would list a few of those connections.

German language influence

The Swedish language belongs to the North Germanic branch of the Germanic languages. Many words in Swedish are similar in German. I remember when I was on a trip to Hamburg, I could understand a lot of what was written in the German paper Der Spiegel. This was not because I speak any German, but because I speak Swedish. In fact the word ‘spiegel’, meaning mirror, is ‘spegel’ in Swedish. A friend of mine, originally from Rostock in Germany, learned Swedish very quickly. When I asked her how she had done it, she responded rather matter-of-factly that ‘Swedish is just German light’.

German merchants

In Stockholm’s Old Town there is an imposing church whose large Gothic spire dominates the skyline. This church is called ‘Tyska kyrkan’ – the German Church. During the 1500’s there were a lot of German merchants trading and living in Stockholm. In fact, they made up about half of the population. The King wanted to attract and keep as many Germans as possible, so he gave them attractive tax breaks and, in 1571, awarded them the right to start their own parish and place of worship. The church that we see today was finished in 1886, after restoration after a large fire. The German Church today holds services in German, and still serves Stockholm’s much smaller German population. Sweden today has still a lot of German merchants, in the form of large retail chains. Big players include the food chain Lidl, shoe shop Deichmann, home electronics retailer MediaMarkt and DIY store Bauhaus.

German Queens

Sweden’s current queen, Queen Silvia, originates from Heidelberg. Her German accent resonates clearly when she speaks Swedish. But she’s not the only connection the Swedish Royal House has with Germany. In fact, the King’s mother was also German – Princess Sibylla – from Gotha. And both his grandmothers. And, well, throughout history the Swedish Royal House has been peppered with German aristocracy and royalty. According to Wikipedia, 22 of Sweden’s monarchs were of German descent. So, one could probably say that the Swedish royals are more German than anything else.

German tourists

Sweden is an extremely popular destination for German tourists who are attracted by the forests, lakes, open spaces, cute red cottages and fresh air. German tourists spend approximately 3,000,000 hotel nights in Sweden according to the Swedish Tourism Institute. Sweden’s three main cities are popular destinations, as well as Skåne, which is the closest county to Germany. Due to the fame of writer Astrid Lindgren, her birthplace village of Vimmerby in Småland is also very well visited. Sweden’s attractiveness is also thanks to a long-running German tv show. Since 2003, the show ‘Inga Lindström’ has entertained Germans with an idyllic, romantic image of Sweden. The program is a series of stories set in Sweden, where the characters speak German, but have Swedish-sounding names, and the attractive Sweden that is depicted makes German tourists want to flock here in droves.

German sausages

Although food trucks are a standing feature in Sweden’s current street food culture, the original fast food place was, and is, the sausage kiosk. One can not underestimate how much Swedes love their hot dogs and they eat them late at night, for a quick lunch, at sport events, in cars, at weddings, barbecues, communal cleaning days, shopping excursions. You name it. The sausage is ever-present. Evidence exists that sausage-like foods were eaten by the Vikings, but it was in Frankfurt, Germany that the sausage was really developed as a snack. This food culture arrived in Sweden, via USA, in the 1800’s and has remained a firm favourite ever since. Even Sweden’s own patented sausage, the Falukorv, apparently came into existence by German immigrants training the Swedes in how to make them. Sweden’s leading hot dog brand is called Sibylla. Named after the current King’s German mother, this was said to be an honour and not born out of ridicule.

So, there you have it. Germany and Sweden have very close ties linguistically, socially, politically, in royalty, in business, in tourism and, even on the street corners.

What does it mean to be Swedish?

SWEDEN

I was born in the UK and I am proud to live in Sweden and I am proud, and fortunate, to have received Swedish citizenship. This is a country that, in my mind, builds on equality and solidarity. This a country that tries to do the best for its people. This is a country that stands up and does the humane thing, even in difficult circumstances. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

I try to look at the world with open eyes. Sweden, like all other countries, has its problems: an ageing population and an expensive welfare state, challenges of integration and inclusion, social problems, unrest and crime. Of course this exists. To claim these didn’t exist would be naive. And of course crime should be fought. But I truly believe that Sweden can solve these issues. And I truly believe that the way forward is the continued path of openness and solidarity. Not fear and defensiveness. Not nationalism. And not lies.

I am proud to be Swedish and live in Sweden. And I am patriotic. But being a Swede is not about eating meatballs, or herring, or chocolate balls, or flying the flag or singing the national anthem. And it is not about being blonde or blue-eyed.

What does it mean to be Swedish then (to me)?

  • Swedes take in thousands of people in their direst need
  • Swedes help people survive war and starvation
  • Swedes lead the way  in social and humanitarian issues
  • Swedes do not criminalize poverty
  • Swedes flourish in a diverse and multicultural society
  • Swedes stand up for human rights and equality between men and women
  • Swedes believe in self-fulfillment –  you can be whoever you want to be
  • Swedes respect children
  • Swedes believe in self expression and the right of free speech
  • Swedes understand the work life balance
  • Swedes cherish the environment

In my mind, this is what it is to be Swedish. These are the very things that brought me to Sweden and made me fall in love with the country and its residents.

This is my call to action. Do not buy into the lies and falsehoods that are spread about this country. Do not buy into the fearmongering of power-hungry conservative politicians. Do not buy into the nationalistic rhetoric.

On social media, on the streets and in your life, question the source of all information. Challenge racism. Do not just swallow the bullshit. And whenever you disagree, stand up and be a proud Swede!

Have no fear – the Swede is here!

Diverse Sweden Part 2: Swedish Muslims

diversity

Sweden is a fairly diverse country – ethnically, religiously and culturally. About 25% of the population is born abroad or has both parents born outside of Sweden. Extend that to one parent and the number increases to around a third of the Swedish population.

I am a true believer in cultural diversity. So, I am continuing a series of posts that will shine the light on various religious and ethnic groups that exist amongst people with Swedish citizenship. My hope is that it will dispel some of those stereotypes of Swedes that exist and that it will broaden your mind regarding what it means to be Swedish.

Part 2…..Islam

Happy-Eid-Al-Fitr-Wishes-Picture

This week on Wednesday 5th of June is the great Islamic festival of Eid Al Fitr. This is a three day festivity consisting of celebration, good food, prayer, gifts to the children and charity to the needy. The festival marks the end of Ramadan, the month in which followers are taught the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.  During Ramadan, practicing muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours from dawn to sunset. You can imagine the challenge of this in Sweden, when we almost have daylight 24 hours of the day. In Stockholm, the fast lasts 20 hours per day which must be really exhausting. In the north of Sweden, where the sun never sets, muslims have solved this by fasting according to the daylight schedule of Mecca, or other chosen location. The idea of the fast is to bring practicing muslims closer to God.

Islam is the second largest religion in the world, about 25% of the world’s popluation. Muslims make up approximately 8% of the Swedish population, according to research from the Pew Center. This makes them the second-largest immigrant group in Sweden after the Finns. About 90% of muslims in the world are Sunni muslims, with the rest following Shia islam.

Islam is a religion which appreciates practice. There are five basic religious acts in Islam, collectively known as ‘The Pillars of Islam’ which are considered obligatory for all believers. The Quran presents them as a framework for worship and a sign of commitment to the faith. They are:

  • Shahada, the creed
  • Salah, daily prayer
  • Zakat, alms giving
  • Rawm, fasting during Ramadan
  • Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca

Other than the fasting of Ramadan, the practice most noticeable to non-Muslims is probably the one of prayer. Performing prayers five times a day is compulsory but flexibility in the timing specifics is allowed depending on circumstances. Many companies in Sweden have prayer rooms to accommodate this.

First-generation muslims in Sweden most often originate from Irak, Iran, Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Two growing groups are from Syria and Somalia. Since the 1960’s, about 3500 people in Sweden have converted to Islam. There are nine purpose-built mosques in Sweden, with the notable ones in the main cities. In Stockholm, the mosque is on the residential island of Södermalm. From this location, the Islamic Association of Sweden is run. This is an umbrella organisation encompassing, amongst other things, the Muslim Council of Sweden, Muslim Youth Organisation and Muslim Relief.

The first muslims actually emigrated to Sweden during the Viking era but it wasn’t until the 1950’s and 1960’s that a large number arrived from Turkey seeking employment. Another wave in the 80’s brought muslim refugees from the war-torn Balkan region. Most of the muslims who arrive in Sweden today are fleeing dictatorship and armed conflict, and are seeking refuge in another country. Today, a great number of people who follow Islam were born in Sweden, conditioned in Swedish values and society and educated though the Swedish school system.

Like many places around the western world, there are conflicts in Sweden between the original Christian-based society and the Islam society. Some of the conflicts originate in religious difference, fuelled by extremist thinking on both sides. However, most of the conflict comes from an ethno-racist perspective or a concern about the impact of immigration on the structure and values of Swedish society. The Swedish governments of the past have not necessarily succeeded in the integration of the two parties and many people today witness ‘two Swedens’ operating in parallel to each other.

There is no doubt that muslims are well and truly a part of Sweden and Swedish culture. How we choose to move forward to one Sweden is for us all to decide.

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Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 7 Mustafa Can 


Negativity. Fear. Concern. These are some of the reactions many Swedes are experiencing about the influx of immigrants to Sweden in the last couple of years. So, I became curious to learn about some of those individuals who came here as refugees or immigrants to make a better life for themselves. People with roots somewhere else who built a home here and who contributed to Swedish society in a positive way.
For the next seven days, I will celebrate these people. My hope is that we can lift our eyes from the challenges of immigration and understand what useful contributions these people can make to society if given the chance. To our society. Our Sweden

 

Part 5: Mustafa Can 

In Sweden, every summer there is a radio series called ‘Radio Talkers’ where various people get a chance to tell their stories and play music. It was in this program some years ago that I first heard of Mustafa Can. His program was very moving and focused around his mother. It was so moving that he won many radio and media prizes as a result.

Mustafa Can works as a prize-winning author, independent journalist and public speaker. His recent work focuses mostly on cultural diversity, identity and xenophobia in Sweden. He provides a controversial voice to the Swedish integration debate.

Mustafa has lived in Sweden for over 40 years. Orginally from Northern Kurdistan in Turkey, he fled with his family when he was 6 years old. He is a great example of someone who arrived in Sweden as a child, became well integrated and uses his position and his voice to try to make Swedish society a better place for everybody.