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.

Amazing immigrants in Sweden Part 6: Hanif Azizi


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: Hanif Azizi

At the age of 9 years old, Hanif Azizi arrived in Sweden as an unaccompanied refugee. His parents were active in a political military organisation, a rebel Group fighting against the regime in Iran. When he was 6 years old, his father was killed in battle and his mother decided to send her children away to safety.

In 1991, Hanif arrived in Sweden with his younger brother and were placed in a host home. In this home, they were subjected to physical and pyschological abuse and were eventually removed by the Swedish Social Services and placed in a secure and supportive environment.

Today, Hanif is 35 and works as a policeman based in the Stockholm suburb of Järva. Here, he works to prevent crime but also to support youths who are at risk of falling into criminality. In Järva there are lots of individuals with an ethnic background. Hanif tries to help them feel involved in Swedish society so as to avoid radicalisation and crime. 

His contribution to Swedish society is extremely valuable. Hanif is an amazing immigrant in Sweden and a positive role model and contributor to Swedish society. 

Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 5 Meraf Bahta Ogbagaber 


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: Meraf Bahta Ogbagaber 
Meraf Bahta was born in Dekishahay in Eritrea, a country with heavily criticized human rights. In 2008, at the age of 19, she escaped this one-party military state. In Eritrea, she had been conscripted to do a 5-year long military service, or punishment by imprisonment. Both her parents were imprisoned and her mother had died behind bars. So Meraf fled and found a safe haven in Sweden. In Eritrea, she is considered a deserter and her return there would mean instant death. 

As a middle distance runner, she has participated in many international competitions. Her personal best times are 4:05.11 minutes in the 1500 metres and 14:59.49 minutes in the 5000 metres – which is the Swedish national record. She is also the European champion (2014) in 5000 metres. 

Since 2014 she is a Swedish citizen and eligible to represent Sweden in international events. She did so at the recent Olympics in Rio and World Championships in London. 

Meraf has found security in Sweden and is able to pursue her athletics career without threat or military interference. Watching her on the track, it’s easy to see that she wears her yellow and blue colours with pride. 

Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 4 Madubuko A. Robinson Diakité

madubuko

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 4: Madubuko A. Robinson Diakité

Many people in Sweden know who Swedish rapper Timbuktu is. His many hits and TV appearances have made him a household name. However, very few know about his father – a human rights lawyer, writer and documentary filmmaker – who emigrated to Sweden in the 1960’s. – Madubuko A Robinson Diakite.

Madubuko was born in Harlem, USA and moved as a teenager to Africa after his mother married a Nigerian journalist. Inspired by his step father to work with social injustice, he returned to the USA in the 60’s and earned a degree in law. In 1968, he moved to Sweden to study film-making and continued on with a Ph.D. In 1992, he earned a Law degree at Lund University. Currently, he researches in human rights at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Lund and is active in anti-discrimination organisations in Sweden.

He has published articles on film and human rights law for several international publications, and has headed several projects on the rights of people of African descent.  he also wrote the book Not Even in Your Dreams, a semi-autobiographical work studying child abuse in Africa.

Madubuko Diakite came to Sweden as a student and has become a strong voice in the academic and human rights communities. With his own experiences and competence, he has worked to make Swedish society a more open place.

His conviction passes on through the lives he has helped and through the popular music of his successful son.

 

Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 3 Negra Efendic

negra efendic

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 3: Negra Efendić

Sometimes when we imagine groups of immigrants and refugees, it is easy to forget the children. At the age of 13, with her parents, Negra Efendic fled the war in Bosnia. She was born in a town called Srebenica where, in 1995, 8000 men and boys were executed.  Her father managed to escape and flee to Sweden.

After a difficult period, her family settled and Negra went to school and ultimately studied journalism in the small Swedish town of Motala. After working at the newspaper in Borås, she started working at national paper ‘Svenska Dagbladet’ where she covers migration and immigration issues. In 2016, she published the book ‘Jag var precis som du’ – ‘I was just like you’ – where she recounts the experience of fleeing to Sweden and living as a refugee here.

She is living proof that refugees in Sweden have valid stories, often stories of horror. Are we prepared to listen?

Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 2 Shori Zand

Shori-Zand-500x500

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 2: Shori Zand, midwife and entrepreneur from Iran

Giving her sons a safer and more prosperous life was Shori Zand’s motvation when she arrived in Sweden in 1987. At the age of 25, she arrived with her husband, two small sons and three suitcases. And nothing else – except ambition.

In Iran, Shori had worked as a nurse so, once she had a command of the Swedish language, she re-trained to be a nurse in Sweden and then ultimately, a midwife.

In 2000, thanks to the relaxation of healthcare laws in Sweden, Shori saw an opportunity to open a midwife clinic in Linköping. By 2010 she had a healthcare organisation that turned over 400 million Swedish kronor. Providing care in maternity, elderly care, mammography, neurology, gynocology and hearing rehabilitation, Shori’s company ‘Avesina’ employed a staff of  1200 people.

Shori Zand is often referred to as a role model for female entrepreneurs. Apart from her successes with Avesina, she has won an array of prizes, been on the boards of ‘Svensk Näringsliv’, TLV and Nutek as well as advising the Swedish government in IT and being Vice President of the Swedish Organisation for Healthcare Entrepreneurs.

Shori Zand arrived in Sweden with almost nothing. She is now an integrated, respected and accomplished businesswoman who has enabled care for thousands of Swedes. She has also created jobs – for over a thousand people – and undeniably contributed to Sweden’s economy and society.