I live a very privileged life in Sweden. I know it. I have a great job, a decent income, I own my flat in Stockholm’s trendiest inner-city area, I travel, I eat out at restaurants, I consume. I’m happily married, we have lots of friends, a BMW, trips to the theatre and to dinner parties. We have a country house. Everything’s smooth. Even at the A&E on Sunday after I sprained my ankle, I was in and out in less than 2 hours. Sweden has made this lifestyle possible for me, and many others. But it’s a privileged bubble we live in. We’re not confronted by the poverty in the suburbs, by the substance abuse in families. We don’t witness the children who fall out of the system because they happen to be born in a certain area, to certain parents. Our children are well-groomed, well-fed and well educated. We don’t see the horrors in old people’s homes, nor do we have to scrape together every last krona just to put food on the table because we’re sick, or injured or unable to find work. But this exists in Sweden. From our little bubble we just don’t see it. But it’s there. There are widening gaps in Swedish society between the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the sick and the healthy, the urban and the suburban, the always beens and the newly arrived. And the uncomfortable truth is the wider these gaps become, the more stretched our bubble becomes. And one day this bubble will explode.
Voting in an election is our democratic right. The dilemma is how we vote. Do we vote for what is good for ourselves or for what is good for our society? Do we protect ourselves or do we lift our eyes and look out of our bubble and see that what benefits society in the long run benefits all of us?
On Sunday, we make that choice.
The EU campaigns are in full swing and Sweden’s right wing nationalistic party (SD) has already caused a stir. Huge signs have been put up in the underground and direct mail shots have been dumped in people’s letter boxes describing their policies. One particular policy is against ‘organized begging’.
From their program: ‘In Swedish Towns beggars from other EU countries have become a common sight…..The organized begging must be stopped. Visa requirements should be introduced for countries that abuse freedom of movement within the EU.’
This, and other policies, have caused outrage amongst many. People are calling for action against the SD, people are criticizing them for racist actions, people are burning, returning and even eating up their printed policy material.
But here’s the thing – SD are smart at rhetoric. Very smart. Just like other populistic nationalistic parties throughout history, they are very good at raising issues that ordinary people care about and they are not afraid of stating their position. Agree or not, they are the only party as far as I know to communicate an actionable position about the issue of begging.
And this is where I think the other parties are about to make a costly mistake. Almost everybody I know in Stockholm has an opinion about the influx of street beggars from other EU countries. Everybody is uncomfortable with it and doesn’t like it. It goes against the grain, and many Swedes are really divided as to whether they should ignore the beggars, buy food for them or give them cash. It is a daily challenge for many and a common topic of discussion. It is a modern dilemma, and, dear politicians…this makes it a pressing political issue! Ignoring the issue of begging will not make it go away. Ignoring it does not reduce anxieties nor does it deal with the underlying issues of poverty and inequality in our society.
The way for the Alliance, the Greens, Fi, the Left Party and the Social Democrats to deal with the SD is not only to express outrage and criticism. It is to state clearly, publicly and unequivocally what their party’s actionable policies are in relation to the increased begging on our streets.
Failure to do this is equivalent to pushing many voters straight into the hands of the SD.