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.

Impending crisis in Sweden’s parliament

This week, the Swedish Left Party withdrew their support for the minority Social Democrat government over a rent control argument. This lead to the extreme right party calling for a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister and his government, with the conservatives and Christian Democrats jumping on the bandwagon.

On Monday at 10.00, the vote will happen. Currently there is a majority for no-confidence, which would mean the government would topple throwing Sweden into a chaotic parliamentary state. Just what we do not need when we are still fighting the consequences of a pandemic.

If this happens, the Prime Minister can step down and let the parliament sort out a new government. Given that it took four months to sort out a government after the last election, we have even more unnecessary chaos to look forward to.

A more likely alternative is that a new election will be held in three months. This is also unnecessary as next year 2022 is an election year anyway. This means we would have an election in September and then again next September. I’m sure most people don’t want this.

It is so irresponsible of our political leaders, left and right. Throwing Sweden into a parliamentary crisis one year before an election is short-sighted, opportunistic and disrespectful. They have turned parliament into a circus.

A new election costs approximately 400 million Swedish crowns. This is tax payers money that should be spent on helping the economy recover from the effects of the pandemic – not on solving a petty battle between our childish MP’s. Additionally, public sector workers will have to remove their focus from currently important issues to instead organizing and administering an extra election.

If politicians don’t agree with each other, fine. That is why we have budgeted general elections. Let the planned election of 2022 reflect the will of the people. Let the current government continue its work.

How to be a parent in Sweden

Back in the days when we could fly, we all used to find ourselves sharing airport space with lots of other people. This led to me developing a specific skill. Wherever I was in the world, I could always identify the Swedish families. It wasn’t to do with language or looks or fashion style. No, it was to do with parenting.

If there was a child, or children, sprinting around the airport without the supervision of an adult – they were without a doubt Swedish. If kids were screaming at top volume without parental intervention – Swedish. If restaurant queues were building up because a kid couldn’t decide what to eat – invariably Swedish. In an airport, the Swedish parenting style was on show for everybody to see.

Swedish parenting is child-centric and comparatively free. It can be perceived as permissive and hands-off. Most parents adopt a communicative style with their children, which can seem to the untrained eye that this means there are no boundaries and no consequences. Children are from an early age involved in decisions that affect them, which is in contrast to a more authoritative and punitive style of parenting found in other countries. This leads to a population where self expression and independence is important

Here are 5 typical parenting behaviours in Sweden:

1) Egalitarian parenting. In Sweden, parents get 480 days of paid parental leave to share and, in heterosexual relationships, 90 of those are non-transferable days for fathers only. This is intended to achieve a more equal division of child-rearing responsibilities. This often extends into the division of duties in the home. So both men an women cook, clean, change nappies and stay home with sick children. For Swedes, it’s a no brainier.

2) Cosiness and cuddling. Friday evenings are reserved for family time. Called ‘fredagsmys’, or Friday coziness, it is when families curl up under a blanket, light candles and watch a film or series together—all while eating tacos, pizza, crisps and sweets. It is not unusual for kids to sleep in their parents’ bed until they reach double digits.

3) Right to Day Care. Every child in Sweden has a right to attend day care from one year old. Day care is subsidised and cheap. At Day Care, the kids spend most of their time playing—academia usually begins in earnest around 6 years old. The other reason for organised child care is so that parents can quickly return to the tax-paying workforce – and collectively finance child care and rest of the welfare state.

4) No spanking. Hitting a child is unthinkable – and illegal – in Sweden. Sweden was the first country in the world to ban spanking and all corporal punishment in 1979. As mentioned before, Swedes apply communicative style of parenting and discipline their children by talking and reasoning with them.

5) Go outside. Outdoorsiness starts early with parents leaving their children outside to sleep in their prams in sub zero temperatures. The crisp air is thought to be good for them. In schools, kids go outside and play every day—regardless of the weather. Some day care solutions are set outdoors with kids spending all day every day in the woods. In the summer, it’s not unusual to see naked kids on the beaches, reflecting Sweden’s relaxed attitude to nudity. Sports and being outdoors are highly prioritised in Sweden. Fresh air, and getting dirty, are considered healthy.

So back to those Swedish kids in the airport. Sure, they justifiably could be seen as unruly, disrespectful and unsupervised. But in equal measure, their behaviour can be a result of a flexible, free parental style that encourages independence and self sufficiency from an early age.

The Swedish Death Penalty

The name Bridget Bishop might not mean anything to you – unless you are seriously into history. On this day, June 10th, in 1692 Bridget Bishop was the first woman to be hanged during the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts. In total 19 women were accused of witchcraft and hanged and many others were persecuted. Capital punishment still exists in the USA, with lethal injection and electrocution as the favoured methods. In 2020, 17 executions were carried out in the USA.

In Sweden, capital punishment was legal until 1973, although an execution was last enacted in 1910 on murderer Johan Alfred Ander. The last death penalty was actually given in 1927 but the sentence was changed to hard labour. In 1917, Hilda Nilsson, a child murderer, was sentenced to death. She escaped execution, however, by committing suicide. That meant that the last woman to be executed in Sweden was murderer Anna Månsdotter in 1890.

At the time of its abolition in 1973, beheading was the legal method of execution. Today capital punishment, corporal punishment and torture are all outlawed in Sweden.

Interestingly, 110 countries have completely abolished capital punishment like Sweden. However, over 60% of the world’s population live in countries where the death penalty still exists, such as USA, China, India, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Japan.

Swedish expression: Between the bird cherry and the lilac.

Right now in Stockholm we are between the bird cherry and the lilac. This Swedish expression ‘Mellan hägg och syren’ is used to describe this short period between when these two bushes blossom. At the moment the bird cherry is blossoming, but not yet the lilac. The period reflects the early days of summer and for many Swedes it is the most delightful time of the year. A friend of mine nostalgically said yesterday that ‘it smells like end of school’.

So where does this expression come from? Well, the common theory is that it was first used by a cobbler who put a sign up in the window of his shop. He had decided to take a brief holiday, and the sign read ‘closed between the bird cherry and the lilac’.

Christ Flying Day – a Swedish holiday

Today is Ascension Day, and it is a public holiday in Sweden. The Swedish word for today is Kristi himmelsfärdsdagen or Kristiflygare, which translates loosely as Christ Flying Day. Yet another example of the literalness of the Swedish language, this day signifies the bible story of Jesus Christ ascending (or flying) to heaven.

Unlike some countries that moved the celebration to the following Sunday, Sweden celebrates Ascension Day on the actual Thursday. This gives rise to another Swedish concept – the ‘squeeze day’. Since Thursday is a holiday, and Saturday is a work-free day for most, Friday gets squeezed between them and is also taken as a day off by most people. That makes this weekend a lovely long weekend, often signifying the beginning of summer. In previous times, today was also called ‘barärmdagen’ – or ‘bare arm day’ – as women started to wear clothes that exposed their arms.

This weekend is not religiously observed by most Swedes. Being a secular country, time is usually spent outdoors if the weather permits. Some Swedes go to their summer houses, or sail the waterways on their boats. Others meet friends, sit in outdoor cafes, or carry out sporting activities. In years when travel is permitted, this is also a popular weekend to fly off for a four-day break in, for example, Barcelona, Nice or Palma.

Swedish expression: Cake on cake

The Swedish expression ‘kaka på kaka’ or ’tårta på tårta’ is translated as ‘cake on cake’. It is quite a commonly-used expression – but what does it mean?

Swedes use ‘kaka på kaka’ to describe something that is an unnecessary addition that becomes a bit too much, or even over the top. For example, ‘buying another television when we already have two is a bit cake on cake.

It can also mean an unnecessary repetition. In English – superfluous – ‘when you gave that example in your presentation, it was a cake on cake’.

The saying itself is an example of tautology – a concept in language where we unnecessarily repeat a word and it adds no meaning, eg chai tea (chai means tea), or salsa sauce (salsa means sauce) or naan bread (naan is bread). So the expression ‘cake on cake’ feeds into this concept by emphasising that one of the cakes is unnecessary.

The original meaning of the saying was related to overindulgence. So cake on cake meant basically you can’t get too much of a good thing – bring on the cake!! Over the years, and with the influence of Swedish moderation, it changed to mean too much that is not necessary.

Swedish icons 21: Lasse-Maja, a legendary criminal

In my local park, there is a little urban zoo where you can see goats, sheep, rabbits, hens and two portly pigs. The hog is called Lasse and the sow is called Maja. They are named after a man called Lasse-Maja – a legendary name in Swedish culture.

It struck me, however, that I’ve only really heard his name – I didn’t really know who he was. So I researched him. And I was met by a story that was fascinating and tragic in equal measure.

Lars Larsson, later Molin, was born in 1785, and went on to become one of Sweden’s most notorious criminals. He wrote a sensational autobiography about his escapades in 1833 and this book was extremely popular because it contained adventure and, not least, explicit sex scenes. It still continues to fascinate Swedes, with the latest publication coming out in 2016.

So, why the nickname Lasse-Maja? Lasse is a man’s name, and Maja is a female name. Well, he was given this gender-combined name because he periodically lived as a woman. He often dressed as a man when he committed his crimes, as it was more comfortable. However, he lived long periods as a woman and supported himself as a maid, housekeeper and prostitute. By today’s terms, he probably would have identified as transgender. His book is one of the few 19th Century works to describe the transgender experience, which added to its mystique and popularity. In this article, I will use the pronoun ‘he’ for ease.

Lasse-Maja’s life was one of poverty and misery. He was a serial liar and petty thief who was arrested over 30 times and frequently escaped. He became notorious amongst citizens and was written about in newspapers. However, in 1812 he stole silver from a church in Järfälla, just outside of Stockholm. He was captured, sentenced to life and shipped off to the fortress prison on the west coast island of Marstrand. He even managed to escape from this military building on one occasion, but was later caught and returned.

Lasse-Maja was an inventive and guileful person and quickly gained a position of privilege in the prison. He made sure that his reputation spread to the outside world, and convinced the authorities to arrange for tourists to visit him and hear his elaborate stories. His celebrity became so large that he was even given an audience by Crown Prince Oscar.

In 1839 he was pardoned, probably because of the popularity of his book. He traveled the country telling his stories and died in Arboga in 1845, where he is buried today. Several books and films depict his life, and in the fortress prison there is a plaque to commemorate him. He also has a walking trail, a skerry, a tv show, a pre-school and a hotel named after him.

Lasse-Maja would probably never have been remembered in Swedish culture if it wasn’t for the autobiography, the female clothing and his skill for self promotion. Popular culture depicts him as a happy-go-lucky, cheeky, lovable rogue. However, Lasse-Maja was no Robin Hood – the truth is that his life was extremely tough and without much joy. He lived a life of crime, deceit and despair.

Today, it is hard to really know Lasse-Maja’s truth. He was a first class liar, manipulator and fabulator. However, one thing is certain; Lasse-Maja holds the position of the most famous transperson in Swedish history.

Why is May 1st celebrated in Sweden?

In Sweden, and in many other countries, May 1st has been embraced as the International Workers’ Day. In 1938, May 1st became Sweden’s first non-religious public holiday and has been an important celebration of labourers and the working classes since then.

But why specifically May 1st?

The answer is found in a massacre in the USA. On 1 May 1886, laborers in Chicago went out on strike for an 8 hour working day. On 4 May 1886, Chicago police and the demonstrators clashed and 11 people died. The event is called the Haymarket massacre. Seven of the demonstrators were sentenced to death, despite lack of evidence. To commemorate the massacre, the socialist organization suggested that 1 May should become day of demonstrations every year.

Around Sweden, traffic is shut off, huge flag-waving demonstrations are held and people gather to hear speeches from their politicians and representatives. Since the demonstrations are most commonly from the political left, the streets are awash with bright red flags and banners. However, this year, like 2020, is different. As large public gatherings are banned, the speeches are instead broadcast from a studio over Facebook and YouTube.

Contrary to the stereotype, not everybody in Sweden supports left wing political groups. Many Swedes lean towards the centre or the right. For them, today is just a day off work – an opportunity to perhaps nurse hangovers from the festivities of the previous evening or to relax, watch Netflix, go for a walk and enjoy the day.