Miscellaneous: July 31st, 2008 by JS
Working at The Local you become aware that foreigners in Sweden often find themselves torn between two views of the country. You know the story: you find yourself drawn to the idea of Swedish egalitarianism, but find it stifling in practice; you fall head over heels in love with the nature, but start to find the dark winters oppressive once the thrill of the snow wears off. Essentially, like expats anywhere, we find plenty of our own reasons to whinge.
In his new autobiographical book, Fishing in Utopia, Andrew Brown’s interest in fishing forms the backdrop for a journey through the Sweden he left twenty years ago, in which he gives a personal account of the Swedish social experiment.
Christina Patterson reviews the book in Britain’s New Statesman:
If this is utopia, it soon becomes clear, it is not entirely sunlit. This country of dark mornings and dark forests, which freezes for months on end, is a place of impressive egalitarianism, but oppressive conformity, a place, in fact, of “crushing” loneliness because “individuals didn’t, in some important sense, exist at all”.
Sweden may still have a reputation for holding its doors wide open for Iraqi asylum seekers. If this reputation was once deserved it certainly is not now, as the Boston Globe has noticed. The reason: Swedish courts have decided that there is no civil war in Iraq, making it possible to turn away more Iraqi asylum seekers. Last year, 72 percent of Iraqi asylum seekers were allowed to stay. This year, the figure is just 43 percent.
The rise in the number of rejections may ostensibly be down to the perceived improvement in Iraq – the court said that the violence there did not meet the internationally accepted definition of an ‘internal armed conflict’. What is unescapable is that many people who arrived in Sweden from tragic circumstances in Iraq, Afgahnistan and Somalia are being sent back to live in grim conditions or are staying here illegally to avoid being sent home.
But some say Iraqis are being turned away for essentially political reasons. Left Party spokesman Kalle Larsson tells the Boston Globe: “the system is sending political signals to the courts and to the migration board,” he said. “And these signals are saying, ‘There are too many people coming to Sweden.’ ”
Larsson’s explanation is hard to digest: we should all be concerned if courts are subject to political pressure. There’s no doubt, though, that the decision was politically useful for the government: Sweden was taking many more Iraqis than either the US or UK, the western countries most responsible for the Iraqi refugee problem. At the same time, voter tolerance for Sweden’s perceived generosity was beginning to wear thin.
With all parties worried by the rise of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats – and with any economic slowdown liable to increase that party’s appeal -there has been every incentive to clamp down on immigration.
This is particularly true of the Social Democrats, the main opposition party and current best bet to win the next election.
The Social Democrats’ traditional working-class, unionised supporter base is, according to pollsters, more likely than the average voter to vote for the Sweden Democrats.
This has necessitated a reaction – painful for a party with a history of generosity to asylum seekers. Leading Social Democrats have called for immigrants to be moved away from multicultural cities like Malmö and Södertälje. This kind of ‘tough love’, it is hoped, will appeal to poorer Swedes who feel their needs are being forgotten, while also being palatable to the party’s pro-immigration wing. Hardly suprising, though, if the party leaves thorny issue of interpreting the rules about who can and cannot stay to the courts – just as the current government has done.
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