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Yes, Sweden Is a Paradise Lost—but Not Because of Immigration

Posted on Apr 20, 2017

By Kajsa Ekis Ekman

(Page 2)

Or, why not Turkey, with 2.5 million Syrian refugees? But to cast Lebanon or Turkey as the protagonists in the story wouldn’t have the same effect. After all, this myth is about the white race under attack from dark people, the Muslim threat to Christianity and the demise of the “West” in general. And to cast a colonial power such as France or Britain in the role of the “innocent victim of immigration” when history still reeks of their atrocities—no.

Sweden has, however, historically held a special place in the heart of the Nazis: Hitler claimed that the purest stock of Aryans was found in Sweden and Norway.

So what about the real Sweden behind the myth?

Being born and raised in Stockholm and having lived half my life in areas that racists refer to as “no go zones,” I can say that these places are nothing like it. They do not come near the average American’s notion of a ghetto, and have nothing of the misery one sees in France or Belgium. I have never felt unsafe in Stockholm or in Malmö at any time of the night. Violence is not increasing—rather the opposite, in a 20-year perspective.

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Nor do we have a “rape wave.” The fact that reported rapes rose between 2004 and 2005, from 25.2 per 100,000 inhabitants to 41.9 per 100,000 inhabitants—compared to 10.4 in Austria—has been used to “prove” almost anything about Sweden. First it was used by the sex industry’s allies who claimed men raped more because paying for sex was banned. Then it was used by Julian Assange’s supporters, who took it as proof that Sweden was a “ ‘hornets’ nest of revolutionary feminism” where a man could be accused of rape for almost anything. Then it was used by white supremacists who took for granted that all these rapists were immigrants.

The truth is, Sweden’s rape statistics cannot be compared to those of other countries because of Sweden’s definition of rape. In France, if a man rapes a woman 50 times, this counts as one rape; but it would count as 50 rapes in Sweden. Since 2005 in Sweden, sex with a minor (under 15) is classified as rape, as is sex with an unconscious drunk person, or a person who is asleep. We have also had numerous campaigns by the women’s movement to encourage women to report rapes. In comparison, Nicaragua and Qatar do not have a single case of reported rape the past year, which hardly can be taken as proof that rape doesn’t exist in those countries.

Yet, the idea of Sweden as a “paradise lost” is not entirely wrong. But this has little to do with immigration.

Sweden was, until the mid-1980s, the country with the most equality between the sexes—due to the welfare system that our slanderers blame for everything. Nowhere else in the capitalist world were income differences so small. The Gini coefficient was 0.2 (a measurement of the income distribution of a country’s residents), and unemployment was around 1 percent. Due to our geographic and geopolitical location between the Soviet bloc and the west, we’ve had a mixed economy, one which combines socialist and capitalist traits. Large public ownership of key sectors, subsidized housing, free health care, and relatively high taxes coexist with successful private companies that have gone multinational: Ikea, Volvo, Saab, Ericsson and Alfa Laval.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Sweden’s politics took a drastic neoliberal turn. Most notable was the change within the Social Democratic party, which now turned 180 degrees and started following the New Public Management doctrine. Mass privatization ensued. Electricity, housing, pensions, telephone, railways, public transport, health care, pharmacies, even schools passed from public to private. In most of these cases, the public companies were well-functioning and trusted by the majority of the population.

Since the 1990s, taxes have been reduced, step-by-step, for the richest segment of the population, causing income differences to skyrocket. Sweden is now the country where economic inequality is growing the fastest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. After Sweden joined the EU in 1994, labor rights were dismantled and unions came under heavy pressure to accept worse conditions or see their factories move. Class struggle now had a new opponent: the EU Court, which ruled that foreign companies had the right to operate in Sweden and pay salaries low as they would pay in their country of origin.

At the beginning of 2010, every tenth Swedish company had moved part of its production abroad. Combined with heavy cuts in public welfare, this led to rising unemployment, which hit some towns especially hard. Added to that, loosened border controls and a bridge between Sweden and Denmark built in 2000 made heavy drugs much more available; cocaine flooded the market. Housing construction subsidies were abolished and public housing, previously owned by the state or city council was sold out to private companies, leading to an extreme rise in private debt and a scarcity of available apartments.

While the Swedish upper-middle-class benefited from lower taxes and made money off the housing bubble, the lower segment of the working class has not seen incomes rise for over 20 years. “New poverty” has become a concept referring to parents who were unable to buy their children essentials like eyeglasses or proper winter clothing. The term “white trash,” previously alien to us, was suddenly imported from the U.S. to label the new poor.

Yet the people who found themselves at the very bottom of the socio-economic ladder were not Swedes, but immigrants. Immigration to Sweden is not a new phenomenon, having started in the 1960s with so-called “guest workers” from Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia, followed by political refugees from Chile in the 1970s, from Iran in the 1980s and from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. In the new millennium, Sweden has mainly hosted refugees fleeing U.S. imperialist wars or consequences of imperialist involvement—Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and, most recently, Syria.

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