The arrival in Sweden of 163,000 refugees, mainly Syrians, in 2015- making for a higher proportion of Sweden’s population than almost any other European country- has been used by the far right to drum up broader fears about immigration. A recent spate of shootings, grenade attacks and burnt-out cars has made many Swedes feel afraid of what is going on. This is despite international surveys showing it’s the best nation at everything from economic competitiveness to doing good for humanity to achieving happiness.
Sweden, a country of 10m people, rebounded stronger from the financial crisis than any other big western country, faster even than the US, and its economy has been solid ever since, benefiting from historically strong public finances and low government debt. The economy ploughs ahead, unemployment is low, having escaped relatively unscathed from the Great Recession.
One would assume, since in democracies economic wellbeing is usually the top political issue, that in Sunday’s general election the incumbent party, the Social Democrats, the socialists, would win. Not so. They are polling poorly. So too is the Moderate Party, the leading party of the opposition. The only big party on the upswing is the Swedish Democrats, an anti-EU, anti-immigrant, party, that has its roots in a Nazi past. No matter that its main voting constituency- the countryside and small towns- house very few immigrants, their racism and parochialism could well upset Sweden’s long-time political balance and reasonableness.
All sorts of wild ideas are now floating around about murder and rape. One is that because of immigrants the murder rate has gone up over the last two years. But a senior policeman said on television last week that in Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city, where drug gangs shoot each other but almost never ordinary people, the murder rate has gone up by two the last year. According to the official Swedish Crime Survey the number of "confirmed cases of lethal violence" has fluctuated between 68 and 112 in the period of 2006–2015, with a decrease from 111 in 2007 to 68 in 2012, followed by an increase to 112 in 2015 and a decrease to 106 in 2016. Yet when I asked a range of people in Malmo about the issue they only talk about the recent, highly unusual, drive-by killings near the town centre, of three men, involved, say the police, in drug trafficking. The press in Europe and the US also gave the impression that this was a regular happening.
The number of convictions for rape has remained relatively unchanged since 2005, with approximately 190 convictions on average each year. But the Swedish press, in particular the tabloid press, which usually is by no means as sensationalist as its British and American counterparts, has inflamed the worry by reporting that most rapes are carried out by immigrants, but this is in cases when the woman doesn’t know the attacker. But that way of measuring it inflates the apparent percentage of immigrants. The new law that tightens up the definition of rape- now probably the strictest in the world- also has had the effect of raising the total number of reported rapes.
What immigrant crime there is is done by a very small minority. The vast majority of them are second generation immigrants, like the three young Somalis who after giving me a lift when the trains had broken down robbed me last Friday. (I had time to chat to them before they threatened to smash my face in if I didn’t hand over my money.)
The immigrant “problem” highlights the errors made by the Swedish authorities when a wave of immigrants arrived a generation ago. They had the mistaken idea of multiculturalism- just as in the UK, Germany and Denmark, but not in neighbouring Finland. It hasn’t work. It allowed immigrants to crowd together in neighbourhoods of their own kind. A young boy born into the “ghetto” is inevitably alienated from Swedish society. His contact with normal, average, Sweden is minimal. Good teachers- there are exceptions- prefer not to teach in ghettos schools. Standards are low. When he grows up he will find that Swedish employers are prejudiced. Applicants for jobs with foreign names are often shunted aside. These issues combined have produced the problems of the second generation.
Integration- now belatedly recognized as necessary- in which new immigrants are dispersed right round the country, avoids the formation of ghettos. The Syrian immigrants are being housed far and wide. They are also, unlike previous immigrants, being given an immediate right to residency so that they can look for jobs and not just be dependent on Sweden’s generous welfare system.
Over the years the mainstream politicians have not done a good job of educating the voters on all this, and their policies have often been the wrong ones.
A good debate at election time should have been able to do something to enlighten people. I don’t see it has been done, at least enough.