Even though I’m in England just now it’s been hard to avoid noticing stuff happening in Sweden. Last week was all about individual protest against society and crystallised in two events.
In the north the small town of Ytterhogdal received a protest from one of its local bears. Clearly dissatisfied with the municipal facilities provided by the local council it left the woods, the usual repository for the aftermath of an afternoon spent gorging itself on lingonberries, worms, snails and the like, to take a huge dump on the town hall steps. I’ve often had cause to berate my local councillors for poor service but haven’t yet summoned up the courage to show them exactly what I felt about them so Ursus arctos arctos has become something of a hero to me. Local experts believe that the bear was, indeed, a very large one and confirmed that they usually do their business in the woods. Something must have upset this one to make it change its routine. There are about 2000 bears in Sweden and if they are all upset we’ll have to wear rubber boots when we visit the council offices so I am eagerly watching to see if the municipal services in Ytterhogdal and elsewhere improve. By the way, the pic is of an American Brown Bear that I took in Canada last year – I wonder how they view municipal facilities in Vancouver.
In the south it was far more serious. The pleasant but sleepy Malmö is our nearest city and is normally pretty quiet. Just recently, however, it has been likened to Chicago in the 1920s. The slight shift in the political climate at the recent general election saw the ascendancy of the right-wing Social-Democrats, whose anti-immigration views have been used to explain, with questionable conviction, the possible reason for a series of shootings that have occurred over the past year or so. The ‘perp’, thought to be an individual with a personal view on Sweden’s relaxed attitude towards immigration, has been randomly shooting at people of Asian and Middle-Eastern appearance. This resulted in a death and several injuries together with headlines about residents and visitors to the city living in fear of their lives. To be honest, walking across Stortorget was more about avoiding detritus from McDonalds and Burger King than dodging sniper’s bullets, but nonetheless, the story provided a sinister backdrop to parochial life. A suspect has been arrested, apparently after an anonymous tip-off. Perhaps that came from the local underworld, characters from which have been working in parallel with the police in hunting down the gunman. I assume this liaison was a temporary arrangement arising from the underworld’s belief that it has sole rights over dispensing suitable justice on its patch and that it will now get back to controlling the taxi service, kebab-stall franchises and immigrant gangs that are a part of daily life in Malmö.
Reports in the local press have surprised me. There has been mention of ‘racial tension’ but this doesn’t seem apparent from the point of view of a casual observer over twenty-something years. The population certainly has a high proportion of immigrants – I’ve heard 50% reported but once did a headcount from a downtown café and reckoned on it being higher – but the ‘tension’ and trouble seemed to be confined to internecine disputes.
Of course, Sweden is rightly held in high esteem for its tolerance as well as its adoption of an open immigration policy and tolerant it is. But tolerance should not be confused with integration. Despite the population of Malmö having such a high number of non-Swedish inhabitants there is a sullen and silent resentment among the natives. It’s civilised and cultured to be racially tolerant and that’s how Swedes want to see themselves but scratch the surface and a very different complexion is apparent, unless they’re talking about an international footballer or cash-in-hand labour, that is. In the past few days the Malmö Police issued a statement stating that the suspect was being questioned about a series of immigrant shootings and that they had ‘no explanation for why they were shot’. Er, nothing to do with their ethnicity, then? A Professor of Criminology, would you believe, was quoted as saying that the debate about the Social-Democrat’s views could destabilise those who were suffering from ‘mental illness, on the verge of a nervous breakdown’ and who might go off on a shooting spree as a result. That appears to me to be a typical Swedish rationalisation of the first magnitude.
Isn’t the first step of recovery from being alcoholic admitting you’re a drunk? Why hasn’t anyone said out loud what Swedes in Malmö whisper – that they generally resent the number of immigrants and, right or wrong, that in itself might be the shooter’s justification. Perhaps some more honesty is needed and perhaps a process of integration, as opposed to immigration, is required. The Malmö district of Rosengård has a lot to commend it but nearly all its inhabitants are of a non-Swedish background and it has frequently been the scene of considerable civic unrest; the adjacent Malmö mosque, for example, was burnt down in 2003. Rosengård provided cheap housing and cheap accommodation was offered to immigrants. Surprisingly, local Swedes moved out in droves. So, Rosengård is a modern facility, near the centre of the city with new low-cost accommodation and no native Swedes want to live there. As a microcosm of Swedish society it remains an enclave that actually serves to segregate rather than integrate – and, in true Swedish fashion, it’s tolerated as long as you don’t have to go there.
It seems to me that if Sweden is going to cure the ‘mental illness’ that manifested itself in the manner we’ve been witnessing then the government has to start treating integration in a more holistic way, as a concern relating to society as a whole, not just one of immigration.