Swedish election puts spotlight on rise of racism in country
Experts warn that racism and discrimination have become institutionalized in Sweden and are being reinforced in this year’s polls.
When a masked man with a sword killed a teaching assistant and a pupil at a school in Sweden several years ago in a racially motivated attack, the whole world was shocked that this could happen in a country known for its welcoming attitude towards immigrants.
This year’s election, however, is painting a different picture, as all political parties in their campaigning are fashioning a “racist, anti-immigrant” narrative in a country where, according to recent polls, the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats are set to become the second largest party in the Swedish parliament, or Riksdag.
Since the 1990s, racism and discrimination have become institutionalized in the country and are being reinforced in this year’s election as “almost all parties in Sweden, in one way or another, have racist propaganda about migrants and marginalized people being the problem for Sweden,” said Masoud Kamali, an author and one of the world’s leading sociologists who is professor of sociology and social work at Mid Sweden University.
Former Prime Minister Olof Palme, who led the expansion of Sweden’s welfare state, was assassinated in 1986, and since then, the country has shifted towards the US model and American “policy of neoliberalism,” Kamali said.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sweden started adjusting itself to neoliberal politics and neoliberal ideology, which were dominant in other countries in Europe.
Around this time, the Stockholm-based far-right racist organization Keep Sweden Swedish formed a political party now known as the Sweden Democrats.
The establishment of the Sweden Democrats, who were once banned from politics due to their neo-Nazi ties and are now the poised to become the country’s second largest party, led to “increasing gaps and neoliberal politics in Sweden,” said Kamali.
The neoliberal policies and politics resulted in increasing inequalities and the marginalization of migrants and people with immigrant backgrounds, and “at the same time, racism increased,” he added.
Kamali, who was put in charge by the Swedish government to lead a project on racism, said the ruling Social Democrats did not take warnings by experts like him seriously when they tried to warn them that “there is going to be conflict, there are going to be gangs and murders” because of the increased racism and marginalization.
“I can say that all parties have accepted or adjusted themselves to these racist policies and propaganda that you can see in all election officials’ election propaganda in this country today,” said Kamali.
For the last 40 years, “I never experienced such racist propaganda in an election that we are seeing today,” he noted.
“You can just see this electoral or election propaganda everywhere on TV, everywhere on radio, in public services. You can see that everything is about a restrictive migration policy, migration should be restricted, criminals, of course, with immigrant backgrounds should be deported from Sweden and Sweden must be tougher on migration,” Kamali added.
He pointed out that immigrants are discriminated against and are not given equal opportunities, and “when you have a system that makes them unemployed and poor and then put the blame for the problems that come with poverty on them too,” this falls under the individualization of criminality, or singling out and labeling immigrants as criminals, and lack of integration.
“I think this is a huge problem that we are now facing in this country,” he added.
Kamali believes that Sweden is a country where racism has become deeply rooted and institutionalized but that this is felt also in everyday life, “because the authorities and the government institutions are nurturing racism and discrimination.”
In the last 10 years, the country has seen the socio-economic gaps increase by 35%, which means that “Sweden today is the most marginalized country in Europe,” he said. “This means that the neoliberal system has already destroyed the country.”
Fereshteh Ahmadi, a professor of sociology at the University of Gävle, said one of the biggest factors that contributed to the rise of racism in the country is due to the neoliberal policy, which created an “enormous gap between the poor and rich.”
The country adopted the kind of capitalism that “we see maybe in the United States or some of the other European countries,” but joining the European Union also affected Sweden, according to her.
“People became poorer and more angry at all these changes, and (they) see immigrants (as) the root of their problems,” she said.
According to Kamali, “we are witnessing people, many people with immigrant backgrounds, almost talking about the impossibility of living in this country,” as there isn’t even a single party that wants to have “an integrated equal society.”
He predicts that Sweden will see “more conflicts, more criminality. We are going to have a divided country.”
Teysir Subhi, leader of the Swedish political party Feminist Initiative, said racism is one of the biggest security problems in Sweden.
“On a daily basis, non-white Swedes are exposed to racism and Islamophobia in the labor market, in the housing market, in the school system and in health care,” said Subhi.
However, she said that racism can also have even worse consequences than that, as “racism is violence, racism kills.”
According to Kamali, sociology teaches us that if we want to see whether the society is sick or not, then we should go to prisons and see which groups are there, and “in Sweden, you have about 70% of the people sitting in jails with immigrant backgrounds.”
“So it's a question of structural discrimination, historic discrimination, which now shows itself in criminal records,” he added.
Kamali advised that structural changes and long-term government intervention are highly needed for the country to move forward.
“But as I said, I can't see now a single party which is there to take those questions up in a situation where racism is increasing. But suggestions are there.”
Sweden, however, is not alone when it comes to the rise of racism, as Europe as a whole “has a huge issue when it comes racism,” said Kamali.
In 2001, he conducted research sponsored by the European Union called “The European Dilemma,” in which he showed how racism in Europe is institutionalized in the labor market, education system, politics and the housing market.
The research also showed that racism will increase with time if no action is taken by governments in Europe.
As a response to Swedish researcher and author Gunnar Myrdal and his book “An American Dilemma,” Kamali wanted to show that even Europe has a dilemma and that the continent is always “hiding itself behind American racism and American society’s racism and colonialism,” he said.
Ahmadi said the future is not so bright if Sweden keeps moving in one direction, as many people “may leave the country, people maybe which have immigrant backgrounds will not see this country as their own country.”
This, she said, will have a very negative effect on work life, social life, and cultural life, and “I think there will be augmentation of the polarization of people against each other, but I hope that this will not happen.”