• Sweden edition
'Let's solve integration, not fight about racism'

'Let's solve integration, not fight about racism'

Published: 09 Apr 2013 13:59 GMT+02:00
Updated: 09 Apr 2013 13:59 GMT+02:00

There is a lack of political action in Sweden to address integration that has long been compensated by strong rhetoric that bashes old policies. "We might even stop talking about immigration policy," Ola Ullsten, a prominent Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) politician, said in the 1970s.

When the term "integration" came into vogue in the 1990s, it was meant to replace the then stigmatized concept of multiculturalism. And when Iranian-born professor Masoud Kamali presented the findings of a state inquiry on structural discrimination in 2006, the solution was to scrap integration policy.

More recently, some suggested ahead of the Social Democrats' party congress in Gothenburg last week that if they take power, they should abolish the job of integration minister all together. The party's governing board said that integration is "a problematic concept" that should preferably not be used.

Commentators from different political camps applauded the initiative.

Per Wirtén, a columnist with the centre-left Dagens Arena newspaper, wrote that he sympathizes with the spirit of the proposal, but would rather see a name change: let one anti-racism minister take over the fight against "structural racial discrimination."

The word "immigrant" has been purged from the new proposed party programme. While both the 1990 and 2001 programmes dealt with integration problems, the 2013 analysis says it time to face racism with a general policy of equality. The programme warns that "poor groups and impoverished areas" will be translated into an ethnic problem in the public debate. Accordingly, the Social Democrats have since called itself an "anti-racist" party.

Is this a return to traditional social democratic equality policy, a settlement with the last remnants of the craze for identity politics under the former leadership of Mona Sahlin? Hardly.

More striking is how people have perceived the relationship between Swedes and immigrants in a rather consistent way during Sweden's half-century long history as a country of immigrants.

It all started in 1964. "Why are foreigners unhappy in Sweden?" asked Polish-born translator Lukasz Winiarski in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper during what may have been the very first Swedish integration debate. The answer? It was the Swedes' fault: "The Swedes have lived for centuries isolated and alone in their inhospitable country. This has left its mark on the Swedish attitude toward outsiders. "

Through the years, the choice of words has changed - the foreigners have become migrants who became new arrivals; the lack of hospitality became become xenophobia that become racism - but the questions and answers are basically the same.

In 1978, Expressen described Sweden as "a wicked country" for its inability to include immigrants. "Drive them out!" the same newspaper wrote in 1993 in a paraphrase of what they perceived as the dominant public opinion. In 2013, Aftonbladet writes that "we are a racist country, a rigidly segregated country".

Back in the 1970s, David Schwarz, one of the very earliest advocates for a multicultural society, reflected on the Swedish public's self-criticism: "The Swedes must also appear as a peculiar people for many immigrants who constantly get to read in the press about how bad and stupid Swedes behave towards them, writings that sometimes may take the form of a national self-hatred."

The self-criticism, however, has been offset by an equally unbridled pride in our tolerance and multiculturalism. The most recent example is, of course, Aftonbladet's "Vi gillar olika" ('We like difference') campaign, where "we" were the 95 percent who did not vote for "them". Who is "them"? It's the people that both the conservative Finance Minister Anders Borg and then Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin called "un-Swedish" during the 2010 election campaign: the Sweden Democrats.

It is not easy to orient oneself in the highly diverse descriptions of Swedish society. One moment the Sweden Democrats are an insignificant minority in a tolerant and difference-appreciating society; the next moment they are the tip of the iceberg of structural racism.

This isn't coherent and opinion can't keep up.

Swedes are the most positive in Europe toward immigration and multiculturalism, but also the most convinced that the difficulties immigrants have integrating is due to discrimination in their new country. The vast majority favours the idea of a multicultural society, but four out of five believe that immigrants should adapt to "our country's habits". In addition, two out of three Swedes believe there are categories of immigrants who are not capable of this.

The question is what sort of real changes could take place from a social analysis that completely replaces an integration perspective with a class perspective and a government that replaces integration policies with anti-racist policies.

Since the 1970s, the goal of social equality and tolerance for cultural diversity has guided Swedish immigration policy. We've long used the state's resources and coercive power to encourage diversity and combat discrimination. In public, there is little tolerance for any form of racism and xenophobia is very low.

Swedish integration policy is already described as the most inclusive in Europe. Few countries can boast as impressive army of commentators ready to run out at the drop of a hat and condemn those who even come close to expressing a racist thought. On Avpixlat, an immigration-critical website with links to the Sweden Democrats, this is called political correctness. In academia, it's called discourse. This is all well and good, but does it really get us anywhere. By political means?

Nor is racism sufficient to explain the employment gap, housing segregation, or school segregation. Many problems are demonstrably higher in Sweden than in other countries, but there is no indication that racism is more pronounced here. Rather, it's quite the contrary. Not even when it comes to discrimination, intolerance and social contradictions is racism more than a partial explanation.

What we tend to forget is that Sweden is neither politically, economically or culturally an optimal immigrant country. We have labour and housing markets for insiders, we are a nation united by a thick layer of identity-bearing markers and we've historically had limited experience with multiculturalism.

Rather than racism, Sweden is characterized by a norm of conformity: the unspoken expectation that immigrants should adapt and Swedes' lack of cultural self-awareness that creates uncertainty when we encounter other cultures, a lack of humility before other perspectives about progress and modernity. This is a harmful cultural norm that creates obstacles to equal integration. But it is not necessarily racism.

As a political solution, anti-racist campaigns are as simple as they are ineffective. Social and economic reforms, however, are as necessary as they are demanding.

Unfortunately, it's only when immigration and integration policy becomes concrete when political Sweden continues to show its lack of maturity and would rather engage in semantics rather than political responsibility for the difficult trade-offs that need to be made.

Andreas Johansson Heinö is a professor of political science at the University of Gothenburg. Follow him on Twitter here

This article was originally published in Swedish in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper. Translation by The Local

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
King Carl XVI Gustaf opens parliament
King Carl XVI Gustaf arriving on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: TT

King Carl XVI Gustaf opens parliament

BREAKING: Sweden's post-election parliament is meeting for the first time following a fanfare opening from King Carl XVI Gustaf. READ  

Should Sweden's school age be raised?
A high school in Stockholm. Photo: TT

Should Sweden's school age be raised?

After the new coalition announced plans to extend Sweden's compulsory schooling until the age of 18, The Local asked two Swedes at high school if they agreed with the idea. READ  

Sweden slammed for ecological footprint
Sweden should increase its renewable energy according to WWF. Photo:TT

Sweden slammed for ecological footprint

Sweden is among the world's top ten polluters according to one of the largest scientific studies looking at the impact of humans on earth, produced by the WWF. READ  

Swede's necklace found after 52 years in lake
Ing-Marie Olofsson whose necklace was found. Photo: Private

Swede's necklace found after 52 years in lake

A 66-year-old Swedish woman got the surprise of her life when a fisherman returned the necklace she dropped in a lake at the age of 14. READ  

Apology for Swedish model's stolen photos
Malin Sahlén during a Top Model shoot. Photo: TV3/Nina Holma

Apology for Swedish model's stolen photos

A British newspaper has apologised after a freelance journalist stole a Sweden's Next Top Model contestant's photo and created a fake Twitter account used to trick a UK minister. READ  

Brand stories
Johanna N: beautiful jewellery with a story

Johanna N: beautiful jewellery with a story

Aged just 27 and already living off of her own designs, some may consider Johanna Nilsson lucky. But she doesn't believe in luck. She's the founder of a jewellery line blending sustainability, subtle style, and Scandinavian simplicity - and it's taking the world by storm. READ  

Heel injury sidelines Zlatan in Barcelona clash
Photo: AP

Heel injury sidelines Zlatan in Barcelona clash

Paris Saint-Germain star Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss Tuesday's Champions League clash with Barcelona at the Parc des Princes due to a nagging heel problem, the French club have confirmed. READ  

Stockholm patient tests negative after Ebola fears
The Infection Clinic at the Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge. Photo: TT

Stockholm patient tests negative after Ebola fears

A patient in a Stockholm hospital who was suspected of having contracted the Ebola virus was given the all clear on Tuesday morning. READ  

Elections 2014
New coalition agrees on defence and migration
A Jas Gripen. Photo: TT

New coalition agrees on defence and migration

UPDATED: The Green Party has committed itself to expanding Sweden's defence force, while the Social Democrats have compromised on work permits for migrants. READ  

Fresh Ebola case investigated in Sweden
The patient is being treated at the Karolinska University Hospital. Photo: TT

Fresh Ebola case investigated in Sweden

Doctors in Stockholm are checking a patient suspected of having contracted the Ebola virus. READ  

Property of the week: Botkyrka
New government to make school compulsory to 18
Sweden Democrat wins Deputy Speaker spot
Swedish scientists sneak Bob Dylan lyrics into articles
The five best Swedish songs of the month
Blog updates

28 September

Spoiled Doyle (Blogweiser) »

"What you gotta watch out for in Sweden is the good stuff. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Re_EzUe6xpI In Sweden, it’s the good things you have to watch out for. Video on @TheLocalSweden http://t.co/rAb8eGFdTD pic.twitter.com/w37YYwMXy1 — Joel Sherwood (@joeldsherwood) September 29, 2014 " READ »


26 September

 (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Autumn swept into Sweden at the start of this week with snow in the north of the country and flooding in the south. As well as a change in the weather, Sweden’s change in political direction became clearer, with Social Democrat leader Stefan Lofven formally announcing his party would work with the Greens as..." READ »

People-watching: September 28th
When Italian style meets Swedish simplicity
Review: Sweden's first alcohol-free nightclub
In Pictures: The MS Estonia disaster
Ten things expat women notice in Sweden
What's next on Sweden's political stage?
Sweden's 2014 election: Most memorable moments
What's on in Sweden
People-watching: September 24th
Seaman Oliver Gee with his first lobster
How to catch the first lobster of the year
In Pictures: Fredrik Reinfeldt through the years.
Plucked out of Canada for love and guitars
How Sweden Democrats went mainstream
Scandinavia and Scotland: closer links?
Sponsored Article
How to start a business in Stockholm
Why is Stockholm's Södermalm so cool?
Sweden elections: Who's who?
Sponsored Article
Introducing… Insurance in Stockholm
Princess Estelle through the years
Business & Money
Five golden rules for the Swedish job hunt
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.