• Sweden edition
 
Unrest in Stockholm
Stockholm's not burning

Stockholm's not burning

Published: 24 May 2013 18:29 GMT+02:00
Updated: 24 May 2013 18:29 GMT+02:00

Day five into the Stockholm riots and the world, as viewed from our Stockholm office, has gone crazy. The UK and the US have issued travel warnings for Stockholm. A reporter in the UK contacted me saying he was having trouble getting through to Sweden and wondered in desperation if the networks had all gone down.

My own mother contacted me from the other side of the world to tell me to keep safe. Other colleagues have reported similar phone calls from worried relatives as news of the unrest has reached their relatives around the globe. Some papers have even run stories headlined "Stockholm Burning".

But the truth is, it's not. In fact I've never felt safer in the capital. A lunchtime stroll around central Stockholm today showed absolutely no signs of danger, no smoke, no fire, and the only rioting kids I saw were fighting over a basketball.

Stockholm is not on fire. Let's get that clear immediately.

The truth is that there is really no comparison to, for example, the riots in England in 2011, where five people died, over 3,000 people were arrested, there was mass arson and looting, and almost 3,500 crimes were reported.

In Stockholm? Fifteen cars burned in the latest night of rioting, rocks thrown, the odd school or police station vandalized or burnt. The most emergency call-outs in a night sits at around 90. Witnesses estimated 100 vehicles were burnt on the first night, but that seems to have been the worst of it.

Another foreign reporter asked me if there has been looting as with the English riots, and there hasn't been, as far as I know. I heard one report of youths stealing a few cans of soft drink from a pizzeria, but that was the extent of it.

That same pizzeria owner told me that he wasn't even angry about it all, rather that he was irritated his usual customers haven't returned while the windows stayed broken.

"What's happened has happened, I can't be angry about it, what's the point?" he said.

Headlines around the world pointed to the growing gap between the rich and the poor as the catalyst for the unrest, suggesting Sweden's usually pristine image has been shot.

Sure, the OECD ranking from earlier this month saw Sweden plummet from first place in 1995 to 14th in 2010. Of course it's tempting to view the riots through the prism of this fact, fresh as it is in people's minds.

But that would be jumping the gun. For one thing, there are plenty of statistics that show that Sweden remains a pretty equal society. Take the Gini coefficient, a widely used measure of inequality. Sweden's Gini coefficient is 0.24 (A figure of 0 denotes a perfectly equal society). The rich-world average is 0.31. Sweden may have become more unequal than it was, but it started out from a very low base.

But even if we accept that Sweden has become a less equal society, is that really the motivation for teenage kids to burn cars? Are 13-year-olds burning cars because the country's affluent citizens are getting richer? I don't know, in fact at this stage no one does.

As Leonard Cohen sang, "The poor stay poor, the rich get rich - that's how it goes, and everybody knows."

Absolute poverty is not an issue in these areas, nor is homelessness. Rather, many people are living on benefits, receiving enough to survive, but far from enough to thrive. Could this be causing a sense of alienation that is fuelling the fires? Perhaps.

As of Friday afternoon, no ringleader has come forward, lending further credence to the idea that the trouble-causers are just a bunch of unorganized kids who have nothing better to do. As neighbouring suburbs of Husby get in on the act, it becomes a case of "If Husby can do this, we can too."

One of the Husby residents we spoke to on the scene, a native Iranian, put it all down to bad parenting.

"The transition to life in Sweden is hardest for those who come to Sweden as young children," she said.

"They don't know what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to act. They were raised differently in their home countries, where things are tougher. Here things are more lax. Too lax," she added.

"Parents need to be extra strong and get support from public authorities. They need to help each other. Parents. Schools. Authorities. They need to be on the same page. Kids need to be taught what's right and wrong."

She added that families failed to integrate because they get stuck in a vicious cycle of staying home and getting enough benefits to last until the next month.

Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag is another unimpressed voice when it comes to the international attention on Stockholm.

"I've seen in the international media that this is a riot between young people in some parts of Stockholm and the society, but this is not true," he told me on Thursday.

"It's a small proportion. The majority of young people in Tensta, Husby, Rinkeby, they go to schools and they want to have opportunities in Sweden, and it's important to tell that story."

He added that the unrest is unfortunately overshadowing all the good things that happen in these areas.

Out in Husby, the area in the outskirts of Stockholm where it all kicked off, the scene during the day is as calm as the residents themselves.

Yes, cars have been burnt. Yes, youths have been throwing rocks at firefighters. But the city of Stockholm hasn't lost control. Each night, the police have calmed the situation after a number of hours. There have been remarkably few injuries and not many arrests.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said this week that the focus was on stopping the fires, the violence, and the rioting, and then solutions could be addressed.

It's hard to say exactly why the cars are burning, but they are. Stockholm, on the other hand, is most definitely not.

Oliver Gee

Follow Oliver on Twitter here

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Analysis
'Store up your sunlight hours now'
Doctors say we should make the most of the autumn sunshine. Photo: Shutterstock

'Store up your sunlight hours now'

Spending time outdoors this autumn will help you survive a cold, dark Swedish winter. Baba Pendse, Head of Psychiatry at Lund University shares his top tips for battling the seasonal blues with The Local. READ  

Sports
Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid
Skiers hit the slopes in Åre, western Sweden. Photo: TT

Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid

Norwegian sports officials have said they want to co-host the winter Olympics with Sweden in 2026. But there has so far been no official response from Sweden. READ  

National
Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court
Photo: TT

Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court

A teenage boy who painted anti-Israel slogans and symbols on the Concert Hall in Gothenburg has been convicted for the damages he caused, but he walked free from racial agitation charges. READ  

Politics
'We knew that Israel would be critical'
Israeli ambassador Isaac Bachman. Photo: TT

'We knew that Israel would be critical'

UPDATED: Sweden's Foreign Minister has told The Local she respects Israel's decision to recall its ambassador from Stockholm, after Sweden officially recognized the State of Palestine. READ  

Entertainment
A closer look at Sweden's rising stars
Swedish actresses Sandra Huldt and Julia Ragnarsson. Julia (right) has been nominated for a Rising Star award. Photo: TT

A closer look at Sweden's rising stars

Like to be ahead of the game when it comes to the next big thing on the silver screen? We find out more about the Swedish nominees for the Rising Star award to be presented at Stockholm's International Film Festival next week. READ  

Science
Swedish women in two-year sex pill study
Contraceptive pills have been linked to mood swings. Photo: Shutterstock

Swedish women in two-year sex pill study

Three hundred women from across Sweden are taking part in a study designed to demonstrate that modern contraceptive pills don't lead to decreased libido or mood swings. READ  

National
Stockholm 'sinking' oil spill ship safe
The ship was rescued on Thursday. Photo: Swedish Coast Guard

Stockholm 'sinking' oil spill ship safe

After fears a ship carrying around 52 tonnes of oil could sink in Stockholm's archipelago, Sweden's Coast Guard said the vessel had been towed to safety. READ  

National
Dog attack policewoman acquitted on appeal
A scene from a video of the attack published by Dagens Nyheter

Dog attack policewoman acquitted on appeal

A policewoman accused of letting her dog attack a drunk man while she repeatedly hit him with a baton, has had her conviction overturned by a court in Stockholm. READ  

Entertainment
What's On: October 31st - November 7th
Uma Thurman will soon be on her way to Stockholm. Photo: TT

What's On: October 31st - November 7th

Halloween fun and an international film festival are the big events hitting Stockholm this week. We cast our eye over the capital and the rest of the country for the best activities to check out this week. READ  

International
Pirate Bay Swede found guilty in Denmark
Gottrid Svartholm Warg. File photo: TT

Pirate Bay Swede found guilty in Denmark

Sweden's Pirate Bay Founder Gottrid Svartholm Warg was found guilty of hacking crimes in a Danish court on Thursday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween
Sport
Top ten quotes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
People-watching: October 30th
National
Sweden remains fourth best for gender equality
Blog updates

31 October

Editor’s Blog, October 31st (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Welcome to our latest 60-second round-up of the week’s news. First, Sweden made headlines around the..." READ »

 

29 October

Scariest day (Blogweiser) »

"This is what’s frightening me on Halloween. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4OFZVCu8J0&list=UUJu5J7jG4uoYSjWbpFsJBuQ Follow my posts on FB. ..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Sport
World Cup ski race on 'fake' Stockholm slope
Society
An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft
Society
Stockholm taxis offer free therapy sessions
National
The Local meets Health Minister Gabriel Wikström
Gallery
Property of the week: Österåker
Society
Homeless turtles get Stockholm police ride
National
Construction worker has 'Sweden's best beard'
National
Italian musician jazzes up Sweden's Lapland
Gallery
Zlatan's career in pictures
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching: October 25th and 26th
Lifestyle
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
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

989
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:
www.swedishdowntown.com
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:
http://psdmedia.se
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.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN