• Sweden's news in English
 

Stockholm's not burning

Published: 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
Sweden's Ericsson sues Apple in patent spat
Photo: TT

Sweden's Ericsson sues Apple in patent spat

Swedish telecoms group Ericsson announced Friday a lawsuit against US tech giant Apple claiming that its technology was used in iPhones and other wireless devices despite a lapsed licencing agreement. READ  

IN PICTURES: Swedes in 'ring of peace' protest
Photo: TT

IN PICTURES: Swedes in 'ring of peace' protest

Up to a 1000 Swedes turned out to form a human shield around Stockholm's synagogue on Friday as a protest against extremism. Here are some images from the event. READ  

Swedes in 'ring of peace' synagogue protest
Photo: TT

Swedes in 'ring of peace' synagogue protest

A human shield of up to a 1000 Swedes staged a protest against extremism outside the Stockholm synagogue Friday in response to the Copenhagen shootings earlier this month in which two people died. READ  

Swedes to form 'ring of peace' at synagogue
A ring of peace around a synagogue in Oslo. Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen/NTB scanpix/TT

Swedes to form 'ring of peace' at synagogue

UPDATED: Hundreds of young Swedes were set to form a 'ring of peace' around a synagogue in Stockholm on Friday afternoon, in a show of solidarity two weeks after Jews were among those targeted in a pair of deadly shootings in Copenhagen. READ  

Sweden raps 'brutal' Assyrian abductions
Assyrians citizens during a sit-in for abducted Christians in Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday. Photo: TT

Sweden raps 'brutal' Assyrian abductions

Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallström has slammed the abduction of Christians in Syria earlier this week and pledged to keep supporting communities affected by the ongoing fighting in the Middle East. READ  

Escalator return stalled in Swedish capital
Commuters using some of the stationary escalators in Stockholm. Photo: TT

Escalator return stalled in Swedish capital

Commuters in Stockholm are set for more frustration next week, with 39 escalators set to remain switched off at some of the city's busiest underground stations, following an accident a fortnight ago. READ  

Copenhagen shootings
Third arrest over fatal Danish terror shootings
The window of the Copenhagen cultural centre where one man was shot. Photo: TT

Third arrest over fatal Danish terror shootings

A man has been arrested for "complicity" in the Copenhagen shootings that killed two people earlier this month, with the Swedish artist Lars Vilks among the presumed targets of the attacks. READ  

Swedish firm to fund huge Danish wind project
Vattenfall's Stockholm office. Photo: TT

Swedish firm to fund huge Danish wind project

A massive new offshore wind farm off the west coast of Denmark is being built by the state-owned Swedish company Vattenfall, it has emerged. READ  

Copenhagen shootings
Sweden artist talk halted after Denmark attacks
Swedish artist Lars Vilks. Photo: TT

Sweden artist talk halted after Denmark attacks

A planned lecture at Sweden's Karlstad University by the controversial Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, the presumed target of the terror attack at a cultural event in Copenhagen earlier this month, has been scrapped by organisers. READ  

Surprise growth spurt for Sweden's economy
Sweden's economy is growing faster than expected. Photo: TT

Surprise growth spurt for Sweden's economy

Sweden's economy grew more than expected at the end of last year, with GDP rising by 1.1 percent between the third and fourth quarter, according to new figures from Statistics Sweden. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Super cute sloth twins charm visitors to Swedish zoo
Lifestyle
Meet Sweden's first woman chef to win a Michelin star
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: February 26th - March 5th
Accelerated for Ice Music
What is Bob Dylan's guitarist doing in northern Sweden?
Features
How well do you know Sweden's top celebrity couples?
Blog updates

27 February

Editor’s blog, February 27th (The Local Sweden) »

"Our most read story this week got picked up by global media from Al Jazeera to..." READ »

 

18 February

The mysterious -s, part 2 (The Swedish Teacher) »

"-s expressing “each other” (reciprocal verbs) You have most likely used this form of the verbs..." READ »

 
 
 
Business & Money
Are company boards 'too white' in Sweden?
Sponsored Article
Ten tips for succeeding as a start-up in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: February 25th
Technology
Sweden is dubbed second most 'digital' nation in European Union
National
Why more Swedes want a sex change
National
The return of Sweden's Ace of Base
National
Why has Julian Assange's case been going on for so long?
National
'21' or 'IS'? Swedish police confuse birthday with Islamist extremism
National
Spring has sprung in Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Ängelholm
National
How to never miss your favourite weekly features on The Local
Business & Money
Ten Swedish start-ups you haven't heard of (yet)
National
Is Sweden home to the world's oldest living cat?
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The life and career of Fredrik Reinfeldt
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Princess Estelle through the years
National
Why are Swedish Jews worried?
Sponsored Article
Tourist or lifer: what sort of expat are you?
Gallery
People-watching: February 19th-22nd
National
'Racist' bird names banned in Sweden
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden this week
National
Nobel prize to go under hammer
National
Swede named 'Fanny' banned from getting UK loyalty card
National
Spotlight on the Swedes that could be funding Islamists
Sponsored Article
Are you an American expat? How to face FATCA
Gallery
People-watching: February 18th
National
Is a chocolate crime wave sweeping across Sweden?
National
What we know about the Copenhagen shootings suspect
National
Danish Ambassador: 'We'll live our lives the way we always have'
National
What does this '90s pop act have to do with a former minister?
Lifestyle
How to embrace Sweden's creamy semla bun tradition
National
Did this Swedish hotel really refuse a gay couple?
National
Why are so many escalators down on Stockholm's Metro?
Gallery
Property of the week: Kungsbacka
National
Can Zlatan's tattoo stunt help end world hunger?
Gallery
People-watching: February 14th
Lars Vilks
National
Who exactly is controversial Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks?
Lifestyle
VIDEO: How to tackle Sweden's bizarre mating rituals
Sponsored Article
'Immigration is critical' for Stockholm’s future
Lifestyle
How to make traditional Swedish blackberry pie
National
What the weak krona means for expats and visitors to Sweden
National
What's in a Swedish meatball?
National
Spotlight on 32 Swedish Isis fighters killed in Syria and Iraq
Sponsored Article
Stockholm job fair helps immigrant entrepreneurs
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

1,006
jobs available
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:
psdmedia.se