• Sweden edition
 
Stockholm unrest: One year on
'We wanted a revolution, but it didn't go so well': Husby teens
Andy Menga with his son Precieux, 2, in Husby. Photo: Ann Törnkvist

'We wanted a revolution, but it didn't go so well': Husby teens

Published: 16 May 2014 17:40 GMT+02:00

"We became visible as a neighbourhood, even to politicians," says baker Ali Safari, who peddles baklava - both Persian and Arabic - alongside Iranian cookies in an airy café right next to the tube station.

He says he and the other business owners in the northern Stockholm neighbourhood were left unscathed by the unrest last year, because most of the action took place on the cross-streets, a level down from the commercial zone.

Husby sits on a slight hill, with a pedestrian thoroughfare linking several squares, interspersed with fountains, small park areas, and, this time of year, cherry blossoms. The local church has a quote from Matthew translated to Amharic and Arabic, and a few older men wear thobes and a scattering of women of all ages wear the hijab.

But beneath the walkways are the cross-streets where people drive through the neighbourhood and park their cars. They proved a good vantage point for any would-be vandals last year.

Teenager Grace, who declines to give her real name or to have her portrait taken, says she only found out that something was going awry when a friend called her. Grace was studying, but the message on the other side of the line got her attention.

"Dude, there are fires all over Husby," her friend said. 

Her classmate Amal, 14, says she heard a car window shatter on the first of six nights of unrest, looked outside, and saw the first of many fires. The Economist magazine would, once the situation calmed after a full six days, estimate the material damage to $9.5 million.

Both girls refer to the unrest not as "the riots" but as "the revolution" - sparked by the police shooting an elderly man. They said half of the vandals were youths who did not live in Husby, who instead arrived to take advantage of a break-down of law and order. 

"You'd walk past one of the bridges, and someone would be throwing stuff off it, and it wasn't anyone you recognized," says Amal, pointing out that everyone knows everyone - or is related - in Husby, so it's easy to spot an outsider.  

"The media kept saying 'Husby did it, Husby started it'... but we didn't do it," says Amal, who feels Husby residents have been painted as hooligans, although she adds that some of the teenagers who took part did have a political motive, and she sympathizes with them.

"We wanted to start a revolution, but it didn't go so well," she says with a laugh.

IN PICTURES: Husby residents share their thoughts one year on

"And I don't think people ever intended for it to keep going on for so long. A lot of people saw the media, they wanted to be on film, so they kept burning stuff, and burning the schools," she says and points at the school in question, a low brick building nestled between the commercial centre and a nearby six-storey apartment complex.

She and Grace say in unison that they can't give their names because there is a lot of social pressure in the neighbourhood not to say bad things about Husby. The suburb's name was loaded even before last year's unrest, says Amal, who was born in Sweden to Tunisian immigrant parents.

"To get a job, my mum had to say she was from Kista, not from Husby, because people think we are idiots."

Some Husby residents didn't even notice what was going on until the media reported on it. 

"When it was happening, I only saw it on the TV at work," says Andy Menga, 47, who came from Congo ten years ago. "My colleagues asked me 'Didn't you see anything?'"

He had to disappoint them. He noticed nothing on his walk to the tube to get to work that day. And he's not out and about much, preferring to hang out at home most of the time with his family.

"I'm only out today because these two have a medical check-up," he says as sons Precieux, 4, and Joyce, 2, tear about a gravel terrace that looks down over trees and rows upon rows of austere but well-maintained red apartment blocks.

Has anything changed since the unrest?

"No, nothing, apart from a lot of people who are moving," says Menga. "They've told me that it's not a good place for children but the children in our family haven't gotten into any problem."  

The teenage duo echo his sentiments.

"Nothing has changed, I still go to school, a lot of people still don't have jobs. We wanted to be heard, but they keep forgetting us," says Amal, who says she had to witness the police set two dogs on people during an altercation. 

25-year-old Waka Jagne, whose family originally came from Gambia, says the police were a big part of the problem. 

"If they come up to a Swedish guy or to me, as an immigrant, they act differently," says Jagne, who grew up in Husby but had to find a job elsewhere. He struggles to qualify how the police act differently, before saying it's a tone of voice thing, and an attitude thing - "They're more macho with us".

He also points out, referring to the original shooting that seemed to act like a matchstick in a gas plant, that Husby residents questioned why the officer hadn't wrestled the man to the ground, rather than shoot him - a feeling echoed by the man's widow, who called the killing an execution.

READ ALSO:   Swedish prosecutor drops manslaughter probe into Husby police officer 

"Police brutality" or "police necessity"? Riots or unrest? Hooligans or demonstrators? Regardless, the damage caused can be summed up in numbers. In the first three days of the riot, which started on a Sunday in May, police received reports of over a hundred burning cars. Another 50 would burn after that, as well as part of a local school. Police officers and firefighters were met with hurled rocks.

Many political commentators rushed to pin the unrest on failed integration, or went even further, citing it as proof that immigration levels were untenable. Sweden's Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag disagrees.
 
"Husby was not directly a question of immigration and integration," he tells The Local. "There were too many people with too little hope for the future. There were too many people with too few dreams." 
 
Almost eight percent of Husby residents aged between 20 and 24 don't have a job, the national jobs agency (Arbetsförmedlingen) told Sveriges Radio (SR) last year. The overall Stockholm average for the same age group was much lower, at three percent unemployment.
 
The figure might still seem low. How one counts Swedish youth unemployment can churn up national averages from 7 all the way to 24 percent. Last year's official statistics underlined one thing, however, that Husby youngsters were almost three times more likely to go without a job than the city average for their age bracket.
 
But, Ullenhag underscored, the area has actually gone from strength to strength.
 
"The Husby paradox is that it's the part of Stockholm with some of the most positive developments in employment and school results," he says. "But there are people who don't see and feel these developments. They don't have respect for the political system or society and can't find a way to prosper."
 
Back in Husby, bakery owner Ali says to this day that he doesn't know what the rioters wanted. In fact, few of the people out and about a year after the unrest can summon up a better explanation than a generic "just kids". Even the police said last year they weren't quite sure what the problem was. 

READ ALSO:  The Local op-ed: Stockholm's not burning

But the solution could lie with those kids. Teenagers Amal and Grace show no fear that they will end up unemployed, like the many Husby adults who, they point out, hang out around the central square to socialize because they have no jobs to go to. 

"They have to talk to the kids," Ali says, crediting the unrest for at least bringing a spotlight on the neighbourhood. "Before, not a lot of Swedes came here."

Does he not consider himself Swedish as well as Kurdish and Persian? He has lived here since 1979.

"I'm more Swedish than you are, I promise," he laughs, pointing out that Färjestad is his favourite ice hockey team and that he always supports Sweden when he watches sports.  "I always cry when Sweden loses."

Ann Törnkvist (ann.tornkvist@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
'Racist' Black Pete party scrapped in Sweden
A festive parade involving Zwarte Piet helpers in the Netherlands. Photo: TT

'Racist' Black Pete party scrapped in Sweden

A Dutch club in Stockholm that was planning a festive party featuring Santa alongside a servant with a black painted face has shelved the idea following numerous complaints of racism. READ  

Islamic State
'Isis' teens stopped at Sweden's Umeå airport
Umeå airport. Photo: scaplan1/Flickr

'Isis' teens stopped at Sweden's Umeå airport

Three high school students who were on their way to Syria to fight alongside the Isis (Islamic State) terror group were stopped at an airport in northern Sweden in the nick of time, it has been claimed. READ  

Swedish Honeymoon Killing
Honeymoon suspect seeks instant aquittal
Murder suspect Shrien Dewani. Photo: TT

Honeymoon suspect seeks instant aquittal

A British millionaire businessman, Shrien Dewani, has argued that he should be cleared of the honeymoon murder of his bride because South African prosecutors have failed to prove their case. READ  

Snow forecast for north as capital enjoys sun
Stockholmers enjoying the November weekend sun. Photo: The Local

Snow forecast for north as capital enjoys sun

The Swedish Meteorological Institute has issued a class one warning following snowstorms in northern Sweden, but there is better news for Stockholmers who enjoyed sunshine over the weekend and can expect more good weather towards the end of this week. READ  

Preschool burned down in southern Stockholm
The preschool in Stockholm. Photo: TT

Preschool burned down in southern Stockholm

A fire has destroyed a preschool in southern Stockholm overnight, with firefighters unable to contain the flames because of heavy winds. READ  

Ebola crisis
Swedish expert says Ebola risk has reduced
Many in Liberia have little but chlorine to protect themselves from Ebola. Photo:TT

Swedish expert says Ebola risk has reduced

A leading Swedish expert on global health has said that the threat of the Ebola virus has decreased and suggested that the battle against the epidemic is entering a new phase. READ  

Presented by Regus
Get your own office anywhere in the world

Get your own office anywhere in the world

Sweden’s startup scene is booming – making central office space in Stockholm and Gothenburg even harder to find. So where does a new small business set up shop? Two seasoned entrepreneurs share their secret with The Local. READ  

Submarine hunt
Three in four Swedes believe submarine 'proof'
An enlarged look at the mystery sighting of a suspected submarine in the Stockholm archipelago in October. Photo: TT

Three in four Swedes believe submarine 'proof'

A new survey has revealed that 75 percent of Swedes trust that the Swedish military did find enough evidence to prove that a foreign submarine was present in the Stockholm archipelago last month. The results contrast with a more sceptical public during previous submarine incidents in the 1980s. READ  

Thirty Swedes in Turkish resort bus crash
A resort in Antalya, close to where the crash happened. Photo: Shutterstock

Thirty Swedes in Turkish resort bus crash

Up to thirty Swedish tourists were caught up in an accident involving two buses near the resort of Antalya in Turkey on Sunday afternoon, with ten taken to hospital after the crash. READ  

My Swedish Career
'I'm spreading Japan's 'cute' culture in Sweden'
Carolynn Piittisjärvi (right) together with business partner Eva Dejmo in their pop up store. Photo: Private

'I'm spreading Japan's 'cute' culture in Sweden'

For this week’s My Swedish Career we meet American Carolynn Piittisjärvi, an entrepreneur who has already managed to turn several hobbies into Swedish businesses. She has just launched a store selling Japanese clothes, toys and stationary in the hope of spreading ‘kawaii’. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Why this Swedish rabbi is facing death threats
National
Fears up to 300 Swedes fighting with Isis
Imagebank Sweden
Society
Decorating your home for Swedish Christmas
Gallery
People-watching: November 22nd - 23rd
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Family life in Stockholm
Blog updates

24 November

Seeing into the Future of Business: Interview with Antonia Ax:son Johnson (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"Nobody can change the world more than businesses can. This is Antonia Ax:son Johnson’s mantra and..." READ »

 

21 November

Editor’s Blog, November 21st (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello from Stockholm, Our week started with reports another Russian plane had been spotted in Sweden’s airspace,..." READ »

 
 
 
Society
What's on in Sweden: November 20th to 27th
Lifestyle
How to make Swedish mulled wine
National
How to boost your career in Skåne, Sweden's south
Lifestyle
How an Umeå museum is rewriting Swedish history
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Lifestyle
Five unique backpacker hostels in Stockholm
National
Bones show off Sweden's history
National
What new word are Swedes voting on?
National
Why African Swedes are angry about Santa's helper
National
Pine, tar, and tinder: flavours from the north
Gallery
Selfies, solidarity and Hillary Clinton: Stefan Löfven on tour
Gallery
People-watching: November 19th
Society
Why are international professionals leaving Sweden?
Business & Money
Meet the Swedes who made suits for The Hunger Games
Technology
'I'm among the first Swedes with a microchip'
National
What is Sweden doing about bird flu?
Gallery
Property of the week: Eriksberg
National
Vecka45: Sweden's most innovative week
Gallery
In Pictures: The clubs and loves of Sweden's Sven-Göran Eriksson
Society
What's On in Sweden: November 13th to 20th
Gallery
People-watching: November 16th
National
Driving (expats) home for Christmas?
Lifestyle
Make your own Swedish pea soup
Politics
"Totally unacceptable": Defence Minister on Stockholm submarine
Society
The A-Ö guide to making life in Sweden easier
National
How a Swedish party inspired a masterpiece
National
Seen the new Ace of Base yet?
National
Meet the Irish woman thundering into Swedish rock
Gallery
In Pictures: Ace of Base through the years
Society
Ten things you should never say to a Swede
Gallery
People-watching: November 12th
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
National
Opinion: 'We have to talk about Sweden's Isis fighters'
Business & Money
Price hike for new mortgages in Sweden
National
Toy store catalogues 'too white' in Sweden
National
Pirate Bay co-founder released from prison
National
Southern Sweden had 201 days of summer
Gallery
Sweden's ten most powerful people
Gallery
Property of the week: Mariestad
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
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

826
jobs available
Swedish Down Town
Consulting & Productions

We are an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish authorities, Swedish language practice, and general communications.
Call 0731 004 781 or visit:
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:
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
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists.
Details and how to apply