• Sweden's news in English
 
jobs_header_v3

'Sex attacks and fascism are not the new Swedish norm'

Maddy Savage · 1 Feb 2016, 20:14

Published: 01 Feb 2016 14:55 GMT+01:00
Updated: 01 Feb 2016 20:14 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

At 6.40am I stepped off a night train at Stockholm's central station after a weekend break in Swedish Lapland.

If you've been reading some of the international media coverage about my adopted city in recent days, you'd be forgiven for thinking I was risking my life.

One British newspaper, The Express, described the station as a "no-go zone", overtaken by "all-male migrant mobs spreading terror" by groping and robbing passengers and staff.

Meanwhile a writer for US news and opinion site Breitbart declared there was a "rampant" lawlessness and a "now-constant state of violence, terror and fear".

On Friday night, newspapers, radio stations and television networks all over the world reported on a group of masked far-right demonstrators who appeared to be reacting to this presumed state of chaos. They beat up non-Swedes and vowed to give foreign teenagers living on the streets around Stockholm Central Station the “punishment they deserve”. 

So did I feel scared arriving back in the Swedish capital? Absolutely not.

As I headed to catch the blue subway line home, morning commuters were travelling calmly into work, a cleaner was polishing an already glistening white floor and two security guards were strolling slowly out of a newsagent, sipping on their takeaway coffees. The main square outside was empty, save for two Swedish teenagers sharing a cigarette. 

Sweden has spawned some alarming headlines lately.  A teenager at a centre for unaccompanied refugees near Gothenburg was arrested on suspicion of murdering a 22-year-old woman who worked there. Police admitted covering up reports of multiple sex assaults at a music festival. Dozens of homes for asylum seekers have been set on fire.

However, it is crucial that these news stories are viewed in context. Immigration and integration are becoming increasingly thorny issues in Sweden, and the country's reputation as a beacon for openness and tolerance has taken a battering. But neither sex attacks by migrants nor radical racism are the new norm.


The We are Sthlm festival where sex assaults were reported in 2014 and 2015 but not made public by police. Photo: Alexander Tillheden/We are Sthlm

In 2015, as Sweden took in a record 163,000 asylum seekers, the number of reported rapes in the Nordic nation actually dropped by 12 percent compared to the previous year, according to figures released by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) in January. Meanwhile petty thefts dipped by two percent.

As for personal safety around Stockholm's central station, police were unable to immediately provide The Local with the number of reported assaults over the past 12 months. But a press officer, Lars Byström, insisted that tourists and residents alike should not feel under threat.

"Normally Stockholm is not a dangerous place to visit or to take a walk outside in. I think it is rather safe," he said.

Asked why one anonymous officer recently told Swedish television that he would not let his own family go near the station, he described his colleague's comments as "a little bit strange".

A very unscientific strawpoll of my female friends in Stockholm on Monday revealed that no one had experienced or even heard of other women being groped by refugees in the station in recent months, other than in media reports. But plenty could talk about being felt up by drunk Swedes on a night out.

News stories that hone in on a rise in support for the far-right Sweden also deserve a number of caveats. 

Neo-Nazi inspired activity – such as that witnessed on Friday in Stockholm – does appear to be on the rise. Yet a report by Swedish anti-racist foundation Expo last year suggested that membership of fascist organisations in Sweden has fallen.

It is well documented that support for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrat party (SD) shot up in 2015, with 22 percent of people asked by pollsters Novus saying they would pick the party in December. But while for many international newspapers these statistics slot neatly into the theme of a "lurch to the right" across Europe, Sweden's unique political climate also needs to be taken into consideration.


A Sweden Democrat rally last summer. Photo: Rickard Nilsson/TT

Until recently all of Sweden's centre-right opposition parties strongly backed the country's open borders, alongside the Social Democrat-Green coalition government. Voters who were unsure about rising immigration had no one to turn to except for the Sweden Democrats.

Yet in the past few months many of the traditional parties, including the governing Social Democrats and the main opposition Moderates, have adopted stricter policies on asylum and immigration, and support for the country's nationalist party is appearing to stall: SD's following dropped by two percentage points in Novus' latest survey last month.

On Sunday, thousands of Swedes turned to social media to voice their frustration that the party said it was protecting "Swedish women" from immigrant attacks when its members handed out flyers in Stockholm over the weekend, with the hashtag #inteerkvinna (#notyourwoman) trending on Twitter.

While surveys suggest the majority of Swedes back their country's decision to tighten asylum rules amid an acute strain on resources, that does not mean that support for helping refugees in principle is waning. Up until last autumn, when local authorities began warning that they could no longer cope with the record influx, surveys were showing very different results

Growing numbers of Swedish people may now be openly questioning their country's ability to offer accommodation to refugees amid a national housing crisis, or wondering whether politicians will manage to cut rising unemployment among foreign-born residents. However plenty of these voters are the very same people who've given record donations to asylum charities in recent months. 

Sweden is feeling the full force of its decision to welcome its highest number of immigants in history in 2015. Opinions are fragmenting. But the country is not broken.

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Maddy Savage (maddy.savage@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit


Today's headlines
Swedish Lucia advert sparks love and hate online
Photo: Janerik Henriksson / TT

An advert for Sweden’s Åhléns has unleashed a heated online debate after the department store chain unveiled a new campaign featuring a dark-skinned child, whose gender wasn’t obvious to all, dressed as a Lucia.

IKEA founder Kamprad suffers broken hip
Photo: Thord Nilsson / TT file picture

Ninety-year-old IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad has suffered from a broken hip, which temporarily resulted in him being hospitalised, but is now in good recovery, his assistant said on Sunday. He may have to skip the traditional IKEA Christmas celebrations in his native Älmhult though.

What are Swedish values? Many Swedes are unsure
Photo: Erik Johansen / TT

Although perhaps one of the hottest potatoes in the Swedish political debate right now, many Swedes still find it hard to pinpoint exactly what Swedish values are, a new study shows.

Swedes protest cutbacks in personal assistance budget
Demonstrations were held in 25 towns and cities across Sweden on Saturday. Photo: Janerik Hansson / TT

Thousands of people staged demonstrations across Sweden on Saturday to protest recent cutbacks in the budget funding personal assistance for people with disabilities.

Police launch manhunt after deadly Stockholm shooting
No suspects have yet been arrested over the attack. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Swedish police have launched a massive manhunt after masked gunmen barged into a Stockholm café and shot two people to death late on Friday.

Sweden has fourth happiest workers in the world: report
Is Swedish fika the secret? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Sweden is home to the fourth happiest workers in the world, an international survey has claimed.

Here's how much Ikea staff are getting for Christmas
Christmas comes early for Ikea staff. Photo: Vegard Wivestad Grøtt/NTB scanpix/TT

Staff at Ikea are getting an early Christmas treat in the form of millions of euros to share between them.

Sweden threatens action to stop Facebook 'hate and lies'
Should Facebook crack down on hate speech? Photo: AP Photo/dapd, Timur Emek

Sweden could impose legal obligations on Facebook as a last resort if the social network does not crack down on hate speech and fake news, the culture and democracy minister has threatened.

In pictures
This is what Sweden's new Icehotel looks like
An artist's impression of the hotel in winter. Photo: PinPin Studio/Icehotel

The famous Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi has just opened its new year-round section. Have a look at some of the first pictures of one of the world's most unusual hotels here.

The Local List
Sweden's pioneering free press act turns 250
It doesn't look bad for 250 years old. Photo: Regeringen

On the day of its 250th anniversary, The Local looks at five facts worth knowing about Sweden's groundbreaking Freedom of the Press Act.

Sponsored Article
Smart songwriters: Sweden’s next big music export?
National
Final proof that Sweden has NOT banned Christmas lights
Sponsored Article
Why Stockholm attracts so much talent from abroad
Travel
IN PICTURES: Stockholm's new myth-busting Viking museum
The Local Voices
Job market matchmaker hooks up 1,300 newcomers and Swedes
Blog updates

14 November

Hello darkness, my old friend (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"I started thinking about November’s blog for The Local at the end of October, as the…" READ »

 

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
18 Stockholm innovations to keep an eye on
Gallery
People-watching: November 30th
Sponsored Article
Sweden to Hong Kong: The Local guide
National
This is how cold it's going to get in Sweden this week
Gallery
Property of the week: Skellefteå
National
Inside Sweden's perilous Sami reindeer pilgrimage
Sponsored Article
Programmers' bootcamp: Change your life in 12 weeks
The Local Voices
'My name is Sami and I am a proud Swede - it hurts when people say I'm not Swedish'
Sponsored Article
We visited 5 'murder spots' in Malmö
National
Swedish Advent 'less popular than Christmas Eve'
Gallery
People-watching: November 25th-27th
Sponsored Article
Why Stockholm startups are teaching kids to program
Swedish city to put all workers through LGBT course
Sponsored Article
Smart songwriters: Sweden’s next big music export?
National
The five weirdest attacks on Sweden's giant straw yule goat
Gallery
People-watching: November 23rd
Sponsored Article
'Learning to trade gave me the life I wanted'
The Local Voices
'Swedes are stylish: you need to dress well if you want to fit in'
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: leading the way in clean energy innovation
National
Critics slam Swedish paper's Donald Trump cartoon as anti-Semitic
Sponsored Article
Michael Björklund: 'Being a chef is crazy work'
National
Men call Sweden's mansplaining hotline for mansplaining tips
Sponsored Article
We visited 5 'murder spots' in Malmö
Gallery
Property of the week: Gotland
Sponsored Article
HIV in Sweden today is not like it was yesterday
Gallery
People-watching: November 18th-20th
Sponsored Article
Mette Helbæk: ‘We have a basic human need to connect'
Culture
Shooting starts on The Bridge 4
Sponsored Article
Terje Håkonsen: 'I try to make everything count'
Travel
Sweden's ten most beautiful places
Sponsored Article
Lina Thomsgård: 'I try to break down barriers every day'
The Local Voices
Having a Swedish girlfriend didn't help this Egyptian evade culture shock
Sponsored Article
'We wanted to turn ideas into action'
Gallery
People-watching: November 16th
Culture
What the world of Harry Potter would look like... set in Sweden
National
Here's where Sweden's best non-native English speakers live
The Local Voices
This new book by a Syrian writer gives refugee children their own hero
Politics
Do Swedish polls underestimate support for Sweden Democrats?
3,496
jobs available