• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Opinion
'Sex attacks and fascism are not the new Swedish norm'
Pro-refugee campaigners welcoming new arrivals to Stockholm in September 2015. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

'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

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.

Story continues below…

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)

Today's headlines
What's on in Sweden
Six social events to make new friends in Sweden
Mingle at Fashion Week in Stockholm. Photo: Fashion Week Stockholm

From Tall Ships to African fashion, there's a lot going on in Sweden this week as September kicks off.

Sweden could bring back conscription in 2019
Swedish soldiers during an exercise. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

Sweden could see a return to compulsory military service less than a decade after the policy was scrapped, Swedish media report.

Video
World's best-ever goal celebration or epic fail?
Screenshot from video by Ettan Play.

You're looking at what may very well be the best and worst moment of this Swedish footballer's life.

Mum's the word for missing Swede
She was in one of these places. Photo: Per Knutsson/TT

She kept mum about her whereabouts, but her secret soon got out.

Why Swedes smashed charity donation record in 2015
Newly arrived asylum seekers stand in line at Malmö's Hyllie staton in November 2015. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Swedes boosted the coffers of charities last year to the tune of 19.4 billion kronor, a massive increase on the previous year.

Karolinska bosses say sorry over Macchiarini transplants
Italian surgeon Paolo Macchiarini. Photo: AP Photo/Journal Star, David Zalaznik

UPDATED: An investigation has looked into how Italian surgeon Paolo Macchiarini was able to carry out trachea operations at Karolinska University Hospital which sparked controversy after patients died.

'Overjoyed' Swedish snapper captures this shooting star
He caught a falling star. Photo: Johan Vilhelm Löfgren

Nice shot!

Video
What happens if you spend the night at Ikea?
Picture this but at night and without all the people. Photo: Heiko Junge/TT

Watch this video and find out. But don't even think about trying it in Sweden.

Cash alert! Last chance to deposit your old notes
Head to the bank if you've got any of these. Photo: Micke Larsson/TT

Bank it!

The Local List
Six tips for learning Swedish without even being in Sweden
A Swedish Midsummer party in New York. Photo: Johan Brunkvist/TT

The Local's intern, Jack Schofield, taught himself Swedish from his home in the UK. Here's how he did it.

Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
The Local Voices
Is Swedish bosses' ignorance keeping refugees out of jobs?
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
National
How good is Sweden for expat life?
Gallery
Property of the week: Landskrona, Skåne
Blog updates

23 August

A Summer in Sweden (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"For our first year here in Sweden we decided to have all our holidays in Sweden.…" READ »

 

22 July

After the horror, carry on regardless (Globally Local) »

"This time last week, we were just digesting the horror of the Nice killings, in which…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Malmö to host global skateboard championship
Gallery
People-watching: August 26th-28th
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Travel
What are Sherpas doing on Sweden's highest mountain?
Gallery
People-watching: August 24th
The Local Voices
'I want to be a businesswoman but I don’t care about money'
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
National
Experts: Gothenburg grenade blast is 'part of a cycle of violence'
Sponsored Article
Why you should learn to trade (and just how easy it is)
Gallery
Property of the week: Karlsborg
National
Why Sweden could change its criticised detention laws
National
Watch this dog's reaction when she tries Swedish fermented herring
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Gallery
People-watching: August 19th-21st
National
How to find student housing in Sweden
Sponsored Article
The mystique of Asia - in the middle of Stockholm
National
VIDEO: Swede films first Northern Lights of the season
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Gallery
People-watching: August 17th
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Society
Swedish population nears ten million
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
The Local Voices
This Syrian artist found love in a Swedish library
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
National
Sex pigs halt traffic after laser attack on Pokémon teens. Only in Sweden.
Gallery
Property of the week: Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm
Society
Drunk knight detained in Stockholm
National
Can you solve this Swede's strange Star Wars mystery?
Gallery
People-watching: August 12th-14th
National
Swedes cheer first snow of the season
Gallery
People-watching: August 10th
3,393
jobs available