Ministers humble and hip

There was a rare dish on ministers' menus this week, as a change of heart in the Department of Integration and a good old-fashioned workplace rumpus at the Department of Agriculture saw the heads of each eating humble pie.

Tuesday’s Dagens Nyheter carried an in-depth interview with Mona Sahlin, the Integration Minister, in which she admitted that there is structural racism in Sweden.

“Society has been blind to this for a long time,” she said.

“And we’ve blamed the lack of integration on the individuals: ‘they don’t speak good enough Swedish’, ‘they haven’t improved their education enough’ or ‘they don’t know how to look for a job’. Instead we should refocus and say, ‘Have we, the majority, built a structure which drives people away?'”

Sahlin’s putting her money – or, at least, taxpayers’ money – where her mouth is. She has just appointed Masoud Kamali, an Iranian-born professor of sociology, to investigate structural discrimination.

Kamali has been one of Sahlin’s fiercest critics. Two years ago he wrote that her view was that “foreigners should first become like us, and then they can be integrated – they must leave their cultural characteristics outside Sweden’s borders and come in as new-born individuals.”

With the fervour of a convert, Mona Sahlin told DN that it was a fair comment:

“Today I express myself differently. I understand in my soul that which for many years I only understood in words, namely the difference between assimilation and integration.”

Mea culpa indeed. Meanwhile, over in the Department of Agriculture, minister Ann-Christin Nykvist was fielding accusations of bullying, sinister departmental changes and terrified employees.

Monday’s Expressen, never averse to a bit of muck-raking, got its hands on an internal survey and revealed that three bosses – including Nykvist herself – had been seriously criticised by colleagues. One has been reported for bullying while another, according to staff, “has to go”.

An anonymous source told the paper that there were many problems in the department and that everyone was dissatisfied with the senior management.

“The atmosphere is horribly infected and everyone’s scared. Nykvist’s leadership is unclear – you can see that she’s a civil servant and not a real politician.”

Following Sahlin’s lead, Nykvist attempted to sow the seeds of reconciliation.

“I take onboard the criticism and feel humbled by it,” she said. “We have obviously been in contact with the staff organisations – a broad consultation is important.”

But she also said that when an organisation is going through a change process, as the Department of Agriculture is, this kind of mud-slinging always crops up:

“It’s just a consequence of the fact that there are going to be fewer sections in the new organisation.”

Finally, on Thursday morning, Prime Minister Göran Persson had a hip operation – not to make him seem more cool among younger voters, but so that he can walk properly. The operation, which took place in Söder Hospital, lasted for an hour and a half and went smoothly.

According to Aftonbladet, the usual convalescence time after such an operation is six weeks, and in Persson’s absence Lars Enqvist will be temping as PM.