Minister proposes ethnic registration

Sweden could begin recording the ethnic origin of its citizens in an attempt to fight discrimination, according to minister for integration Jens Orback.

In the middle of 2003 the government started an inquiry into “structural discrimination”. This week, following discussions with the investigator, the Green Party’s Paul Lappalainen, Orback told Dagens Nyheter that Sweden could follow the lead of the US, the UK and Canada in introducing a register of ethnicity.

“Among other things, Paul Lappalainen has been looking at the countries which have ethnic registration, on a voluntary or compulsory basis,” said Orback.

“I think that the only reason to use such a method is if it helps us find other ways to fight discrimination.”

In the UK, questions about ethnicity are commonplace on equal opportunities forms associated with job applications, as well as on the national census which is carried out every ten years. But DN noted that Orback “did not want to go into how ethnic origin could be registered in Sweden” – and that there would be suspicion about such a scheme.

“I believe that we have had good use of comparable statistics when it comes to women and men. But there are minorities who are very strongly opposed to ethnic registration, namely Roma and Jewish groups.”

Speaking later to news agency TT, Orback said that there was also likely to be opposition from within the government itself.

“The government has a fundamental standpoint which is very sceptical towards ethnic registration,” he said. “We have a policy in Sweden where we should treat people equally regardless of their ethnic background – so for the government this is nothing new.”

But, in the week when much of the media was focused on marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Orback emphasised that if ethnic registration were introduced in Sweden it would be voluntary:

“As far as I’m concerned there’s no question of a forced ethnic registration. History has taught us enough about that.”

Göteborgs-Posten took up the theme of remembrance in its Friday leader, which urged Swedish schools to continue teaching the lessons of the Holocaust.

“Young teachers are unsure,” said GP. “They don’t know if they should deal with the Holocaust in lessons.”

But, stating that “anti-Semitism lives on” the paper said that “there can never be any doubt about schools’ responsibility to spread knowledge about the Holocaust and its mechanisms”.

On the same day, Dagens Nyhter reported that a hotel in Eskilstuna is being sued for discrimination.

Hotel Statt is refusing to pay 200,000 crowns in compensation to a Roma couple who, it is alleged, were denied access to the hotel’s swimming area at Easter last year.

The case was being handled by the Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) and an agreement had apparently been reached between the couple and the hotel in the autumn. The hotel said it would pay them 100,000 crowns each to avoid court, but it now says that the couple broke their side of the bargain.

It is thought that they had agreed not to speak to the press, but they apparently commented to their local paper – and now the hotel says it is willing to go to court.

“Since the hotel no longer wants a settlement we have chosen to pursue the case in court,” said John Stauffer, a lawyer at DO.

“This is a very interesting case for us since it is the first time we are testing the new discrimination law in court. We believe we have a good chance of winning,” he added.

The fight against discrimination has also been taken up by Stockholm City Council. On Monday they announced a decision to introduce an “anti-discrimination clause” in all its contracts with suppliers.

Again, the man behind the decision is Paul Lappalainen, who explained that companies which discriminate run a considerable risk of losing their contract with the city.

“Finally we have an anti-discrimination clause worth the name,” he said.

Every year the city spends some 16 billion crowns with suppliers and Lappalainen believes that this economic incentive will make the difference.

“In the USA, Canada and the UK similar contractual conditions have proven to be successful when it comes to promoting equal opportunities for women and ethnic minorities,” he said.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Expressen, Göteborgs-Postenspan>