Persson criticised for two-page tsunami report

The commission set up to investigate the government’s handling of the tsunami disaster has said that the information provided by Prime Minister Göran Persson’s office is insufficient. Persson’s staff have handed over only two pages of information on their actions following the tsunami.

Having read the two pages the head of the commission, Johan Hirschfeldt, has asked to interview civil servants and political appointees in the office.

Hirschfeldt said that he would not make public his opinion of the material. But Gustav Fridolin, Green Party member of the parliamentary constitutional committee, said that the submission was “very thin”. He added that in the best case scenario the government was hiding something, and in the worst case the government had done no more than was described on the two-page document.

The foreign ministry’s submission to Hirschfeldt was more detailed. An internal investigation into its actions published on Monday said that there were failures in the ministry’s operational leadership. The dossier shows that senior staff from the ministry kept in contact by telephone, which led to confusion and meant that information about the number of Swedes affected did not spread.

The absence of Jan Nordlander, the ministry’s head of consular affairs, was particularly damaging to Sweden’s efforts to tackle the crisis as it unfolded on 26th December. He was spending Christmas in Bergslagen, 200 kilometres from Stockholm. Other senior staff also stayed on holiday with their families.

By way of contrast, the report showed that the Swedish Embassy in Bangkok was quick off the mark in its response. Kaarlo Lasko, second in command at the embassy said in a radio interview on 26th December that there could be as many as 30,000 Swedes in the affected area. The report showed that this information was passed to the foreign ministry just two hours after the disaster.

Foreign minister Laila Freivalds was informed at 10 o’clock the same morning, although at this stage the focus remained on aid to Sri Lanka, despite the evidence that Swedes could have been hit.

Freivalds, who has faced heavy criticism for her handling of events, is now also being criticised for her attempts to pass the buck. Tuesday’s Expressen listed all the different groups that the foreign minister has tried to blame for Sweden’s late reaction to the tsunami. Freivalds had tried to blame Sweden’s ambassador in Thailand, junior staff at the foreign ministry, the Thais, her press secretary, the media and Christmas for perceived failings in the ministry’s response to the disaster, the paper said.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Göteborgs Posten, Sveriges Radio, Expressen

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Sweden Elects: I’ve got election pork coming out my ears this week

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren rounds up this week's key talking points of the Swedish election campaign.

Sweden Elects: I've got election pork coming out my ears this week

There’s an old Swedish Word of the Day in The Local’s archives: valfläsk (literally “election pork”, or pork barrel politics).

This week, there’s been enough of it to feed a Swedish town large enough for both a Biltema and a Dressmann store and still have half the pig left!

You could say it started the week before last, when the Social Democrats’ Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman floated a test balloon loaded with a 50-percent cap on non-Nordic residents in troubled neighbourhoods (it went down among the other parties like it was made out of lead).

Then last week, the Liberals threw their hat in the ring by proposing mandatory language assessments for two-year-olds who don’t attend preschool, and then make preschool mandatory for the toddlers whose Swedish isn’t deemed good enough. This, they said, was meant to help integration in areas where bilingual children don’t speak Swedish at home.

“Studies show that early preschool benefits children whose mothers are low-educated and whose parents are born abroad,” their manifesto read.

Liberal leader Johan Pehrson’s statement that in the most extreme cases – where parents clearly refuse to let their children learn Swedish – led to a social media storm that conjured up images of crying toddlers being taken into care for failing to distinguish between en and ett when quizzed.

For any parents of multilingual children (who know better than most how language works in early childhood – I’m raising a multilingual baby myself, but I’ve only just started so if you have any tips, do let me know!), I should stress that the proposal is less extreme than how it was first presented.

This is typical for valfläsk, by the way. Take something that’s perfectly obvious and hard to argue against (of course mixed neighbourhoods and children being encouraged to learn languages are generally good things) but dial it up a notch, insert something immigration-related, promise to get tough on whatever it is you want to get tough on, and propose either something that already exists or would be near-impossible to implement.

Then the Stockholm branch of the conservative Moderates proposed that entire school classes in vulnerable areas should be screened for ADHD through optional rapid tests, in order to increase the comparably lower rate of medication among foreign-born children and prevent them from falling into a life of crime.

“Detached from reality,” said their Social Democrat rival and pointed out that the partly Moderate-run region was planning to cut the number of psychiatric care clinics for young people.

The Christian Democrats, never ones to be outdone, wanted to chemically castrate sex offenders, give police access to healthcare biobanks, and let police take DNA samples from people stopped in internal border checks.

But while many of the election pledges that get tossed around this close to the election (less than a month to go, now!) tend to range from the radical to the ridiculous and are unlikely to ever be implemented, they’re still worth paying attention to. They give us an indication of the direction the parties want to take, and could well reappear in a more watered-down format later on during the governmental cycle.

They may also become part of post-election negotiations, where even small parties hold key cards as the larger parties fight to cobble together viable government coalitions.

They also say something about Sweden and the direction of the political sphere as a whole, where the parties are currently racing to outdo each other on who can be toughest on immigration and law and order.

The Local’s reporter Becky Waterton has gone through all the parties’ election pledges to see how they specifically would affect foreign residents in Sweden – in case you’ve missed her article, click here to read it.

Also in the world of Swedish politics, a new poll by SVT and Novus has the Moderates and the Sweden Democrats neck and neck, Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson promised lower taxes in his summer speech and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson tougher sentences on gang criminals in hers, and Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson suggested changing the name of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården) to the Penal Office (Straffverket).

Sweden Elects is a new weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.