Chad force and Swedish for immigrants stoke debate

David Landes gauges press reactions to two of the week's main talking points: proposed changes to state-run language classes for immigrants and Sweden's troop deployment to Chad.

Early in the week, The Local reported on proposed changes to the state-run language classes for immigrants, Svenska för Invandrare (SFI). The story has sparked a great deal of interest among readers, and prompted criticism on Sweden’s editorial pages of both the proposal itself, and the way in which it was presented.

Svenksa Dagbladet (SvD) demonstrates its support for making changes to SFI by quoting a passage from an article in Göteborgs-Posten (GP) last fall in which the paper detailed the plight of the city’s Somali community.

“[Somalis in Gothenburg] are deprived of their self-confidence and the only thing they need to do to get welfare payments is to go to SFI and make sure they don’t pass,” reads the GP passage quoted by SvD.

SvD points out that the description has nothing to do with Somalis as a group, but is a consequence of a broken integration policy which “created a failed culture of dependency on government hand outs and social exclusion.”

The paper then roundly dismisses criticism from the left that capping enrollment in SFI classes to three calendar years is unjust.

“As if three years of state financed language training and social studies, available in every municipality, is some sort of repression,” writes SvD.

The paper argues further that rather than being condemned for treating immigrants unfairly, the government instead deserves criticism for not giving immigrants a chance to get into the job market faster.

“One may wonder whether three years out of the job market is such a good idea. Work and supporting oneself are the best forms of integration. Swedish policy needs to shed itself of the delusion that immigrants are as helpless as children (as if someone without any initiative could get here in the first place), and instead begin to treat immigrants like complete human beings with their own drive and dreams,” writes the paper.

Taking a different approach, the Sydsvenskan newspaper accuses the government of writing a prescription for fixing SFI before fully diagnosing the problem.

The paper feels that one of the government’s proposed remedies for SFI—a detailed evaluation by Sweden’s Agency for Public Management—should be completed ahead of any comprehensive solution.

Citing public statements by Education Minister Jan Björklund, the paper also questions how well he and the government really grasp the problem, seeing a solution-first approach as indicative of the government’s approach to reform.

“Has the government ever put forward a reform package before having sufficiently prepared the matter –ahead of time?” asks the paper.

The paper continues, accusing the government of being “impatient” and falling victim to “the temptation to introduce solutions before knowing in more detail what the problem really is.”

Sweden’s editorial pages also devoted a great deal of ink expressing their disapproval over a reluctance by the government in general—and defence minister Sten Tolgfors in particular—to agree to extend deployment of Swedish peacekeepers in Chad.

The 203 man unit is part of a larger EU peacekeeping force of nearly 4,000 soldiers tasked with protecting Sudanese refugees who have fled violence in Darfur. The troops were originally scheduled for deployment in December, but equipment shortages and increasing violence in Chad has resulted in extended delays.

As a result, the six month mission has been reduced to four months. After accounting for transport time and other preparations, the time that Swedish troops will actually spend carrying out their mission has been reduced to four to six weeks. The total cost of the mission comes to more than 380 million kronor ($61 million), despite the shortened deployment time—a situation that generated criticism from all directions.

In defending his decision not to extend the deployment, Tolgfors cites budgetary constraints—an extension would cost an additional 300 million kronor—and the weather in Chad, which enters the rainy season in June which would further complicate the mission.

The tabloid Aftonbladet doesn’t mince words in its frustration over the situation, calling it “a terrible waste of resources and not morally appropriate” that so much money be devoted to so short a mission.

“It sounds rather remarkable that bad weather could force home a Swedish peacekeeping force after just a few weeks. As far as we can tell the refugee camps will still be there—even if it rains.”

Both GP and SvD argue that the government should either devote more money to the operation, or simply refrain from sending troops in the first place. GP calls the current circumstances “indefensible” and urges the minister to act quickly or risk having “a glow of shame” be the only lasting impression from Sweden’s mission to Chad.

SvD, on the other hand, expresses optimism that the government will, in the end, come around to finding a way to extend the mission if it just finds a little backbone.

“The Swedish soldiers deployed to Chad are courageous. The government ought to show the same political courage,” writes the paper.

The issue of military spending in general framed discussion of the issue in the pages of Sydsvenskan, which cited a recent report by a Riksdag committee showing military expenditures in Sweden have only fallen by 13 percent since the early 1990s, despite several rounds of cost cutting and downsizing.

The paper points out that the new, mission-driven military doesn’t come cheaply. In referring to the sum cited by Tolgfors required to extend the Chad mission, the paper asserts that the government needs to consider what Sweden’s reputation is worth.

“If the government wants to maintain any credibility in a foreign and security policy founded on international cooperation and collaborative peacekeeping, 300 million kronor isn’t an outlandish price to pay,” writes Sydsvenskan.

Dagens Nyheter (DN) in turn reminds readers of foreign minister Carl Bildt’s recent foreign policy declaration, pointing out the inconsistency with the government’s stated policy and its current actions.

“Sweden’s security is built on international cooperation and Swedish participation in different peace operations is a given as long as the resources suffice. The Swedish mission in Chad is referred to proudly as ‘perhaps the most complicated and demanding mission in which the EU has engaged.’ It mentions the necessity of slowing the spread of conflict and that establishing peace takes time. Four weeks in eastern Chad doesn’t fit with that policy,” writes DN.

Where the main newspapers stand

Dagens Nyheter, “independently liberal”, Stockholm-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Svenska Dagbladet, “independently liberal-conservative”,

Stockholm-based, owned by Norwegian media company Schibsted.

Göteborgs-Posten, “independently liberal”,

Gothenburg-based, owned by the Stampen media group.

Sydsvenska Dagbladet (Sydsvenskan), “independently liberal”, Malmö-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Aftonbladet, “independently Social Democrat”, Stockholm-based, owned by trade union federation LO and Norwegian media company Schibsted.

Expressen, “independently liberal”, Stockholm-based, owned by the Bonnier family.