Moderate hierarchy warns Vellinge party cadre

The Moderate party secretary Per Schlingmann has warned party members in Skåne in southern Sweden over comments regarding the housing of refugee children at a Vellinge youth hostel.

Moderate hierarchy warns Vellinge party cadre

“I consider several of the comments to be inappropriate,” Schlingman wrote in a letter to local Moderate politicians across the country.

The Moderate party hierarchy has acted in response to comments from Skåne party chairperson and Vellinge county counsellor Lars-Ingvar Ljungman.

Ljungman was critical of the decision by Malmö County Council to use a former youth hostel in Hököpinge to house around 30 young boys from Afghanistan and Somalia saying that Vellinge had been unfairly overruled.

Ljungman vowed to find ways to close down the hostel before the refugee children’s arrival.

His position attracted media attention to the general issue of Swedish municipalities freedom to decide over how many refugees to take into their care and to Vellinge County Council’s refugee policy in particular.

Ljungman’s comments have also sparked conflict within the Moderate party in Skåne with vice-chairperson, Pia Kinhult, distancing herself from her Vellinge colleague.

“The Skåne Moderates and I dissociate ourselves from the statements and the policy pursued by the Vellinge Moderates. I talk for a majority within the Skåne Moderates, but obviously not for our chairperson,” Kinhult from Ängelholm told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

The Swedish migration minister Tobias Billström told news agency TT that he was tired of discussing Vellinge specifically and would like instead to consider the bigger picture.

“I have no different view than that of my party colleagues in Skåne: More councils have to agree to receive refugee children, and Vellinge council, just like all the other municipalities, should sign agreements with the Migration Board (Migrationsverket), because they have the capacity and knowledge to do so,” he said.

Billström underlined that it is up to Malmö and Vellinge to find a resolution to the problem and warned of the consequences for the system if county councils do not take a greater responsibility.

“The main focus needs to be that if nothing happens now, with regard to the number of municipal places, then the system which we have today will collapse at some point in the middle of December, with or without Vellinge.”

Vellinge County is a municipality in the south-western tip of Sweden and is home to 32,270 people. It is considered to be one of the most economically prosperous parts of the country and enjoys one of the lowest levels of income tax.

According to Migration Board statistics for the period up to and including September 2009 Vellinge is the only county council in Skåne that has not accepted a single refugee.


INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.”