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IMMIGRATION

Five things you didn’t know about Sweden’s diversity

There are few topics that get Sweden’s otherwise lagom blood boiling with debate more than immigration, integration and all that comes in between.

Five things you didn’t know about Sweden’s diversity

These topics spark intense discussions that often bring out valid debaters with solid points and condescending trolls alike. So much so that The Local actually created a resource – The definitive guide to diversity in Sweden – dedicated to furthering these complex discussions, and the Swedish government created a “myth-busting” website to answer, or rather debunk, widely held prejudiced views about diversity in Sweden.

CLICK HERE FOR FIVE THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT SWEDEN’S DIVERSITY.

Let’s face it. Sweden has evolved past stereotypes of blondes, Ikea, Abba, and Volvo that have defined the country for decades.

While these idealized icons are still integral to its historical core, Sweden is changing and will continue to do so rapidly.

A quick glance down topics on that diversity guide and you’ll see just how complicated and conflicting issues surrounding diversity are – from studies praising Sweden’s integration policies to articles showing just how far Sweden has to go in terms of integration.

“Sweden doesn’t get everything right, but my experience has been positive,” shares Adrianne George Lind, 2012 Maishagalen Entrepreneur of the Year.

Lind runs several businesses that cater to women of colour and expatriates.

“The government has given me the opportunity to learn the language, and the process of setting up my own company was easy.”

Granted, Lind admits her Swede helped her with the paperwork which also harkens to another significant barrier for integration – learning the Swedish language itself as an adult.

“Without his help, it certainly would have been a huge task for me,” she notes.

Sweden is a richly diverse country with roughly 15% of its population having a foreign background, and the country is much more than Thai take-away kiosks and kebab pizza joints run by PhD holders and medical doctors that many would like to reduce its diversity to.

With a steady in-flux of highly skilled foreigners, Sweden has the potential to tap into this experienced workforce that can help lunge its economy and society further ahead.

According to Statistics Sweden (Statistiska Centralbyrån, SCB) which pretty much tracks everything that can be counted in Sweden – probably including how many college students like food brands Felix versus Findus – there were roughly 96,500 immigrants in 2011. It’s one thing having open arms when receiving immigrants.

It’s another thing directing those immigrants regardless of skill level and background into specific “boxes” to park their lives for decades once welcomed in.

The headlines are full of negative press, Lind notes, where immigrants are not doing well in the job market, but that story is being played out across the European Union (EU) and not just Sweden.

So before jumping to conclusions on certain aspects of Sweden’s diversity, here are five things I didn’t know – and maybe you didn’t as well.

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

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IMMIGRATION

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.” 

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