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IMMIGRATION

PM slams Billström for ‘blonde, blue-eyed’ line

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Tuesday called on his migration minister, Tobias Billström, to shape up following controversial statements Billström made about the appearance of illegal immigrants.

PM slams Billström for 'blonde, blue-eyed' line

Reinfeldt took Billström to task for several missteps, the most recent of which took place on Monday in an interview the migration minister gave the Dagens Nyhter (DN) newspaper about the issue of asylum seekers and other migrants who stay in Sweden illegally.

“Sometimes we have this image that people in hiding live with a nice Swedish lady in her fifties or sixties who wants to help,” Billström told DN.

“But that’s not how it is. Most of them live with their countrymen who aren’t at all blonde and blue-eyed.”

Billström apologized for the formulation later on Monday after a storm of criticism erupted from across the political spectrum.

On Tuesday, Reinfeldt made his first public statement on the controversy, describing Billström’s comment as “inappropriate”.

“He’s made a few mistakes recently and it’s been made more difficult by the fact that they’ve taken place on several occasions,” Reinfeldt told the TT news agency.

“Therefore, I’ve made it clear for Tobias Billström that the way to regain confidence is by holding himself to the humanitarian line we have in our policies and that he must work hard to regain that confidence.”

Reinfeldt also answered critics who accused the Moderate Party of shifting its position on immigration policy to one closer to that of the populist, anti-immigration stance of the Sweden Democrats.

“There’s been no shift. We stand for a humane, orderly, and legally-sound asylum and immigration policy,” said Reinfeldt, jettisoning speculation that he and Billström are engaging in a “bad cop, good cop” approach to immigration policy.

“It’s not about that. We have no intention of making any changes in our asylum and migration policy.”

Reinfeldt’s public criticism of his embattled migration minister is almost unprecedented in Swedish politics, according to one expert.

“I can’t recall another example in Swedish political history when a prime minister directed such stinging criticism again someone in his cabinet,” Stockholm University political science professor Tommy Möller told TT.

“What’s normal with these sort of tensions, what’s common practice, is to resign.”

Möller added that Reinfeldt’s decision to reprimand Billström publicly indicated that the move was an attempt to “weaken Billström’s political authority”.

TT/The Local/dl

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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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