In an effort to provide some additional perspective on the Stockholm riots, The Local posed four questions to the following set of virtual panelists:
Nima Sanandaji , a Swedish writer of Kurdish origin with a PhD in polymer technology who has written numerous books and reports about subjects such as integration, entrepreneurship, and women’s career opportunities. He is a regular contributor to the Local.
Roya Hakimnia, has a PhD in healthcare from Uppsala University who writes for Dagens Arena, the magazine of Arena Gruppen, a left-leaning policy institute based in Stockholm.
Bo Sundin, Moderate Party chairman of the Stockholm city district of Rinkeby-Kista, which includes Husby.
David Lindén is a PhD student in history at King’s College London and served as acting political editor for Länstidningen in Södertälje for the summer 2012 and is an occasional contributor to The Local.
Hamid Ghamari, 49, arrived in Sweden from Iran in 1995 and runs a youth tae kwon do club in Kista, near Husby.
What do you think prompted the riots?
Although Sweden ranks as one of the most tolerant nations in the world, a policy centred on high taxes, a rigid labour market and generous public benefits for the last few decades has made it difficult for immigrants and youths to enter the labour market. Particularly, young immigrants face a difficult time. Another important issue is that the Swedish school system, with little focus on discipline, often fails students who do not come from families with highly-educated parents. Economic marginalization is coupled with the fact that a number of young people in poor immigrant neighbourhoods are violent and have a resentful perspective towards Swedish society.
This isn’t news, we’ve seen this kind of rioting before, not just in Sweden. The problems are unemployment, having no hope for the future, and segregation. It’s a frustration they feel can’t be expressed through any other way than rioting.
For some time now, a few key people have mobilized left-wing forces to create chaos and to tear down our society, which they don’t accept. In addition to that, criminal groups have in recent days exploited the situation to burn cars and vandalize.
A feeling of not having any power among those who are on the outskirts of Stockholm. However, they are not politically motivated anymore, but now it seems more are willing to destroy things.
There are a lot of explanations. One factor is unemployment. There are a lot of people out of work around here, particular young people. The suburbs are struggling with integration problems. People feel isolated, and activities for youth have been cut back in recent years. The shooting last week may have been a sort of spark that unleashed forces that have been waiting for the right moment. I think it could have happened at any time.
Why haven’t they stopped?
Authorities such as the police are weak when it comes to stopping riots and burning cars, and many among the media and political elite see rioting youths as important social voices – rewarding this terrible behavior rather than punishing it. Civil society in the neighbourhoods themselves also seem weak to stop it. Many immigrants who succeed physically move away from areas where the riots are now happening.
It’s hard to tell, but as far as I know they can end abruptly. Perhaps they don’t feel they received enough feedback. There’s been some critique because Fredrik Reinfeldt hasn’t visited the affected suburbs yet, but I don’t know if that would help.
Police have arrested about 20 to 30 people the last few days, people who took part in the destruction. There are more and more police now and a very strong positive civilian movement out on the streets to work against the violence.
Because different gangs are now triggering each other to throw more rocks, light more fires, and so forth.
I don’t think it’s really organized, but they have casual contact with each other, either in the neighbourhood or across town. They don’t have anything to do, so they go out and cause trouble. I think these groups of young people are in some sort of a competition, to be honest. Maybe someone from one group calls up and says, “Hey, we burned five cars. What did you do?” and then the next group tries to do more to show they are tougher.
What do they say about the Sweden’s ability to integrate its immigrant population?
During the mid 20th century, Sweden was a nation where racism was commonplace. Homogeneous Swedes weren’t used to meeting people from other parts of the world. But the nation succeeded in integrating foreign-born people, since policies were based on low taxes, a free labour market and good opportunities for growing businesses. Then policies shifted towards high taxes, rigid labour markets and generous welfare benefits. Although Swedish society since then became much more tolerant culturally, economic performance among the foreign-born has deteriorated.
I’d say there is structural racism in our society, you can find it among the police, public authorities, health care – a lot of people experience this racism every day. This is a way for them to take out that frustration.
There is, as I see it, no link to our integration policies. I have met so many people – from the young to the old – who remain steadfast and committed to patrol our streets and our squares to put a stop to the violence. Those people have all kinds of nationalities and backgrounds, just like the vandals do.
It shows that the key for immigration is not only jobs but there is also a need for Sweden to emphasis personal responsibility. Twelve-year-old kids should not be out running at night.
That’s a big, complicated political question. The weak economy in Europe makes it hard to create jobs and that makes it hard to integrate. Right now, there is so much focus on the economy that integration maybe doesn’t get so much attention. But this isn’t only a problem in Sweden, it’s everywhere. If things go better in Europe, then it might be easier for people to integrate in new places because there will be more resources.
What will the impact/consequences be?
It’s important to realize that the poverty which exists among many young immigrants in Sweden is social, not mainly economic. Husby, for example, is close to Stockholm, Sweden’s most prosperous labour market. I have myself lived there and on a daily basis commuted to central Stockholm via the subway. It works perfectly fine. A lot of public funding has been invested in Husby and surrounding places. Also, Husby is neighbor to Kista – an immigrant-rich neighborhood which has one of Sweden’s largest shopping malls and is home to many businesses, even hosting a thriving IT-cluster.
But all this does little to help when many young immigrants grow up in a situation where few adults they know work, and they don’t build up valuable working norms or the proper Swedish dialect needed to succeed in the labour market. Social unrest will, unfortunately, follow if reforms do not open up job opportunities, if the schools are not reformed, and if Swedish society remains bad at dealing with crime and vandalism.
I think the vandalizing and rioting won’t lead to anything but media coverage. The people and organizations around it however, like Megafonen, I think can have a positive impact, encouraging more people to become politically active.
Once peace is restored, with those responsible hopefully being dealt with by the law, we will focus on our efforts to get more young people in the suburbs
to continue their studies and to get them into internships and jobs. We are already going to offer 900 young people summer jobs, which has been organized by the municipality. In April, we offered 20 unemployed youth (between the ages of 18 and 14) four-month education programmes which include internships. We’re counting on 70 percent going on to getting jobs. We’ll repeat this initiative this autumn with 40 youths.
Perhaps a poll bounce for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats. I also suspect the center-left opposition parties will use the riots to score political points at the expense of Reinfeldt’s government. Left-leaning tabloid Aftonbladet has already started to this.
I hope it will force the politicians to think a little harder about integration because something has to be done. They need to look at the causes and find solutions. This is a big thing making headlines across the world and they can’t just ignore that. These problems aren’t just going to go away. Integration is also a two-way street. It’s not only immigrants who need to make the changes. The government needs to work to help change Swedes’ perceptions and explain to them why immigrants are so important for Sweden. There are a lot of jobs that only immigrants do. Without them, there would be chaos. I know how hard it is at first, but I eventually was able to adjust and now I feel integrated. But integration is something that needs to be dealt with from both sides.