‘We can talk about multiculturalism without devolving into hatred’

OPINION: I don't want my love for Sweden, and feeling of being loved, to get stolen by far-right politics.

'We can talk about multiculturalism without devolving into hatred'
'Sweden is home for me and it is where my heart is.' Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Earlier this month, I wrote an article which came across as very angry. It was angry and yes, I am angry at racism, but my anger is not a reflection of how I feel towards Sweden. It is rather a reflection of how I feel about a mentality held by a certain clique of people; one which dehumanizes other people based on their appearance or their origin. However, we cannot ignore the fact that there is now a heightened sense of race because of far-right politics.

Sweden, as part of Europe, today, is grappling with the rise of extreme right-wing politics thriving on feigning hate because of the refugee crisis.

Finding a balance between being an open society and embracing immigrants and their diverse cultures can be challenging. But it can be done without sowing hate.

The problem with the race conversation is that it has been hijacked for political gain. Far-right politics is gaining ground by incensing genuine concerns that citizens may have regarding refugees and turning them into negative energy which then spirals into hate in no time. Therefore, people have to take a position on race rather than get an understanding on the complexities that come with increased inward immigration.

But as history shows, if we listen to, and take political rhetoric literally, things do not always end well because politicians use extreme positions to tap into our emotions in order to coerce our votes. Politicians cannot just be taken at their word because, more often than not, they charm or lie their way into office. That is just the nature of political campaigning. And that is why exclusionary rhetoric has become an appealing narrative and distorted the conversation on immigration, and its implications on racism in Sweden in particular and Europe in general. Far-right politicians are exploiting people's vulnerabilities and turning them into anger and hate. They are offering immigrants as sacrificial lambs in order to gain popularity.

So if the rate of employment goes down because the population has increased why talk economics when you can talk race and say it's the immigrants stealing your jobs. But my wish is, as a people, we have to interrogate the politics that we are offered before we get cheated out of our humanity for political gain.

Political polarization on immigration has paved the way for political grandstanding and now makes it difficult for politicians on the left to talk objectively about the challenges which arise when there is a surge in immigration because that can be seen as aligning with the far-right. Simultaneously, far right-wingers will feign hate and convince their supporters that immigration-related challenges cannot be addressed any other way but by hating refugees or foreigners.

But the truth is we can talk about – and address objectively – the challenges that arise as a result of multiculturalism and diverse ethnicity without devolving into hatred. The European society, with its rich history of fighting for open societies and democracy, is being driven towards the destruction of the values that it stands for by the greed of far-right politics.

Having said that, it's not enough to talk about how people hate and not talk about how they also love. The sporadic racially hateful incidences that I encounter get drowned in the sea of love that I also swim in every day. So for me to just write vociferously about the bad and not scream loudly the good that I experience is to blindly contribute to negativity and can be used as a dishonest representation of the values that Sweden stands for. The values which I enjoy unreservedly. The values which make my life so much better, differently good, enjoyable and worth living. I am grateful for that and I cherish it every day with all my heart.

The first question I normally get when I meet new people is “where do you come from?” To which I always reply “Söderhamn”, even though I am aware they will be asking about my homeland (the last word should really read country of origin but writing it as homeland is a beloved contagion effect of the Swedish language on my English).

I say I am from Söderhamn because home isn't where I was born. Home – to me – is the place where I am free to go at the end of a long day. Home is where I am allowed to criticize, contribute, thrive and enjoy unlimited freedom of expression. Home is where I write an article to critique and contribute to a much-needed discourse on race and still be able to go about my life without fearing the police will come and snatch me in the thick of the night.

In Söderhamn, I have seen the ugly side of racism but I have also largely felt the overwhelming power of love. I have known what it means to be home and felt the joy that comes with it. So for that, Sweden is home for me and it is where my heart is. This feeling of love, and being loved, must not be allowed to be stolen by far-right politics.

Edinah Masanga is a Zimbabwean journalist living in Sweden. Follow her on Twitter or read her blog here.


Five of Sweden’s political parties planned to evade party financing laws

Five of the eight political parties in the Swedish parliament discussed evading party financing laws with a businessman secretly working with journalists, a new investigation by broadcaster TV4 has found.

Five of Sweden's political parties planned to evade party financing laws

“There’s every reason to demand moral and political responsibility,” political scientist Jonas Hinnfors said of how Sweden’s society should react to the investigation’s findings. “It’s a threat to democracy.”

The new law on donations to political parties which came into force in 201  dictates that parties must declare all donations received from private individuals or businesses. Donators can remain anonymous, byt only as long as their donation does not exceed 24,150 kronor (€2,281). Larger donations must be declared along with the name of the donor.

The Kalla Fakta team which produced the documentary hired two businessmen to call each parliamentary party and ask how they could donate half a million kronor, while staying anonymous. The conversations were recorded and meetings filmed with a hidden camera.

Three parties – the Centre Party, the Left Party and the Green Party – said that it wasn’t possible for the donor to remain anonymous. 

But the other five parties – the Social Democrats, the Moderates, the Sweden Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals – suggested different ways of getting around the requirements.

Christian Democrat press secretary Peter Kullgren suggested splitting up donations and donating to individual candidates so that each donation remained under the legal limit.

Another method, proposed by Sweden Democrat head of finance Lena-Karin Lifvenhjelm, consisted of giving the money to another individual who would donate it under their name instead.

Magdalena Agrell, the Social Democrat’s head of finance, discussed finding someone else to act as a front in recorded telephone conversations.

The chairman and communications chief of the Social Democrat’s youth organisation, Diyar Cicek and Youbert Aziz, suggested that the businessman instead create a foundation to donate the money.

The Moderate Party’s ombudsman Patrik Haggren proposed that donations could be sent from different members of the businessman’s family in order to remain anonymous.

Lisa Flinth, who is responsible for leadership support in the Liberal Party, also proposed this method, providing the contact details of a middleman, the consultant Svend Dahl.

Dahl first proposed that his company send an invoice of half a million kronor to the businessman, but later suggested that the money be transferred to him to donate to the Liberals in his name, thereby avoiding having to pay tax.

“It’s important you keep yourself anonymous,” Dahl said in Kalla Fakta‘s recordings of conversations with the undercover businessman.

Dahl is a political scientist and has previously been head of media organisation Liberala Nyhetsbyrån.

Flinth was well aware of the fact that the method undermines the aim of the law, telling the businessman in a telephone conversation that it was very important that nothing could be traced back to the party.

“It could have serious consequences,” she said. “We don’t really have any margins when it comes to credibility.”

“If there was an article about this in the middle of a heated election campaign and we miss the threshold for getting in to parliament, I would never forgive myself,” she said.

Political scientist Jonas Hinnfors, who commented on the conversation for the Kalla Fakta team, said he was shocked after hearing it.

“They know what the point of the new legislation is,” he told Kalla Fakta. “Going against that is political dynamite.”

In a written comment on their website, the Liberals’ vice-party secretary Gustav Georgson stated that the party would not use Dahl’s consulting services again and that it “takes the statements made by Kalla Fakta seriously and will act forcefully to avoid similar situations happening again.”