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Sweden's urban-rural divide growing

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Sweden's urban-rural divide growing
File photo: Helena Landstedt/TT
17:08 CET+01:00
Sweden's rural communities are struggling with the effects of long-term population loss to the cities.
Cities are growing and developing while rural towns and areas are shrinking and becoming impoverished. Almost half of the country's municipalities have smaller populations compared to three decades ago, and many are now fighting to survive.
 
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will next week tour Sweden in order to bring attention to the country's growing divide, visiting a number of towns that do not usually find themselves on the political agenda.
 
However, it will take more than a one-week tour to recover Sweden's forgotten provinces. Since the mid-1980s, more than half of the country's 290 municipalities have seen a reduction in population, according to the Central Statistics Office (Statistiska centralbyrån, SCB).
 
A look at rural municipalities specifically shows an even clearer town-country split, with two-thirds of rural municipalities shrinking since 1985.
 
"It is primarily young people leaving, and that has devastating consequences," Charlotta Mellander, an economics professor at Jönköping International Business School, said to news agency TT.
 
"The strength of rural areas decreases - tax incomes and the employment sector weaken as well as purchasing power. Fewer individuals go out and spend money, which means that services that make locations attractive, like shops, restaurants and so on, slowly and surely disappear," Mellander continued.
 
The economy expert also said that the phenomenon of the drain on younger populations in rural areas leads to climbing average age, fewer people refuelling cars, fewer seeking medical care, and the gradual disappearance of basic services like schools, medical centres and gas stations.
 
As many as 33 municipalities have lost at least a fifth of their populations since 1985. One such community is the municipality of Åsele, with a drop of 1,500 people, the equivalent to 35 per cent of its population.
 
"We have a place to eat, a bakery, but the selection is not very big and is decreasing all the time," Linnea Lindberg, mayor of Åsele Municipality told TT.
 
In Åsele, in the remote northern Västerbotten region, residents must make six Swedish-mile (60km) round trips just to pick up the mail, says Lindberg.
 
"The big problem is that we as a municipality must provide the same services as Stockholm, for example, even though our tax income is steadily declining. But what do we do on the day when the budget no longer adds up? I don't know and we've nearly reached that point," the mayor said.
 
Frustration is closely related to a disparity in quality of life, says Mellander.
 
"Why shouldn't we have a policeman here when we pay more tax per capita than people living in Stockholm? Why shouldn't we have a road, a bus, a school within reasonable distance? You should have the right to equal service wherever you live. Right now, that is not the case," Mellander told TT.
 
"Those who do not live with rural challenges can also find it difficult to see that they are there - and this is a breeding ground for populist forces," added the professor.
 
Mellander believes that both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are clear evidence of this, pointing out the clearest trend dividing between Trump and non-Trump voters was whether they lived in rural or urban areas.
 
"If you feel that politicians do not listen to you and journalists do not take any notice of your problems, then you only have one voice left to speak for you. And that's when we end up with the emergence of someone like Trump," Mellander said. 

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