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‘Do not buy into the lies spread about Sweden’

OPINION: Neil Shipley, originally from the UK, writes about why he is proud to call himself Swedish.

'Do not buy into the lies spread about Sweden'
Sweden is the land of opportunity, writes Neil Shipley. Photo: Nora Lorek/TT

Sweden's reputation is currently under attack and I feel I must respond, however unpopular this might be. I feel angry, frustrated and saddened about recent events. This is my angle…

I am proud to live in Sweden and I am proud, and fortunate, to have received Swedish citizenship. This is a country that, in my mind, builds on equality and solidarity. This is a country that tries to do the best for its people. This is a country that stands up and does the humane thing, even in difficult circumstances. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

In some foreign media, Sweden is currently being dragged through the dirt. Stories based on lies and fabrication are spreading. Sweden is falsely being depicted as a failing country on the edge of collapse. This is total and utter bullshit. It is nothing more than the poisoned school gossip trying to bring down the popular student. It is a tactical attempt to spread fear and uncertainty and we must not bow to it. It is in their interests to undermine the social experiment that Sweden stands for and attack the politcs of liberalism and tolerance. A weaker opposition opens the way to a closed and darker society.

Opportunistic right-wing Swedish politicians are jumping on the bandwagon. By reinforcing this picture internationally, they paint themselves as the concerned party. Make no mistake, this is pure manipulation. Their only motivation is to gain more of a foothold in Swedish politics and gain political power based on lies and fear. They want a fearful and closed society.

READ ALSO: Why Trump's false claims are bad news for Sweden

I try to look at the world with open eyes. Sweden, like all countries, has its problems: an aging population and an expensive welfare state, challenges of integration and inclusion, social problems, unrest and crime. Of course this exists. To claim these didn't exist would be naive. And of course crime should be fought. But I truly believe that Sweden can solve these issues. And I truly believe that the way forward is the continued path of openness and solidarity. Not fear and defensiveness. And not lies.

I am proud to be Swedish and live in Sweden. I am proud that Sweden takes in thousands of people in their direst need. I am proud that Sweden helps people survive war and starvation. I am proud that Sweden leads the way in social and humanitarian issues. I am proud that Sweden does not criminalize poverty. I am proud of Sweden's diverse and multicultural society. I am proud that Sweden stands for human rights and equality between men and women. I am proud that in Sweden you can be whoever you want to be. I am proud that everyone is welcome here. I am proud that Sweden respects its children.

Are you?

In my mind, this is what it is to be Swedish. Sweden is the true land of opportunity.

This is my call to action. Do not buy into the lies and falsehoods that are spread about this country. Do not buy into the fearmongering of power-hungry politicians.

On social media, on the streets and in your life, question the source of all information. Do not just swallow the bullshit. And if you disagree, stand up and be proud to be a part of this nation with all of its challenges and its opportunities.

Neil Shipley is a lecturer and coach in intercultural competence and communication. He has lived in Sweden for over 20 years. Read his blog 'Watching the Swedes' here.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Sweden’s second city is the site of Scandinavia’s largest urban development project. But there is rising concern that the costs outweigh the benefits, says David Crouch

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Last week, residents in the area of Fågelsången (birdsong), a quiet street at the very heart of Sweden’s second city, woke up to read the following news: “Explosions at Fågelsången: On August 8, week 32, we start blasting around Fågelsången and are expected to be done by week 40. When blasting, for safety reasons, no one is allowed to go out, open their windows or be within the blasting area. We will work weekdays 7am to 5pm.” 

Blasting deep holes in the granite – along with sprawling roadworks – has been the reality for central Gothenburgers for the past four years, as a vast rail tunnel is being dug to link the current terminus with other parts of the city and enable smoother connections with other routes. The aim is to triple rail passenger numbers and eliminate traffic jams on the main road through the city, at a cost of 20 billion crowns (€1.9 billion).

This railway, known as Västlänken (the West Link), is not the only big construction project in the city centre. It is just the largest element in a gigantic scheme to revive the docks area along the river, which was destroyed by a global shipping crisis in the 1970s. The great rusting cranes opposite the opera house and the disused Eriksberg gantry are an important aspect of Gothenburg’s skyline and self-image. The areas on the north bank were also home to many recent immigrants and a byword for poverty. The city’s mayor famously, and shamefully, referred to it as “the Gaza strip”.

So in 2012 the city launched an ambitious plan. Christened Älvstaden, the RiverCity, municipal investment aimed to build an attractive, modern waterfront while creating tens of thousands of homes and jobs. It is by far the Nordic region’s biggest urban regeneration project. A YouTube video commissioned by the city authorities a few years later neatly sums up both the breathtaking scope of this vision and the exciting / brutal (choose your own adjective here) nature of the transformation it would bring: 

The RiverCity revolved around two flagship projects: a new bridge over the river, the Hisingsbron (Hisingen Bridge), combined with major new office developments right in the centre; and Karlatornet, Sweden’s tallest skyscraper, which would literally tower over Gothenburg like a beacon of modernity in a city that traditionally has had strict rules against high-rise buildings. 

Add to all this a proposed high-speed rail link with Stockholm, and you have a recipe for quite spectacular urban upheaval involving billions of tons of steel and concrete. Visit Gothenburg today and much of the city seems to have been turned into a building site. There is a forest of cranes, while smart new office blocks puncture the skyline – a genuine metamorphosis is under way.

But many Gothenburgers are either uneasy or downright unhappy. The RiverCity is a vanity project to gentrify the docklands, they say. Karlatornet’s 73 stories of luxury apartments will be a scar on the landscape and a symbol of Gothenburg’s new love affair with finance and real estate, a slap in the face for the city’s proud industrial values. Västlänken is a vit elefant, a costly project that will deliver questionable benefits, many believe.  

Opposition to Västlänken was such that a new political party, the Democrats, took 17 percent of the vote in 2018 with its headline demand to stop the project immediately. This caused a revolution in local politics, overturning decades of Social Democrat rule. 

And now the gloss on these big-ticket construction projects is starting to fade. Karlatornet was the first to run into trouble. For most of 2020 building work was at a standstill, raising the threat that this flagship of regeneration would be nothing more than an unfinished stump, after American financiers pulled out of the project. The new Hisingen Bridge is open to traffic, but its construction was fraught with setbacks and the final cost to the taxpayer is still unknown. “There has been an awareness from the start that this was a high-risk project,” one of the project’s bosses said ominously this spring.

RiverCity is more than two billion kronor over budget, and facing accusations of mismanagement that evoke Gothenburg’s old nickname of Muteborg, or Bribetown, after a proliferation of municipal companies in the 1970s led to conflicts of interest, with politicians sitting on company boards. Opponents of the scheme argue that in any case it is unlikely to solve any of the city’s fundamental problems, such as the ethnic segregation that has created immigrant ghettos in outlying suburbs.  

In May, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published leaked minutes from Västlänken management meetings in which one of the main contractors on the project said it would be delivered billions over budget and four years later than its official 2026 deadline – in other words, four more years of earth-shattering explosions, roadblocks and associated upheaval. With local elections only months away, the Democrats have taken out advertisements on billboards and in local media demanding that top politicians tell the truth about what is going on. For opponents of the scheme, this is exactly what they have warned of all along

Next June, Gothenburg will officially celebrate its 400th anniversary, postponed from 2021 because of the pandemic. Visitors will experience a city on the move, with pristine new motorways and sparkling office blocks. So for Gothenburg’s urban planners, there is light at the end of the development tunnel. In the case of Västlänken, however, they will be hoping that the light is indeed that of an oncoming train. 

David Crouch has lived in Gothenburg for nine years. He is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It, a freelance journalist and lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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